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 x 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.
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.
- Like everything else we start with a braced neutral position
- Initiate the squat by setting the hips back to load the hamstrings.
- Keep the shins vertical as long as you can.
- Keep the knees over or slightly outside the feet, don’t let them collapse in.
- Maintain even pressure throughout the foot.
- The squat isn’t legit until your hips are below your knees.
- 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.
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.
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.