How Heavy Should I Go in a Get-up?

Here’s the thing. We teach get-ups very light. That’s because students are moving around for the very first time with a weight overhead. And so of course, there is a danger of dropping a very heavy weight onto your very vulnerable face.

But once a student owns the movement and learns to use his body as one unit — the way it is meant to work — a much heavier bell can (and should) be used. The get-up is not just a light warm-up mobility exercise (although there are definite benefits there). It should also be a serious strength exercise once the student owns the movement with confidence.

StrongFirst Certification Get-UpWhere Did We Get Confused About the Get-up?

“Naked” get-ups, shoe get-ups, and very light get-ups are all great teaching tools as well as good practice and mobility work. I think when the awesome book and DVD set Kalos Thenos came out people lost interest in heavy get-ups almost completely, replacing them with the light get-ups with neck/shoulder rotations and the high hip bridge — much like when people gave up heavy snatching altogether when Viking Warrior Conditioning came out.

I am not saying the Kalos Thenos get-up is bad — on the contrary, I think it is a great drill for both newbies and advanced lifters, as well as an instructor tool to screen movement problems, asymmetries, spot tight hip flexors, and the list goes on. But when a whole type of get-up is abandoned, then a crucial part of the picture is missing.

StrongFirst Get-Up DemonstrationStrongFirst’s Expectation About the Get-up

Kalos Thenos get-up yang is the heavy get-up. StrongFirst is first and foremost a “School of Strength” and we should get moving with some heavy weights overhead. As Master SFG Brett Jones said one weekend as we were getting ready for the SFG Level II Certification, you should have the ability to own different kinds of get-ups. You should be able to high hip bridge and low sweep — as well as many other kinds of get-ups. It’s all about body control and strength.

Note on Differences

The heavy get-up will look a little different. You will probably have to sit more into your hip to get under the weight for more leverage when coming up into the kneeling position. Your breathing will be more of a power breathing style. The high hip bridge is probably out of the question if you are maxing out. A max-weight get-up looks very different from the Kalos Thenos get-up — and that’s okay.

Teaching Get-UpGet-up to Heavy

So how do you work on getting up with a heavier weight? You do some drills to make sure you know how to use your body as a single unit.

Kneeling and half-kneeling press drills take out some “cheating” and force you to lock into place. You may feel your abs working extra hard on the opposite side (the body is set up like an “X” but that is a whole different story that I will let Tim Andersen tell here.)

After you do these drills, try something heavy. In the four classes I observed today at my gym, we set eleven personal records after doing various half kneeling press drills. Some of those records were set by newbies (who are expected to move up relatively quickly), but others of those were from students who had been with us for years. One student who has been coming for three years did her first get-up with a 16kg — and made it look easy!

Heavy Get-UpThe Bottom Line

The Kalos Thenos get-up is a fantastic way to perform the exercise, but it’s not the only way to train get-ups. Just like you can use Master SFG Dan John’s Easy Strength program to pattern movements with lighter weights in order to train for a personal record, you can increase your mobility and stability with the Kalos Thenos get-up in order to get-up with some substantial weight above head, and it will help increase your other lifts as well.

Your Get-Up Homework

If you are trying to press a certain weight, get-up with that weight or even one bell heavier. Getting used to moving around with that weight overhead and using your whole body to connect to support it will get you your gains faster.

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Delaine Ross
Senior SFG
Delaine Ross got her Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) in September 2006, where she won the form and technique challenge. Soon after, she moved back to Atlanta and opened Condition Kettlebell Gym.

Delaine got her RKC Level 2 certification in June of 2008 and in March 2010 was promoted to RKC Team Leader by Chief Instructor Pavel Tsatsouline. When Pavel created StrongFirst, she accepted a Senior Instructor position in the new organization. She is excited to continue to use her experience and expertise to spread kettlebell training and its benefits teaching both newbies and instructor level courses.

10 thoughts on “How Heavy Should I Go in a Get-up?

  • I agree that get ups should be done heavy. As heavy as possible but with a weight that allows you to complete the movement. I always use a barbell now as you can add smaller weight increments. I find it difficult to perform a light get up as it doesn’t make me have to concentrate on tension and technique enough to yield any benefits. The get up is by far my favourite lift, I’m working up to 40kg but fear seems to kick in at 37.5kg! It’s great that you are promoting the rare and beautiful get up, it’s like a karate kata but for weight lifters! Check out strengthtech.wordpress.com for further reading on the heavy get up.

  • I agree that Get Ups should be heavy. I’d suggest that a bodyweight GU is equivalent to a double BW squat, or a triple BW deadlift. The objective is to take a heavy weight in hand whilst lying down and to stand up with it. The technique which allows the most weight to be lifted is the best one. Using a light weight does not demand technique refinement. Improving technique is the fastest way to increase strength for it involves only the mind, which can improve much faster than muscle can grow. I believe that using a barbell is helpful for forcing good technique. A barbell is unforgiving if balance is not perfect, unlike a kettle or dumb bell. Paradoxically I think a barbell is easier to lift because the length of it makes it easier to judge if it is in the right place.

  • Kalos Sthenos was dope. That said, the heavy get up has been lost since for sure. I remember doing the program minimum for a solid year and working up to 20 minutes with the beast. That is a serious conditiong workout. Definitely a believer in the basics. But like pavel always says… basic doesn’t mean easy.

  • Kalos Thenos took a complicated movement for beginners and made it even more complicated. The goal is to simplify high bridge, low bridge, just get up. Yes, you should go heavy for getups. For me, the get down is worse than the get up.

    Good article.

    • Kalos Sthenos is actually pretty simple. There is a lot of great cues and break downs, some of which you will never need but are good to have in your back pocket. If you just got with the steps 1-7 it is pretty straight forward. Where people get too ‘complicated’ is looking at the drills and breakdowns and applying them to everyone every single time. Some patient or client might need every single drill or breakdown, but not all. I do believe in the DVD both Brett and Gray talk about how this can be a screen, each level needs to be ‘perfect’ in its own right before building to the next. They also talk about progressing with weight, and I might be taking a seminar point from Brett and adding this to the DVD but he talks about old school strongmen doing nothing else until they can do a full perfect get up on each side with 100lbs. Delaine is right that too many people started doing all the correctives or drills in Kalos Sthenos with every get up. If someone is always doing ‘correctives’ then it’s not correcting anything. Correctives should correct what you are trying to change so you can move on to bigger and better things, like heavy get ups!

    • That’s what I thought… but I can easily press a 12kg Kettlebell, but wobble too much trying it with a TGU (mind you, the kettlebells at my gym are huge, I didn’t have that problem in my CrossFit days with smaller kettlebells). I figured I should just get the form right with 8kg kettlebells first (and maybe just buy my own, as the 8kg kettlebells are also huge… )

  • Great article Delaine! I’m a HUGE fan of the Get-up for myself and my clients both light as part of our warm-up or as an assessment as well as heavy as part of our training sessions.

    My question is how heavy is heavy? Or, a better question, at what point do you reach the point of diminishing returns?

    For example, I am male, 39, small frame (5’4″), approximately 130-133lbs (59-60kg), with single digit body fat (tested at 8%) and train for strength (and conditioning). I LOVE heavy get-ups and perform them with 32kg and 36kg. I can do 36kg for 5 sets of 1 per side in 10 minutes (S&S goal) and have done as many as 10 sets of 1 with that weight. My goal is 40kg but do I NEED to go that heavy?

    I know there are certain exercises, weights, sets/reps that you reach the point of diminishing returns and it’s not necessary to go further (Snatch Test). Do you have recommendations for the Get-up in this manner?

    Thanks!

    Nate

    • Also, I have a female client who after losing more than 40lbs training with me the past two years has recently performed Get-ups with 28kg at a body-weight of only 119-120lbs. She routinely uses 24kg – 26kg and has for a few months now. I have other female clients using 20-24kg as well. Is there a point of diminishing returns for them?

      I know what the S&S guidelines include (the Simple goal and the Sinister goal) but they are not body-weight dependent. So smaller men, like myself, or smaller women may never achieve those particular Sinister goals but will and can definitely get close.

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