WTF is a Supple Leopard?!?!

Updated: August 15, 2013


By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)

Anybody got back pain?  What about your shoulders?  If so, I have something for you that might help out.  If you are completely pain free (damn youth), keep reading as well because I’m going to try and keep you that way.

The key word is fascia; and no it has nothing to do with Mussolini.  Fascia is the fibrous sheath surrounding your muscles (among other things) that, when healthy, glides smoothly across surfaces allowing for unimpeded movement.

The problem is our body adapts to poor posture and the positions we are in most of the time.  Think hunched over a computer, leaning forward in kit firing your weapon, or sandwiched feature1shootingin the back of a vehicle or aircraft for hours on end.  The fascia gets knotted up in these positions and can form adhesion—or, more scientifically, “gummed up”—so that it no longer glides smoothly.

You may be thinking, “So what?”

But take a second and try this experiment: First, raise your left arm overhead and bring it back down. Now take your right hand and reach across your body and grab a piece of your shirt or clothing under your ribs and hold it against your body firmly while raising your left arm overhead.  You should feel how it is more difficult to raise your arm with the clothing pinned down; that is how your fascia works.

So adhesions formed in your back from poor posture can affect how you do other movements like squatting and lifting things overhead.  Besides making these movements more difficult and less efficient it could cause you to compensate and take on alternative movement patterns that could lead to injury.

Enter Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist who’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard is like a how to fix poor movement for dummies.  If you have an issue that does not require surgery, I would bet the good Dr. Starrett has a solution for it in his book.   I will give you fair warning that some of the techniques can be a bit intense.  The first time I tried mobilizing my thoracic spine with two lacrosse balls I thought I was having a religious experience.  But when I checked my range of motion afterwards, I decided the discomfort was well worth it.

MrMiyagiNow for the record I do not get any kickbacks or have any financial ties to Dr. Starrett as I have never met the guy.  I am only mentioning his book because I tried it and it worked for me. Further more I tried it on my friends and it worked for them.  Granted they will be sorely disappointed when they read this because when one friend asked me what I did after “fixing” his shoulder I simply told him I was a therapeutic ninja.  I also may or may not have spit on my hands and clapped them together like Mr. Miyagi did to Daniel-son to conceal the pain of his injured knee after Bobby Brown did an illegal technique in the semifinals of the All Valley Karate Tournament.  But we all know Bobby didn’t want to do that technique—Sensei Kreese made him do it.

So if you do not want to buy the book, much of the information is available free online like this very nice 4 part video on shoulder mobility drills.

Also, Dr. Starrett has over 500 videos on his YouTube channel covering a wide array of movement improving techniques to include a nice clip from a UH-60 pilot explaining how he adjusted his posture to experience the lesser of two evils.

If you are still wondering what a Supple Leopard is, Starrett explains that he used the leopard model because of it has full physical capacity at all times—plus it is just badass.

The bottom line is everyone can benefit from a little foam rolling as it is a relatively inexpensive way to keep your fascia healthy.  Now if you find yourself wincing while breaking up adhesions in your fascia just remember what Sensei Kreese would say: “Pain does not exist in this dojo!”




  1. leftoftheboom

    August 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I am going to try this. If it works, I will name a kid after you. I don’t know who’s kid but I will pick one and christen them Mr. Twisted.


    • Mr. Twisted

      August 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm


      I wish I could take the credit, but this is all Nick Barringer. All I did was post it to the site–a task that I partially failed at and needed the expertise of our fearless leader, RU Rob, to make the video work.

      • leftoftheboom

        August 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        Yes but you did post it so that I could find it. I will be getting this. I am now cashing the checks my body wrote when I was but a wee paratrooper. Anything that puts some freedom of movement back is a blessing.

        • Nick Barringer

          August 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm


          I agree with you; name the kid after Mr. Twisted plus it is a much cooler name than Nick. You might want to look into inversion therapy as well to try and regain some of that disk space undoubtedly lost from PLFs. Hope the techniques help out.

          • leftoftheboom

            August 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm

            I have looked at the inversion machines. I tried using a ladder in the back yard but it hurts more than it helps. Since most of my PLF’s were only three point, feet, ass, head, I need all the help I can get.

  2. Ripple effect

    August 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the share, this might help me speed up my recovery after hip replacement.

  3. leftoftheboom

    August 23, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Okay check on learning. I got the book yesterday and did a quick review. The process seems to be straightforward. I did make the error in not getting the lacrosse balls or any other items. The reading on the areas I was looking is promising.

    I will let you know how well it works once I get the rest of the stuff. It probably is not necessary to use the exact stuff but it helps to stay with the items listed.

  4. leftoftheboom

    September 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I have been working on simple back exercises with the book. Yea Gods! I have found pain in places that I thought were numb and knots I did not even know I had. But after two weeks of 15 minutes a day, I can state that I have increased my range of motion for my back and bending is not quite the chore that it once was. I actually got out of bed without having to roll over and drop my legs for a change.

    My back is my most severe issue and while my TENS unit is a lovely device it was not cutting out the problem completely and I don’t want shots.

    I am using the 12 inch Rumbleroller Deep-Tissue Massage Roller (no jokes now) and it hits every point. I have also managed to keep my back popped without going to a chiropractor. It hurts like hell when you are doing it but it feels great afterwards.

    I have only focused on my lower back and sides because that part of my body is so stiff and painful that I walk like I have a fused spine. I spend a lot of time at work in a chair and since I started doing this, I have been sleeping better, I don’t get as sore, and I can bend. Who knows, I may be able to touch my toes without bending my knees. I can feel knots loosening. Feels like a snake wrapped around my spine is wriggling.

    I will now try and convince some new parent to name their child
    Mr. Twisted and if I can find twins the other will be named Mr. Nick Barringer.

    Thanks Guys!

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