How To Do The Perfect Get Up

One of the 6 basic exercises of the RKC, you’ll also find the get up in CrossFit and other programs. Learn, detail by detail, how to execute a safe, and efficient get up. Includes 2 videos.

Welcome to part two of our six-part guide to performing the RKC basic six exercises. Last week’s installment was on the swing, considered the central lift to RKC training as it also forms the basis for the clean and snatch. In the current RKC curriculum the next lift taught after the swing is the clean. You need to keep in mind, though, that the students at the RKC aren’t beginners, rather experienced kettlebell lifters now learning how to teach others. Because the other central lift to the RKC is the press, we need to make sure the clean is nailed down so that we can deliver the bell to the rack for the press.

But, in the HKC the get up comes next and is usually the next lift you’d teach a client. Here’s why:

  1. It teaches them to link the upper and lower body together through the midsection – essential for any athletic feat.
  2. It will show you whether they have enough thoracic mobility to allow them to press or snatch overhead safely.
  3. It will develop the lockout position at a variety of joint angles building stability for faster movements such as the snatch.

I’m a big fan of the get up and it’s probably my favorite exercise. I can remember the first time I did one on my front lawn, wobbling and shaking with a 16kg and wondering how on earth anyone could possibly be strong enough to do it with anything heavy. I’d seen a few people on YouTube doing it with as much as 48kg.

One of the biggest problems with getting people to do a get up well is that there are so many moving parts. The swing is quite simple with its rhythmic nature and two positions – either you’re in the bottom position or a plank. The get up has six positions in each direction. Here they are:

  1. Roll to press
  2. 1/4 to elbow
  3. 1/2 to hand
  4. Knee to hand
  5. Lunge position
  6. Stand

Now let’s do a get up. Put the bell on your right hand side so it is in line with the bottom of your ribcage. The handle should be parallel to the body. You should be lying completely on your right hand side in an almost fetal position.

Drive your right hand deep into the handle so that it rests on the palm of your hand, not in your fingers or along the callus line. The handle should be running straight across the palm of your hand, not diagonally as you see many do. Running the handle diagonally across your hand misses some of the important mechanoreceptor “buttons” in your hand that activate various muscles and will actually decrease your ability to do a heavy get up safely.

Making sure your right wrist stays completely straight grasp over the top of it with your left hand and pull the bell to your stomach. In this position your right arm will be bent at ninety degrees. From here roll to your back and use both arms to press the bell to arm’s length. In this position both legs will be straight, spread out roughly the same distance as they would be if you were using your swing width stance, so about shoulder width. This is called the firing range position, as it resembles a shooting stance.

(Note: Current RKC standard says to press the bell to arm’s length one-handed and I’m just going to say that I flat out disagree with that on safety grounds – please send all hate mail to [email protected])

The next thing we need to do is bend the right leg. The easy way to remember which leg is bent/up and which is straight/down is that the leg that is up is the same as the arm that is up. The knee should be bent about ninety degrees with the foot flat on the ground (which is how it remains throughout – the heel never comes off the ground on this leg during the entire move). The left hand should be on the ground about forty-five degrees from the body, roughly parallel with the left leg. You’ll notice this places the left hand roughly in line with the hip.

All of that gets us to our first position, the roll to press.

To come to our elbow we need to initiate the move from the right foot. The body should be linked together as one piece so that when you drive your right foot into the ground both the right hip and right shoulder are rolled off the ground. Do not move the left arm at all. Drive the right foot into the ground to initiate the slight roll and then imagine dragging the left elbow through the ground towards you, activating your lat. If you pause for a second you’ll see that you’ve used the same cross body pattern we use with crawling – the foot starts the move but the action is from the hip, linked through the midsection and crossing over into the opposing lat. In this position, and all others, make sure the shoulders are down and back and the chest up.

To get from here to the half-get up position we simply drive the left hand into the floor as if doing a triceps pressdown. As the arm straightens screw the hand into the ground with a little external rotation to tighten up the shoulder and help pack it down. (On a trip to Australia, Master RKC Dave Whitley described this as “squishing the spider.” I had to inform him that no one here touches spiders because they’ll kill you, but the image is still a good one.) At this point you should be sitting tall, chest up, with shoulders down and back. The left leg will be straight still not having moved at all, and the right leg will still be bent at ninety degrees with the shin vertical and the foot flat on the floor. Don’t allow the foot to roll in or the shin to collapse.

The next step is the most difficult for most people. With all your weight on the left hand and right foot you need to lift your hips up high enough to create space to bring the left leg back underneath you. Roughly, the left hand will be in line with your hips still, even though they’re off the ground. The fingers of that hand will be pointing at right angles to you, away to the left. As you bring your leg back you are going to line up the shin of that leg so that it is on the same line as your fingers, making your front and back legs roughly perpendicular to each other. At this point the bell is pretty much directly over the base of support that is your left hand – imagine a building and think about where they put the foundations. Do they put them directly under the building or somewhere off to the side?

To get to the lunge position you are going to perform a hip hinge similar to that of the swing, just on an angle. Push the hips back at a forty-five degree angle to unweight the left hand and get all your weight aligned with your feet. As you do this you are going to take your hand off the ground and come to a kneeling lunge position. At this point the weight will be vertical, the bicep of your right arm in line with your ear, shoulders down and back, chest up. The final adjustment is to windshield wiper the left leg to get us into our lunge position.

To stand dig in the toes of the back foot and drive forward and up. Once standing get the feet about hip width apart, make sure the wrist is straight still on the right hand and that the arm is vertical with the bicep in line with your ear. If you can see the bell in your vision here you are either not upright yourself and are likely leant backwards or your arm is not vertical and is instead held out in front of you. From the lunge position up you should be looking straight ahead.

To get back down reverse the process – step back on your left foot, touching the knee to the deck softly. Windshield wiper the leg again and place your left hand on the ground near your left knee (note: not behind, but in line with). Put all your weight on your left hand and right foot. Extend the left leg in front of the body. Place your hips back down on the ground roughly in line with your left hand (if your hand is behind you it is going to be hard to finish the move as your arm will be in the way). Unsquish the spider and lower your elbow to the ground before finally lowering back to your back. Grab the bell with both hands and lower to your chest before rolling to the side and releasing it.

That’s one!

Learn the six basics RKC exercises:

How to Do the Perfect Kettlebell Swing

How to Do the Perfect Goblet Squat

How to Do the Perfect Kettlebell Clean

How to Do the Perfect Kettlebell Press

How to Do the Perfect Kettlebell Snatch

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