Every runner knows the toll their sport puts on their hip flexors. Hip flexors being the minimum of our bane. Tight hip flexors, low back (usually the “QL,” quadratus lumborum and psoas) aches and pains, shoulder musculature stiffness, optimizing breath and musculature, etc., etc., The list can be extensive for any runner! We stretch before, after, between, and sometimes even during running bouts.
Some of us are not born particularly flexible or liking to stretch to improve flexibility. The get-up can be a novel way to target mobility, flexibility, stability, and fluidity of your body mapping. Who does not like the sound of that carry-over to a smoother and more enjoyable run?
It is a true beauty in the sum of its parts. Now we will break down those parts and relate them to how they can be an alternative, or perfect addition, to your current stretching and flexibility programming.
*** Before we start our “How-To,” I highly recommend practicing get-ups without a kettlebell for a solid session or two of at least ten minutes each. You can then try using a light dumbbell to get acclimated to having weight in your hand and overhead for a few sessions. Once you have the SKILL of moving through its transitions, only then should you add a kettlebell. Ladies start with a 15-pound kettlebell, gentlemen start with a 25- or 35-pound kettlebell. The kettlebell breathes a whole new dimension of life into the get-up, so be ready for lots of additional stabilization when you advance! ***
Even though you will be starting your first-ever get-up practice without a bell, visualize that you are using a very heavy bell. Respect the process here and now--you will thank me later! Get-ups themselves do not require a lot of space— just enough as tall as you are lying and then standing with your arms stretched up over head. I do recommend having a nice open area— away from people, pets, and anything valuable. Even though the get-up looks standardized, it is not easy! It is going to also put your visual and vestibular systems through their paces!
Start with lying supine (on your back) on a floor that is kind to your knees, but not squishy and unstable. Your weight (or once you add it) will be at your side on the floor— at belly button level, no higher than chest level, and about half a foot away. Do not make the mistake of lying so close to your weight that you have to wriggle your way to get your grip on the handle. This is just silly...and it looks it! It is not a solid start to what should be a solid drill. Whatever side your bell is on, that side knee is bent with the foot flat on the floor.
-Roll your whole body toward the bell, let’s say you start with it at your right side.
-Roll to the right.
-Grip it by the handle with your right hand from the underside.
-Put your left hand on top of the handle and your right hand’s fingers.
-Bring that baby in close with both your hands, pulling it toward your right armpit.
-Roll to your back, with the bell now at your right shoulder/armpit, still holding with both hands. Use both hands to raise it up over the right side of your chest.
Now that the load is locked-in, you can release your left hand and place it at about 45 degrees from your left side. You do not want it so close that you can not use it as an assist in the next step, if necessary.
Bonus drill #1: A helpful drill in and of itself, at this point, is to move the shoulder into internal rotation then external rotation a few times. Do this with no weight or exceptionally light weight! Think of it as an accessory proprioceptive mapping exercise. It is not a circus move like the full-blown get-up has a history of with strong men like Arthur Saxon.
Bonus drill #2: You can also practice moving from supine to prone (from lying on your back to lying on the belly) with the shoulder up and overhead here. Again, use a light weight, or no weight at all to feel through the mapping of this bonus exercise for your shoulder. You can then do a few internal/external rotations lying on your belly too. Stretching all the tissue in a new way may help your run feel a little lighter from your shoulders being looser! Go slow and intentionally with these.
-With your arm down and in the socket and your weight above your chest, (NOT YOUR FACE!)
-Eyes on the bell.
-Dorsiflex your left foot: Extended through the left heel towards the opposite wall.
-Take a belly breath in to protect that spine. (Keep your left heel glued to the floor!)
-“Punch and crunch” up to either propped on your left elbow, or fully sitting up, both with a proud chest!
Bonus drill #1: This sit-up can be worked for reps: going up to sitting (or elbow as a modifier), then rolling one vertebra down at a time, to lying. Work it repeatedly, focusing on keeping the shoulder down and in, and the spine long, with a proud chest at the top.
Bonus drill #2: I like to do a handful of thoracic anterior/posterior glides here to feel through the mapping of the spine under an awkward load. Anatomically match the glide with the breath for a fun little breathing drill.
Lower body transition
Now that you are in a full sit-up, we need to get your lower body ready to stand-up! There are diverse ways to get your feet into position to stand. I will share the two basic lunge transitions.
1. Leg switch
If you are heavier, or new to the get-up game, I prefer you practice the leg switch to get into your kneeling lunge stance. It is admittingly more intuitive.
-From your full sit-up position, your right knee is still bent from the beginning of this part, and your left knee is still extended.
-You are going to bring your left shin behind your right foot by sweeping the left heel in toward the right foot.
-Simply lift your right foot at the proper time to get the left shin behind your right heel.
-Now you can use your left hand to push yourself forward with a little momentum as you shin roll on the LEFT shin and move into a kneeling position.
-Your left foot will be at a funny angle, under your right thigh here, so spin that knee with external hip rotation on the left side to get that left lower leg’s toes pointed behind you.
The hip bridge has a lot of value. But if you cannot do it, or never advance to it, do not throw your get-up practice out altogether forever! It is just a way to do get-ups, it is not THE way.
-To set-up for the hip bridge, actively press your right foot down and your left hand into the floor. With this energy going into the Earth, you will raise the opposite energy up into your hips. You will look kind of like a slanted cross here.
-Squeeze your glutes hard to get a little extra extension out of the hips and really work those pelvic floor muscles, the QL, and even psoas. Your quads will be working hard too!
-With your hips high, you have plenty of clearance to sweep your left foot toward your right heel, and under your right glute.
- Pull your left knee in so it is under your left hip. And now we have a nice right angle at the top of the right hip and knee, and the pelvis toward the left side, with the left knee also at a right angle. A cheesy way to remember this part is: If it is a right angle, you are not wrong!
- Then you can spin the left knee so the lower leg is pointing behind you like you did in the leg switch get-up.
*Look straight ahead now. Check the shoulder is down and in the socket, the elbow is straight and locked out, and the wrist is straight. Just as in boxing, “there is no wrist in kettlebells.” From your forearm straight up to the sky is flush and straight. No broken/bent backwards wrists!
Lower your torso, by using a right lateral hip hinge, over to the left into a mini-windmill. You can place your left extended arm (or forearm!) on the floor to the left, nice and close. Then breath in, stabilize the low back and core, reverse the windmill to a straight up spine. The spine stays long throughout this! It is a HIP HINGE, not lateral spinal flexion. You can throw in some shoulder internal/external rotations when your down in the windmill or in your kneeling lunge. Good stuff (it’s done slow and controlled and for good reason)!
Bonus drill #2: A good old runner’s lunge while we are here isn’t a bad idea! Take it slow and steady and check that your shoulder can control and withstand your load before you move through the feel of this one. Match your breath with the forward and back of this mobility drill to really release tension in the hip flexor on the right side. Remember to flex your left glute to stabilize your low back and protect it!
Before you move from kneeling to the next part of our get-up, tuck your back toes under, (in this case the left toes). You will have much better leverage than if the top of your foot is stretched out on the floor.
We are almost half-way there! Stay with me. It gets simpler!
-From your kneeling lunge, with the left toes tucked under for leverage, and the shoulder in check, look straight ahead and stand straight up.
There is no shame in using a prop if you need a little extra help from kneeling to standing,
Get a bench, stable chair, low table, even a solid couch arm, at the left side to push into so you can stand UP, not forward then up.
You are standing! Woohoo! You made it!! Safely lower and rest your bell if you need a little breather here. I would not blame you! This is tough work. It is resiliency work!
If you are good to go, let’s reverse!
One way to learn the get-up in a way that may make better sense to you, is to start here, at the standing press overhead point. I often coach it from here when the floor to standing is too overwhelming. Something about getting down is wired more naturally in us.
Bonus #1: Once you have learned a variety of exercises, it is fun to put them in here as part of a flow. For example, you can do a get-up, then lower the weight and press it back up. You can add a squat and/or snatch somewhere in there if you are creative and up for it. Kettlebell flows can be fun because it feels like “playing out” instead of working out.
-From standing with your bell in a solid lockout overhead, you will take a big step back with your left leg (when you reverse, you always step back with the OPPOSITE side leg from the bell overhead). Make sure to give yourself enough room to lower the right knee to the floor.
-From the big reverse lunge, slowly and with kindness lower your left knee to the floor. You will be tempted to just drop into the lunge. Resist the urge and keep control. Your knees do not need any more pounding. They get plenty of that on the pavement!
-From your kneeling lunge, hip hinge to the right and lower your left hand to the floor TO YOUR SIDE-NOT BEHIND OR IN BACK OF YOU!
Keep the shoulder and weight in check!
-From here you can start to distribute your weight into the upper body, curl your left leg in toward your right heel. Keep sweeping the left foot out to extend the knee just as it was when we started, using more of the upper body to take the load to stabilize this kick through.
-With the left leg out straight again, it is time to slowly lower yourself using your core muscle back down to a fulling supine lying position.
Final Phase: the lower
You are not finished with your get-up until you’ve CAREFULLY rested your weight on the floor and walked away SAFELY. Lowering your weight back to the floor is just as important as any other part of the exercise. Don’t discount it and don’t trip on your bell when you walk away!
Lower you bell by using both hands. Get the left hand back on the handle and your right hand, just like it helped to raise it in the beginning. You have learned by going through the full get-up, that just because the bell is on the right, does not mean the rest of the body is on cruise control. “All the body. All the time.”
Two hands help the bell to the right armpit. Two hands stay on it as you roll to the right side and safely rest your bell on the floor. Remember, you are not finished with the set until you can safely leave the scene.
You have the swing under your belt from my first article and now the get-up! If you never learn any other kettlebell exercises than these two, you have a huge benefit in your back pocket! Honestly, you do not even have to do swings and get-ups with a kettlebell. You can use dumbbells to practice until you get to a kettlebell. However, the dumbbell is stiff, and it will not have the same dynamics and “life” the kettlebell has. It is just a matter of physics. Gravity pulls differently on them, especially in motion because of how its handles are fashioned. Kettlebells feel a lot more playful than dumbbells to most folks, but do not let the absence of having a kettlebell stop you from doing get-ups and swings!
Here is something simple (but not easy) to get you going with these two exercises:
Set a timer for 10 minutes:
-Even minutes practice swings
No need to count reps unless you want to best yourself or keep pace.
-Odd minutes practice get-ups
A proficient athlete can get in one full get-up on the right in 30 seconds, one get-up on the left in another 30. So really no more than two total get-ups here (if you’re doing them properly).
You can, of course, move through the get-up with very light weight and work the bonus mobility drills to warm-up for your next run! Or make the ten-minute session above a finisher to your next outing. Just remember to have fun. It’s your run!
Thank you Sara C. for your continued contribution to the SW community. Need to catch up? Revisit Sara's previous kettlebell pieces: