A Critical Get-up Transition: From the Elbow to the Hand

A student of mine once described the get-up as being comprised of “frames of a comic strip”—meaning there are definitive positions to hit before you move on to the next “frame.” In fact, if I walk into your training space and see you “frozen” in one of these positions, I shouldn’t be able to tell whether you are on the way up in your get-up or on the way down. And, as I like to joke, there is never an excuse for being out of position during the get-up because you can always correct yourself at the next frame.

But what about the transitions between the frames?

Your movement from frame A to frame B should be smooth and set you up for not only a great position at that frame but a great transition to frame C and so on. One of the critical transitions to a kalos sthenos (ancient Greek for “beautiful strength”) get-up is the move from the elbow to the hand (or the elbow-to-post transition from Kettlebells from the Ground Up-Kalos Sthenos). A great transition from the elbow to the hand sets up a safe and solid shoulder position (on the down arm) for the low sweep or the high bridge.

The Arm Angle in the Roll to the Elbow

Setting up the transition from the elbow to the hand begins by having a great arm position for the roll to the elbow portion of the get-up. Begin with a 45-degree angle of the arm away from the body and adjust as needed to your arm and torso lengths, so when you roll to the elbow you create a straight line down from the shoulder to the elbow on the ground.

A Critical Get-up Transition: From the Elbow to the Hand

If the elbow is angled in toward the body, then the arm was too close at the start. If the elbow angles away from the body, then the arm was too far away from the body at the start. Find the ideal angle by practicing with an un-weighted get-up.

The Transition from the Elbow to the Hand

Once you have found the ideal position for the arm at the roll to the elbow, you are ready to consider the transition from the elbow to the hand. Begin this transition by rotating the arm and forearm away from the body and even beginning to point the fingers behind you. Once you are rotated as far as you can while keeping the forearm on the ground, then press down through the heel of the hand, continuing to point your fingers behind you and rotating the arm so the triceps squeeze against the lat and the arm/hand is pushing down into the ground bringing the body to the tall sit position. This externally rotated position of squeezing the triceps against the lat and pressing down into the ground will produce a shoulder position that is ready to lift the body for either the low sweep or high bridge.

Performing the transition in this manner also assists in finding the best position for the tall sit without picking up and moving the arm. Under the load of a heavy kettlebell (and that is one of the reasons we are performing a get-up—to put a heavy weight overhead) having to lift the arm off the ground to make adjustments can introduce unwanted instability into the movement. Some adjustment is certainly allowed depending on the arm and torso lengths of the individual, but sitting up to unload the arm and then replacing it should be avoided. A little bit of sliding the hand closer to the body is all that should be needed.

As you can see in the video the angles, positions, and smooth transitions allow me to move from back to elbow to hand to elbow to back in a smooth sequence. During an unweighted get-up, try to find your own angles and smooth transitions and you may find your own kalos sthenos get-up.

As always, the best way to learn proper technique is to find your local SFG instructor to receive individualized instruction and assistance. You may also consider attending an SFG Course or Certification.

Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
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3 thoughts on “A Critical Get-up Transition: From the Elbow to the Hand

  • Really interesting Brett ! I love all of your articles on StrongFirst ! For my part, my weakest ( strong, not stronger) transition is the one just before: FROM THE GROUND TO ELBOW ! I’m still trying to figure out how am I suppose to push my self up ? Where am I suppose to focus ? With what muscles ??? Should I start with the Abs ( and curve my back ) ? Does my back must stay flat, then I should push more with my back-shoulder and tricep ? Or should I push most of the weight with my bented leg to pivot ? and if so, do I have a glute amnesia (cause I feel weak in the glute with my leg angled to the side) ? All kind of questions that I have about my first transition of the TGU… Sign that I don’t master this part of the move… any cues for me and others Brett ??? Thanks a lot for all these articles past and future, I really love all the knowledge there is on StrongFirst.com !!! You are my best source of Strength & Conditioning !!!

    Bruno U.
    Montreal, Qc, Canada.

    • Bruno
      Thank you for the kind words and glad to have been of assistance in your practice.
      The transition to the elbow is a 45 degree “roll-up” not a straight ahead sit-up.
      Drive through the heel of the bent leg and “pull/roll” up to the elbow (the spine does not roll or bend – but transition through the stable center).
      If that does not help you could post a video on the forum so I could see exactly what is going on.

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