Along with swings, get-ups are one of the highest value exercises we coaches have available. Swings and get ups complement each other like mature cheddar cheese and a good full-bodied red wine. If the only training you did for the rest of your life involved just swings and get-ups, you’d be able to apply yourself to almost anything, albeit maybe a little bored.
Once you own the technique, I encourage you to try the movement with as many different loads as possible: sandbags, barbells, dumbbells, buckets of water, etc. Kettlebells are particularly good because they allow the wrist to remain neutral. This facilitates a stronger and more stable shoulder. The center of mass of a kettlebell sits on the outside of the forearm, away from the midline, making for a more stable hold (the constant lateral pull activates some powerful medial structures including the pec, anterior deltoid and lat). The center of mass is also lower down than the hand, therefore decreasing the moment arm of the lever and allowing more load to be lifted.
The get-up contains elements of all human movement patterns making it another golden exercise. It’s particularly good for developing really strong and stable torsos, hips and shoulder girdles. It has the potential to highlight so many weaknesses and restrictions that it also makes for a useful assessment movement.
The get-up movement without any load could be a great exercise suitable for beginners or it could act as a pre-activity warm-up. Before attempting to get up with a kettlebell, you should be able to perform the movement while balancing a shoe or yoga brick on your closed fist.
We use the get-up within our Move Better Be Strongerassessment system as a strength assessment and ask members to perform a one rep max on each side. For your interest, these are our requisites:
Aside for one common technical mistake, get-ups are self-correcting. This means that if someone is left to their own devices and simply instructed to get up, from the start position, they’ll eventually figure out a technique that's very close to good. However, there is a very common error, which also happens to be one of the most dangerous errors you can make while performing the movement: a shrugging shoulder during the roll and the tall sit.
If this shrugging lower shoulder becomes a habit, you’re setting yourself up for injury. If you try lifting heavy and roll the lower shoulder through a shrug position on the way up or especially on the way down, your risk of injury is very high. The same goes for the next phase where you rise to the tall seated position. You’re also putting a limit on your strength progress. In the words of the great David “Iron Tamer” Whitley: “What is shoulder shrugging the international sign for? I don't know what I’m doing.”
Keeping the kettlebell shoulder packed is quite straight forward during the get-up. The act of crushing the kettlebell handle activates your shoulder stabilizers. Pulling the kettlebell down (scapulae depression) and pointing your biceps toward your ear (external rotation of the glenohumeral joint) keeps that lat switched on. But keeping your lower shoulder packed and secure can be tricky. Here’s a drill that I developed to help people: the get-up roll drill.
Without a kettlebell (naked), perform the get-up roll (to the elbow). Make sure that your sternum is pointing sideways, not upwards. Try to make a straight line from your top hand to the lower elbow, a bit like an archer about to shoot an arrow.
Next, drive the foot of your bent leg into the floor and push your hips to the sky. Squeeze your butt really hard to keep your hips extended. Then, keeping the top hip as high as possible, slowly lower yourself to the floor. Try to make it so the first part of your body to land on the floor is your lat or the back of your shoulder, not your butt.
Feel how this ingites your lower lat and your upper glute. Uh oh… Geek time! These two powerful structures are directly connected. Your glute becomes your lat (and vice versa) via the thoracolumbar fascia and they both sit on your posterior oblique sling. This is one of the powerful slings that propel us through our world. Having these activated and working with each other not only helps your get-up, but your ability to locomote from A to B. This drill helps you run faster! I regularly use it for programming as a pre-curser to clients’ sprinting but it would be useful for anyone trying to improve their locomotive (running/walking) ability. I digress…
After a few reps on each side, grab a light kettlebell and notice how your brain now knows how to keep your lat and glute engaged as you perform the movement. Your lower shoulder should remain far away from your ear making for a happy, safe and strong movement. Gradually build up the load but only go up as far as you can maintain a strong lower shoulder with no shrugging. If your shoulder shrugs, it’s too heavy. Try doing the get-up roll drill loaded. Build back up from there and pave the way to Castle Greyskull in the long run.
During my forthcoming workshop at Team Moljo Strength and Conditioning (Peekskill, NY) on Saturday 27thApril, I’ll be covering more get-up hacks that students can use for performance enhancement. Tickets are currently $199 but the March discount ends in a few days and the rate jumps up to the full April price of $249. (CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS) If you know of anyone who might be interested, I’d be very grateful if you could pass this on.
Strength and honor!