I’m starting to see (again) the massive benefits of doing a Kettlebell Get Up to help combat aging.
So much so, that I have all my private clients doing a single “GU” on each side everyday as part of our Minimalist Warm-Up.
What rekindled interest in the being able to get up off the floor with grace & strength?
We flew home to spend 5 weeks in Toronto with my parents over the Holidays.
A lot of this time was spent with my dad and quietly observing him in his everyday life – how he moves, how he reacts to things, how he handles stress.
People say that I look like a younger version of my dad. So naturally I was curious to see what my life might be like in my late-70s (my dad is 76 and I just turned 47 last week).
Here’s something I noticed…
I was watching TV on the sofa with my dad (he likes old westerns, of all things). During a commercial break he got up to go to the bathroom by building momentum, swaying himself back and forth until he built up enough juice to get up from a sitting position.
It wasn't the most graceful displays of physicality, but it worked for him.
So it got me wondering what I would need to do – when I hit my late-70s – to not have to rely on aids, walkers or help from others to be able to do simple things that we take for granted now… like getting up from a seated position (essentially a squat), or getting up from the floor.
The ability to get up independently from sitting or directly off the ground becomes increasingly vital as we get older. And these abilities impact our overall well-being and longevity.
A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, identified a strong link to all cause mortality and the ability to sit and rise from the floor.
I know it seems simple but being able to get up is, in fact, a significant marker of health and resilience.
The mechanics of standing up from a seated or lying down position involves using multiple muscle groups, fostering physical strength, flexibility, and mobility…preventing common issues like falls and fractures.
Essentially, getting up unassisted is a fundamental marker of functional independence, playing a huge role in daily activities and overall physical health.
Beyond the physical though, the capacity to stand up independently can hold some psychological weight as well.
Imagine that while all of your friends are using walkers, canes and other aids, the confidence & feelings of self-worth that you’d have as older individual by just being able to get up off the floor without help would be significant.
I don’t know about you, but my pride right now rarely allows me to accept help from anyone. I’m working on that, but I can’t see myself succumbing to letting someone help me up out of bed, or worse help me in the bathroom.
So here’s what I think we need to do.
We need to preserve and enhance our ability to get up NOW.
If you’ve read Dr. Peter Attia’s book “Outlive”, you’ll know that one of the best ways to maintain a physical skill (or physical strength) is to look ahead to what you want to be able to do in the last decade of your life.
From there, you “reverse engineer” – decade by decade – the skill you’d like to master.
I think the Kettlebell Get Up is THE BEST skill to learn to develop the strength, coordination, joint resilience & integrity to be able to get up off the floor without help later in life.
Using Dr. Attia's model, and assuming that – using me as an example – when I turn 80 I still want to be able to get up off the floor unassisted (even though I plan to live until at least 100).
Here’s how I broke down how I should plan my Get Up weights (yours may be different) over the years…
GOAL: When I’m 80, I will be able to get up off the floor unassisted.
- From 73-80yrs old, I should be able to do a Turkish Get Up with a 12kg kettlebell on each side.
- From 66-72, I should be able to do a TGU on each side with a 16kg kettlebell.
- From 60-66, I should be able to do a TGU on each side with a 20kg KB.
- From 54-60, a 24kg KB.
- From 48-54, 28kg KB
- From 40-47, a 32kg KB… which coincidentally is exactly where I’m at right now (although I don’t have access to a 36kg here in Costa Rica, but I did a 36kg get up over the summer in Toronto).
Using that model, I’ve been doing a 32kg Get Up (almost) everyday since January 1st.
Do you know how to do the Get Up correctly?
If you do, I think it would serve you to do a Get Up everyday as well.
Please don’t start with a heavy kettlebell either. Do them first without any weight and solidify the movement & positions first. Then add load as you see fit.
The Get Up works really well if you focus on moving smoothly through the transitions and “locking in and owning” each step/position.
As the Navy SEAL mantra goes…
“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”
Take that approach when you're performing your Get Ups.
If you don’t know how to do the Get Up correctly…
Step 1: The Get Up, Sit Up
I suggest you start with the Get Up, Sit Up – essentially the beginning part of the Get Up… and usually the most challenging part.
NOTE: The Get Up, Sit Up is actually NOT a “sit up” at all. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the video above.
Start by doing 3 reps of the Get Up, Sit Up on each side and progress to 5 reps on each side DAILY.
Also, be weary of any program, system or trainer that has you doing MORE than 5 reps on each side in a single set of a Get Up.
Remember to use a weight that you can easily handle that will allow you to use perfect technique.
Once you hit 5 reps easily, don’t add more reps… add weight instead.
Step 2: The Bridge, Sweep, Post & Windmill
The next progression of the Get Up is arguably the most complex.
It involves somewhat intricate details in terms of foot & knee placement.
Once you get this though, the rest is simple (not necessarily easy, but SIMPLE).
Truthfully, I like to teach this portion of the Get Up stopping at the “post” position.
I'll have my clients “hang out” at the post for several seconds really feeling into the position and understanding how to “retract the scapula” (which is just a fancy way of saying “hold a pencil between your shoulder blades”).
If you need some postural work, holding a kettlebell with an extended arm in the post is a great way to reinforce the opening of your chest and the activation of your upper back.
Keep in mind that using “The Post” for posture really only works well with a kettlebell because of it's unique off-centre of gravity.
When you hold a kettlebell overhead – because the KB sits behind your body – it pulls you naturally into shoulder flexion opening up your chest.
My suggestion, once you're comfortable with the “Get Up, Sit Up”, is to perform 3 Get Up, Sit Ups and then transition into the Sweep & Post on the last rep.
Then, hang out in the post for around 10s before your transition back onto the floor.
Do 3 sets on each side of this drill.
Give it a shot and then leave a comment below and let me know how it's working for you.
Step 3: Putting It All Together and Protecting Your Back
- strong, resilient shoulders from stabilizing a load overhead at different angles
- a solid core & cylinder from the rolling and transitioning into the various positions
- strong glutes from bridging & lunging
- and the building of confidence from supporting a weight overhead
But, I also think that the Get Up has it’s limitations as well…
- It’s not the best “muscle building” exercise. You might build some muscle if you’re a beginner, but nothing like from when you press or squat.
- The Get Up is very technical. If you have the patience to learn it, it will serve you well. But if you’re one of those squirrel brain “enterTRAINment” people, you’ll likely get bored.
- Unfortunately, the Get Up can also be somewhat dangerous if not done properly…
Case in point:
I was assisting at a StrongFirst Certification in Chicago many years back and there was a newbie-ish candidate who witnessed one of our female instructors do a Get Up with a 28kg.
She (the female instructor) was about 5'5″, 125lbs… so a 28kg was over 1/2 her bodyweight.
The candidate – let’s call him “Sparky” (with no disrespect to Sparkie Anderson, one of the greatest MLB managers of all time) – decided, since he was about 5'10” & 190lbs, that if she could do a 28kg then he could definitely do a 32kg.
So up he went visually struggling to even floor press the 32kg into a straight arm position on the floor.
In retrospect, I (or somebody) should’ve intervened and stopped him there.
About halfway into the tall sit position his elbow buckled (because it wasn’t locked out), and the 32kg kettlebell came crashing down in a hurry in the direction of his face.
Luckily one of our other assistants had the wherewithal to be spotting Sparkie at the time and was shadowing the KB in his every move.
Jimmy (the assistant instructor spotting Sparky) quickly cradled the accelerating kettlebell and directed it smoothly to the floor where it crashed down and made a slight divot in the turf.
That quick reaction by Jimmy saved Sparky from a hefty dental bill (he would've for sure lost teeth) and likely a cracked orbital bone, concussion or worse.
The moral of the story (there are 4 of them)…
- Check your ego at the door when it comes to lifting weights.
- Don't do Get Ups with weights you can't handle.
- Women are strong.
- Don’t be a “Sparkie”.
I do Get Ups with a 32kg because, well, I've been doing them for almost 20yrs.
I can do a Get Up with a 36kg, but I don't have a 36kg here in Costa Rica.
I could probably do it with a 40kg as well… but I’d rather not.
The important question to ask is: At what point do you reach the point of diminishing returns?
Will a 495lb squat improve your life significantly if you’re not a powerlifter?
Will doing 20 “kipping” pull-ups help or hinder your shoulder health?
Or will doing a 40kg Get Up make you a better human?
Remember, you’re still holding weight overhead – even if it’s just 16kg, 24kg or 32kg… and anything can happen.
Is the risk worth it?
In my humble opinion, if you can do a Get Up smoothly & consistently with a 24kg kettlebell… you might not need much else (if you're a regular sized guy like me – 5'11”, 168lbs – who just wants to be “strong enough” and live a healthy, athletic life).
If you're a regular strong guy… sure, go for that 32kg.
And if you're a regular lady… a 16kg is sufficient in my experience with female clients.
After that – and this will NOT be a popular opinion – doing Get Ups with heavier weights, holding barbells or holding an actual person (unless you compete in strongman, are a circus performer or a KB instructor) are just a “Here-Hold-My-Beer-Circus-Trick”.
With that said, today's video will teach you how to NOT hurt yourself with the Get Up.
Specifically how NOT to hurt your back… which always is the knock when using kettlebells.
Check it out HERE.
If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone say “Kettlebells hurt my back”, I’d be writing this email from a yacht on the Amalfi Coast (and not from a shuttle bus on a pot hole-y highway in Costa Rica).
“No Sparkie, kettlebells did not hurt your back. Your crappy technique hurt your back. Doesn’t matter if you’re using a kettlebell, a dumbbell, a sandbag or your wife’s curling iron. It will always and forevermore be crappy technique that hurts you when you exercise. Don’t blame the kettlebell.”
So… let’s focus today on learning the correct technique for the full Get Up Proper and then, once you’ve solidified said technique, start adding the full Get Up safely to your daily routine.
Wake up, brush teeth, drink water, do Get Up.