The stuff we gravitate towards as our personal means of “getting fit” is often as pointless as rallying around other faulty belief systems — like Scientology, or “the Cubs.” Lost in the fray of strength training, lifestyle coaches, and Zumba! — and essentially lost since the development of agriculture changed our lifestyles — was the obvious regarding fitness: namely, that you are a human. Before you focus on anything extraneous like your golf swing, you should make sure you can do what a human is made to do.
Otherwise, you are a time bomb for injury and preventable surgery, and for difficult golden years.
My three-year-old son loves the Bronx Zoo, but not so much the stroller. So I carry him a lot, either on my shoulders or in my arms. Any parent knows what a day of that can be like — note how many are clutching their lower backs or rubbing their necks after packing up the car to leave, even the ones who are just worn out from a day pushing the stroller.
As a contrast, note that while at the zoo, you never saw, say, a lemur clutching its hammy, or yelling the lemur equivalent of: “F***! Cramp!” while trying to extend his toes.
Kelly Starrett’s Becoming a Supple Leopard – he’s a Northern California dude, the title and tone of the book is best understood if familiar with his video clip site, MobilityWOD.com — fills a huge void in fitness publications. Starrett focuses on the universal need, capability for, and benefit of proper human movement, and provides tips, tests, and benchmarks for reaching your full range of motion, and thus your physical potential.
I’ll call it the most useful fitness book ever written, and endorse it without reservation. (Full disclosure: I once interviewed Starrett for a Men’s Journal piece, and I am otherwise inclined to say nice things about him, since a tip he gave me a couple years ago allowed me to serve a tennis ball again without pain. But that tip is included on page 266 of the book — presumably I’d find it in there if I did not previously know him. And frankly, I’d recommend the book on that tip alone, as it provided instant relief and allowed me to stay on the court.)
This is not a manual written for either beginners or experienced athletes; it should be useful for most everyone, as few at any level of athletic ability have this base of knowledge. As primary as this topic is to general health and wellness, the dearth of information is just as conspicuous. Leopard could improve great-grandma’s quality of life as readily as it could have lessened the chances of Kobe’s Achilles tear, or Derek Rose’s shredded ACL. Further, Kobe might have been jumping a couple inches higher, defending the ball a split-second faster all these years, and as a result of the more efficient movement, might have kept his knees and ankles younger.
The heart of the book — useful to anyone who participates in the activities of walking, standing, or even sitting — is Chapter 2: Midline Stabilization and Organization. Everyone knows “keep your back straight,” and “squeeze your abs,” and commitment to those simple tips will save you a bit of pain and trouble. But you can do significantly better, and you will notice immediate results while doing something no more complicated than not lying down.