The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-up

“As above, so below.”
-Unknown

We like what is new. Look at how Apple has benefited every time they release the latest iPhone, iPad, or Mac. The followers of Apple are fiercely loyal. The nice thing about Apple and this craze over their products is they are continuously pushing the technology forward. The downfall is the marketing craze they generate surrounding the release of their latest and greatest product. Is the need to push the industry forward generating their drive or is it the all mighty dollar?

I would like to think it is mostly an internal drive to be better than they were yesterday, but in reality they are a for-profit business selling products no one else on the planet can create. If we look at the technology Apple has popularized, they weren’t the first to come up with some of their most popular products—Sony had MP3 players on the market well before the iPod exploded. What Apple did was popularize and market it in a manner that the public had to have it. Big mistake for Sony.

When Pavel introduced kettlebells to the West several years ago, the get-up was reintroduced. Pavel didn’t “create” the get-up, he just dusted it off and pulled it out of obscurity. Brett Jones and Gray Cook shed new light on the get-up as a wonderful mini-assessment and corrective drill with the CK-FMS, Kalos Thenos, and Kalos Thenos 2. Then, Dr. Mark Cheng added the high bridge to promote hip extension and the get-up became forever changed—and forever controversial.

Due to all this, the popularity of the get-up soared! The get-up was a rock star—everyone was doing get-up, get-up variations, get-up breakdowns, and heavy get-ups. YouTube loved it! The pendulum had swung to overexposure. But like it has been said before, after every peak is a valley—we are now in that get-up valley.

Before We Get-up, We Crawl

Let’s take a deeper look at why the get-up is so powerful and so diverse in its application. Before we do that, let’s look at crawling. Crawling, much like the get-up has been around for a while—no one invented it and no one entity owns it. It is a powerful, but small part of the entire neurodevelopmental sequence (the progressive development of movement patterns and strength that begins at birth and continues until we are vertical).

Neurodevelopmental Sequence

The earliest I can find that crawling was used clinically was in the early 1970s by Moshé Feldenkrais. I watched Gray Cook drop the IQ of an entire room several years ago when he asked people to crawl. Why is crawling so beneficial? Here is a list of the reasons:

  1. Promotes cross lateralization (getting right brain to work with left side)
  2. Promotes upper body stability
  3. Promotes lower body stability
  4. Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities
  5. Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg
  6. Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally (legs, too)
  7. Stimulates the vestibular system (one of three senses that contributes to balance)
  8. Stimulates the visual system (second of three senses that contributes to balance)
  9. Stimulates the proprioception system (third sense that contributes to balance)
  10. Promotes spatial awareness
  11. Develops a front/back weight shift
  12. Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength

Quite a few things there that make crawling awesome. But, it’s biggest limitation is that the orientation of the body never changes (crawling is always done on all-fours with the trunk parallel to the ground) and loading it (volume, resistance, etc) defeats the purpose of crawling. Crawling’s biggest gift to the world of movement is the neurologic adaptations it promotes.

But during the neurodevelopmental sequence, once an infant is proficient at crawling and has developed adequate strength and stability, he or she moves up the sequence to walking. Being vertical is a much better posture to develop strength, power, and metabolic loading. Developmentally that is where a majority of those attributes are developed.

Toddler Get-up
Look familiar?

All that being said, every person I see is likely to crawl. Once they have nailed it, we only revisit it as a quick assessment. I also recommend everyone brush their teeth—this gives you a shiny grill and is good for cardiovascular health (huh?). After meals for about two minutes at a time is adequate. I don’t recommend they progress to brushing for ten minutes, or with a heavier brush, or to brush harder.

Back to the get-up. Why is it so beneficial? Here is a list of reasons:

  1. Promotes cross lateralization (getting right brain to work with left side)
  2. Promotes upper body stability
  3. Promotes lower body stability
  4. Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities
  5. Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg
  6. Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally (legs, too)
  7. Stimulates the vestibular system (one of three senses that contributes to balance)
  8. Stimulates the visual system (second of three senses that contributes to balance)
  9. Stimulates the proprioception system (third sense that contributes to balance)
  10. Promotes spatial awareness
  11. Develops a front/back weight shift
  12. Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength

Does that list look familiar? Unlike with the limitation of crawling (only occurring in one posture) the get-up works through several postures of the neurodevelopmental sequence: supine, rolling, crawling, asymmetrical stance, single-leg stance, and symmetrical stance. Additionally, you can proceed to adding substantial load to the get-up to magnify the strength and stability components. So, the get-up is just like crawling—only much better.

The Get-up Isn’t Just About “Up”

One of the overlooked benefits of the get-up is due to a misconception the name presents: “up.” How does an infant rise to standing from either a seated, quadruped, or kneeling posture? I’ll bet you answered with “they pull up.” If so, you would be wrong. It appears they pull themselves up, but they are infants and lack the upper body strength to physically pull themselves up.

What appears as pulling up, is them placing their hands above shoulder level and pressing down. This pushing down activates several trunk stabilizers that allow them to push their feet into the ground to rise up. So, in essence, what they are doing is pushing down to get up. Thus, the get-up is the perfect representative of this overlooked developmental feat, and one that crawling neglects. The only way to initiate the roll to elbow is by pressing into the giant globe beneath us. This pressing into the ground is what generates the needed stability to move into a vertical position.

Heavy Get-up
Derek Miller, SFG II, performing a 68kg get-up at Ballistic Fitness Kettlebell Gym. A heavy get-up is “corrective”—symmetry, strength, and neurological coordination are in full display here. A perfect display of pressing down to get up.

The point of this? Everyone who has read Simple & Sinister or has the initials SFG behind their name has the tools to apply the greatest neurological movement ever. Can you crawl? By all means, go for it. But my question to you is like my question about Apple—are you crawling to get better or are you crawling because you have been convinced you can’t get stronger without it?

The benefits of mastering the get-up have been swallowed up by the recent craze of crawling and other movement-based systems. If it is good enough to balance out the swings in the Simple & Sinister program, there is probably a good reason why.

Brandon Hetzler
Senior SFG, SFL, SFB

Brandon Hetzler is a Certified Athletic Trainer who serves as the Manager for Mercy Sports Medicine in Springfield, Missouri, where he oversees the Sports Medicine program as well as the Sports Performance program. He helped to develop the curriculum for and teaches in the Masters of Athletic Training degree at Missouri State University. He is a StrongFirst Senior Instructor, SFG II, SFB, and SFL and holds several additional credentials in multiple training disciplines.


Brandon is the co-creator of Movement Restoration, LLC and the Athletic Development Institute, LLC. He has written a book titled Movement Restoration, which proves anyone with enough free time and persistence can write a book. He teaches several workshops every year and when he is not traveling to teach, he spends his time trying to keep his wife, son, and dog in line and going strong.


Brandon Hetzler on Facebook

36 thoughts on “The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-up

  • To me the TGU is just as important as the swings in my S&S workout, or even more important than them. It develops and maintains all direction strength, balance, and coordination. No other single move offers so much in all departments.

  • Great article apart from the fact about Pavel introducing Kettlebells to the west I have seen the Swing, snatch, and GTU done in Yorkshire England in the Early 70s with Kettlebells by a local blacksmith who made and sold them ,also photographs of them used in Victorian and and Edwardian Britain .

  • Good article. I’m a fan of crawling and the TGU. I’m a bit surprised by the amount of contention in the comments, something I’m unacutomed to seeing here.

    As for the quote, “As above, so below”, google “The Kybalion.”

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • I would encourage everyone to read a blog entry on originalstrength.net called Crawling, better than Deadlifting. It’s by a former powerlifter. Brandon, sometimes science doesn’t have all the answers ;-). Everyone has an opinion but you can’t really argue with results. And no disrespect but my opinion on your comment about loaded crawling not making your one rep one arm military press go up. You might be right about that. I personally haven’t tried it. But brute strength comes in many shapes and forms so to speak. Example: I’m from an area with a lot of hardworking farmers. I’ve personally seen small “farm boys”(and men) who have never lifted weights but man handle guys who are a lot bigger and who are extremely strong in the weight room. So I would just say since someone can perform a certain lift with more weight doesn’t neccessary mean they are stronger. I think that’s a point a lot of people miss. But I do love Pavels term “all terrain strength” in S&S.

  • It was Steve Maxwell whom introduced TGU to Pavel. How about getting your facts straight for a change.

  • It would seem that the premise of this article is to show readers that once mastered, the crawl really has no other benefit and that strength cannot be trained using it. I would disagree. I used it as a primary source of training while recovering from an injury and did not suffer any loss of strength after a month away. In fact my pull-ups were actually stronger. Now don’t get me wrong. I love the TGU. I tell clients all the time if you’re going to do one lift, that would be one to use. In fact it may be my favorite. But there is room for both. This feels a bit like the deadlift/squat debate. It doesn’t have to be either or when they are both awesome.

  • Yes People forget, who brought a movement to the forefront. It was Steve Maxwell! But it is all a big marketing machinery, like always. Like Apple…

    And I can attest too, that crawling has big benefits. I am a climber and crawling is the perfect antagonistic move.

    • There are three reasons why Apple is so revered by its users:
      1) it works ..and works RELIABLY
      2) Functional Design : no necessary things..only what is required for you to get the job done and to do it right.
      2) Looks good..makes you look good while getting your work done….

      TGU is the “Turkish Get Up” its has been and is an exercise that has been practiced by a very old culture…and still survived……..meaning its stood the test of time….TGU is confirmed to develop functional fitness…which was a requirement of the people who developed this movement…

      TGU exercise not a panacea or one shot solution but it does close many gaps in a persons weakness in the shortest span of time….like the KB swing…KB c&P …KB snatch.

      and I’m speaking from Personal experience. And I don’t workout to compete..I do it to enjoy life to the full.

      so Steve Maxwell introduced the TGU to RKC….so what?? are you befitting from it…..???? (I admire both Pavel & Steve – both are amazing Guys and have benefited from both of their contributions).

  • Why are you crediting Pavel with the Turkish getup? Steve Maxwell introduced it to the RKC curriculum. It’s stated in Pavel’s own books.

    • You are correct. But, Pavel was the face and the driving force behind the popularity of the RKC and is currently one of the driving forces with StrongFirst. Maxwell did introduce it to the RKC, but the RKC introduced it to masses.

  • As I read the first paragraph and the parallel to Apple’s brilliant technology marketing, it called to mind an event held last year in LA. Two big time names in the S&C/PT world held an afternoon seminar: a TGU how to. Four hours or so of instruction. $399.

    I hope they included snacks.

  • Don’t know any science about it, bot doing uphill backward crawling for straight 10 minutes was the most brutal and intense strength drill i’ve ever done, so still don’t know why crawling can’t be a strength movement.

    • 10 minutes is not strength. That would be more strength endurance – or endurance. The snatch test (5:00) is not the strength component of the SFG – those are the pullups in level 1, and the pullups + 1/2 bw press in level 2. The barbell workshop has strength requirements for 1-5 reps in regards to bodyweight. the bodyweight cert has a 1 rep push up test. I think this part of the confusion in what is out there on crawling – does it make you stronger by the actual definition of strength? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but did any of your 1 rep maxes increase immediatly after this 10 minute workout?

      I believe Pavel has made a statement somewhere in one of his writings that goes something likes – “It’s not what your workout takes out of you, but what it gives you” (I apologize if that is not the exact quote, but that is the gist of it.)

      • Actually, my press and get up have significantly benefited from crawling with and with out loads, for time and for distances. Not only my own strength but that of those I train. I agree with you that 10 minutes is not strength as defined by a rep scheme of 1-5 or loads of 88% and above. However it’s what that crawling work gives you in return, maybe not right away (though I have seen and done that as well) but after. If crawling is a basic step in the NDS and it most certainly is, why not truly own that step? The tie in between the hip core and shoulder is undeniable if you have spent some time on the floor. In my opinion the benefits of crawling in loaded fashions only improves the skill and strength of the TGU and makes it stronger. While I appreciate your well written post, I must respectfully disagree with the premise that loaded crawls / crawling for time etc…have little value from a strength perspective.

        • First, I’m glad you got stronger. Second, if no one disagreed with what I wrote I would assume that it hadn’t been read.

          Try this – train for a half body weight turkish get up (the Level 2 recertification requirement) with only loaded crawling and post your results. While you may feel stronger, being strong has little to to with “feelings”.

          I really didn’t want to do down this path, but I will. Crawling is NOT a key part of the developmental sequence – it is just a part. The perceived imortance (and current love of crawling) is based only on current, western views of the NDS. There is quite a bit of evidence that shows crawling has at most only been around for 200 hundred years, and only in developed countries. There are still pockets of the world where infants never crawl and develop just as normally as kids who do crawl. Crawling is not important – the neural stimulation that it ellicits is important. But, like I pointed out in the article, crawling is NOT the only way to get these same neurological benefits.

          If you like to crawl, crawl. If you want to load your crawls, load them. But crawling is only one (small) component of a much larger picture.

          • “…where infants never crawl and develop just as normally as kids who do crawl.”

            I guess those infants do TGUs.

      • Thanks for response Brandon 🙂

        I’m not an advanced or even intermediate compared with other strong guys and ladies here but also i’m not a novice when it comes to strength training.
        I follow Pavel’s/StrongFirst training principles for a long time, and i can separate strength training from endurance or strength-endurance training.
        I am familiar with the words that you quoted here about what training should give you, and trust me i am not a guy who want to be smashed in my training session 🙂

        But back to the topic. My bodyweight skills have improved, so yes it was a carryover from crawling to my strength training. I don’t tested any 1RM, but surely i can feel it the difference.
        Get up is cool movement, but it didn’t give me the crawling benefits, for sure like unlocking my lower back flexibility after serious injury, remove my fear in some acrobatics skills, just to name it few..

        I am not a SFG instructor, not OS, not other movement system specialist, just a training lover who share personal experiences.

        And i am still don’t see the reason why crawling can’t be loaded and treated like a strength drill 🙂

  • I suspect Feldenkrais ‘borrowed’ a LOT of his developmental and ‘stability to poise’ progressions from Raymond Dart.

    In three papers:
    “The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion” (1946) (actually has more practical description of the development work than others)
    “The Attainment of Poise” (1947)
    “Voluntary Musculature of the Human Body: The Double-Spiral Arrangement” (1950)
    Dart described his work exploring developmental movement, inspired by his knowledge of the Alexander Technique.

    Feldenkrais also studied the Technique for decades but, to my knowledge, never acknowledged it in print.

  • Excellent article. Thanks!

    In your response to Dave you said you would classify crawling as a developmental pattern not a lift. I totally get this.
    So would we also classify the TGU as a developmental movement and not a lift? What would be the distinguishing factor(s)?
    I only ask bc of the direct comparison you made between the two in the article.

    Also, what is your approach/philosophy on sets/reps when performing the TGU?

    Thanks again. Great read.

    • The TGU is not a developmental movement – those are postures/movements that we see in infants as they are initially developing movement competency, think of the milestones parents/doctors keep an eye out for. The TGU is a lift, it is a corrective drill, and it is everything in between. It goes back to a saying I’ve heard Jeff O’Connor and Brett Jones say – “the get up is an inch wide and a mile deep.” The direct comparisons between crawling and the TGU are what make the TGU so valuable – you get all the benefits of crawling, and even more.

      Any specific recommendations regarding programming for the TGU I will direct to Pavel’s Simple and Sinister. All I will say is there are plenty of reasons to include them in a program on a very regular basis.

  • Brandon,

    Well done.

    Like the list of benefits as seen through another persons eyes

    TGU – taking it apart and putting it together in April, popular or unpopular

    Simple and Sinister – I don’t know why it is in there, the answers reveal themselves by doing

    I don’t have to understand it all now to get stronger with it. I will understand it more by May 1.

  • Thanks for the article Brandon!

    I know intuitively that both are useful, but I don’t have the background to know exactly why. This lays it out clearly.

    Also the NDS graphic looks just like the Evolution of Man, but it ends in a kettlebell instructor! 🙂

  • Dave,

    Thanks. More info on the NDS – go to the facebook site Movement Restoration Project. We have been sharing the message on the NDS for the past 4 years – though not many people want to actually learn about it, they just want cool/fancy exercises. It is also part of our Master’s Degree coursework at Missouri State University (we also have pretty sweet partnerships with StrongFirst and FMS….).

    As far as why I think loading it is wrong – why would you want to load it? I can make anything harder by adding more weight. More weight in the deadlift = awesome. More weight in a snatch = awesom. More weight in a press = awesome. More weight in crawling = missing the point of crawling. Adding increased load to a “lift” is awesome. Crawling is NOT a lift – it is a developmental stage that is highly neurologic in nature (its hardest between the ears). Adding load COMPLETELY defeats the purpose. While we are at it lets add a load to swimmers too. Crawling is alot like dating – once you have a significant other adding more significant others will only cause problems. Once you have a date, move on. Once you can crawl, move on in the developmental sequence where loading is approriate – the standing postures.

    Can you add resistance to crawling – absolutely, there are no exercise police. Should you???? ONLY if it exploits a defecit in the pattern (as in RNT via FMS and Gray Cook). From a corrective nature, I can see it. From a metabolic nature, no. We bash organizations that add metabolic loads to lifts like barbell snatches and overhead squats because the intent of those exercises is not metabolic in nature.

    Crawling (correctly) is tough enough – if you are awesome enough at crawling to add a load to it, move on to something else.

  • After several months I can say, doing 50 get ups per week is easily the best thing I have ever done in my fitness life. I wonder what it will be like after I have been doing 50 per week for several years.

  • Brandon,

    First of all great article! Just getting into S&S so this comes at a perfect time. A couple questions:

    1. Is the reason you don’t recommend crawling loaded with volume, resistance, time..etc because it is only one orientation or that the orientation is parallel to the ground?

    2. You mentioned “several postures of the NDS” What is NDS? Anywhere I can find info about it?

    • @Dave the NDS stands for “neurodevelopmental sequence (the progressive development of movement patterns and strength that begins at birth and continues until we are vertical)” and is shown in the first graphic of the article above.

      • Apologies I think Brandon’s response showed up while I was making that comment, or I totally missed it.

  • Great article on the get-up.
    The quote “As above, so below” is attributed to the semi-mythical sage of the ancient world, Hermes Trismegistus and occurs in the work known as The Emerald Tablet ascribed to him.

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