Becoming a modern spartan ” The 300 challenge”


The title of Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard comes from  the concept that you should have full capacity of your body readily available at all times. The leopard doesn’t go through a dynamic warm up, stretch out and foam roll before it takes off at a dead sprint to do leopardy things. The leopard is just in a state of readiness so it can do what it needs to whenever the opportunity arises.

I can’t think of any segment of the human population that the supple leopard concept applies to more than the modern law enforcement officer or soldier. No other professions require a higher state of readiness. We are required to be able to go from sitting in a car for the better part of eight hours to getting into a foot race, wrestling a suspect to the ground or fighting for our life in all out war without the opportunity to warm up  and mobilize. It’s really an insane requirement that cops are trying to meet every day.  Instead of the supple leopard I like to call it being a modern spartan. 

It’s a massive undertaking to maintain this state until retire. I hate to say it but the ugly truth is that most of us aren’t there.  Even if we forget about the requirements for speed, strength, power, endurance we’re still working with limited capacities  of our body which leads to injury and that’s not good enough.

In my Last post I talked about restoring hip extension and feeding some slack into the front of the hips. At first glance it sounds counterproductive to say that sitting in flexion is the enemy shortening anterior structures of the hip and extension is the fix. In the next breath I say you need have more hip flexion. Guess what. It turns out that sitting in a squad car in mid range positions wrecks flexion too so basically the average cop is really messed up and stuck in a crummy position. To work on flexion we’re going to use the the deep squat. Not only does it challenge hip flexion but it gives us a look into the other problem areas in the feet, ankles, and back which we’ll talk about over the next few weeks.

Time for a little reality check

Squat down while you read the rest of this blog.  I’m talking allllll the way down. Like thighs below parallel, can in the sand chilling on the street corner of a third world nation squat. Seriously, if you’re somewhere that it is at least somewhat socially acceptable and you don’t have any known injuries that prevent you from squatting give it a try. If your job requires you to run, jump, wrestle, fight or whatever without warning you should be able to squat for the next few minuets.

When’s the last time you squatted like this and held it for any length of time? For cops that don’t intentionally work on this position, the question is answered with a surprisingly simple and accurate mathematical formula:

Years you’ve been a cop  Forever = Last time you squatted and held it.

It’s not just cops but most humans  in industrialized nations don’t spend enough time in this position. In the first episode of MOBILITYWOD, DR. Starrett introduces the 10 minute squat test and makes the claim that nations with populations that sleep and toilet on the ground have very little hip and low back disease. I couldn’t locate the research that makes that claim directly but did find an interesting study that states high income nations are 2-4 times more likely to suffer from low back pain than low income nations so Starrett’s claim seems to hold water.

Check it out here:  The epidemiology of low back pain in the rest of the world. A review of surveys in low- and middle-income countries.

I’m going to suggest that your performance in 10 minute squat is inversely correlated to the likelihood that you do or will have back pain. If I’m correct  then we can decrease back pain by improving competency in the squat. It’s not so much the squat itself that addresses back pain but having a bodywith the attributes that can be stable and comfortable in the bottom of the squat is a body that is less likely to have problems that result in back pain.

The 300 challenge

The objective is to accumulate 300 minutes of squatting an eliminating free time couch sitting for 30 days. Think of this as a 30 day cleanse for your hips and back. If your good at math then you probably figured out that I’m just applying the 10 minute squat test every day for 30 days.

The idea is to use cumulative dosing to get you comfortable in the position. I’m talking about FIVE HOURS throughout the month in a squat. After the month hopefully you’ve mastered the test and are comfortable in this position. All you need to do to maintain it is use it in every day life. Squat down to play with the kids, grab something off of the bottom shelf, organize the fridge, change a tire or whatever. Try to accumulate 10 minutes every day using the squat. That’s something like 2.5 days of squatting in a year! Use the test periodically to check in and make sure you haven’t lost capacity.

Let me be clear… 10 minutes of legit, unsupported squatting in one session is the end goal. The first few times you try this it will humble you.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect squat and you might need to break it up into multiple sessions for the first few days with a minimum dosage of two minutes per session.  But we’re working toward the goal.

Some pointers on the squat

Want to start an online argument in the exercise and fitness community? Try to teach the squat. A lot of smart people out there teach the squat differently and argue that their way is the only and best version of the squat. Here’s the deal… the best way to squat is going to depend on the task at hand and individual lifter anatomy. Without getting overly specific, here are some basics.

  1. Like everything else we start with a braced neutral position
  2. Initiate the squat by setting the hips back to load the hamstrings.
  3. Keep the shins vertical as long as you can.
  4. Keep the knees over or slightly outside the feet, don’t let them collapse in.
  5. Maintain even pressure throughout the foot.
  6. The squat isn’t legit until your hips are below your knees.
  7. Maintain a flat back as deep as you can. We’re unloaded here so rounding at maximum depth isn’t the end of the World.

Keep even pressure throughout the foot. All three points should be in contact with the ground at all times.

Don’t over-complicate the squat. If you need more instruction,  just look at the natural squat of a toddler. It’s beautiful and effortless. These photos were taken simply by asking my kid to squat. ZERO instruction required. Frankly her position is immaculate and not trashed by a destructive environmental load.

Scaling the squat test 

If your body is lacking the capacity to get down into the squat then we can start by simply mimicking the squat position by laying on the ground with your butt as close to the wall as possible and putting your feet on the wall to get you in deep squat position.


If you can squat but need a little help maintaining stability or just need some help with endurance while you’re down there we have a few different options available.

Back to the wall. This allows a substantial amount of support and increases demand on the legs and torso from the feet on the wall option.

Grab onto something solid. A door frame, squat rack or training partner works great. This allows you to have more control over your position. You can pull forward with your arms to control your torso position and adjust demand on our ankle. You may find that just pilling with two fingers is enough assistance.

Use a counter weight. It doesn’t take much weight to change your center of gravity just enough to take some of the demand off the ankle and allow you to maintain a more upright torso. Holding an object in both hands also allows you to stabilize your thoracic spine through external rotation of the shoulder.

Power band around the hips. It helps keep you upright and allows for freedom to work toward an unsupported squat. The power band also forces you to push your knees out to maintain a stable hip. You really have two options here: 1) Arms in the band 2) Arms out of the bands. In the band creates a more stable position. Arms out of the band requires you to generate a little more stability on your own.

No sitting

As for the no sitting portion of the challenge. No unnecessary crappy sitting for the month. You’ll still sit when required to at work or other like situations. But we’re focusing on the extra mid range sitting here.  You can still sit but use the floor and if you use the couch then sit in half lotus, crossed legged, legs straight, or really crank up the hip stability with full lotus. Don’t forget there is always kneeling, half-kneeling, or you could just squat and do the couch stretch during your down time.



Use your best judgement here talk to your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist before you start if you think you need to. If you can’t get near this position without excruciating pain that’s not good enough.  Work with them on a plan to get a legit 10 min squat because theirs a high likelihood that’s the plan that gets you out of pain.

Believe me this challenge is a worthwhile endeavor. Make the commitment and keep working the couch stretch too. After learning to stand and work from a neutral braced position, maintaining full range of motion in both extension and flexion is an obvious second step to becoming a modern spartan and a pain free cop.




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