“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”—Bruce Lee
“Obey the principles without being bound by them.” —Bruce Lee
When we begin learning something (anything), there is a tendency to adhere closely (sometimes too closely) to how we were introduced to that thing.
The quest to learn and “perfect” the thing we are learning can lead us to restrict our options and become rigid like the stiffest tree referenced by Bruce Lee. This becomes even more of an issue when you are progressing toward testing to show “mastery” of a skill. It is all too easy to become rigid and unyielding in your adherence to the “steps” under the pressure of testing to meet a standard.
What is important in learning are the principles behind the “thing” we are learning. These principles are there to guide us, not box us in to one way of doing something.
I am guilty of this rigid way of thinking, too. When Jason Marshall sent an email some years ago describing exactly what I am going to show you in this article and video about a nuance of the get-up, I rejected it outright. Instead of saying, “Jason, please, send me a video of what you are describing so I can understand it better,” I simply pushed aside his ideas.
Can you say “rigid”?
So, today, let’s be like the willow when it comes to our get-ups and learn how an adjustment to the windshield-wiper step can open up new possibilities for ourselves and our students.
An Alternative to the Windshield Wiper
The overriding principle behind the get-up is to learn how to most efficiently align your structure so the weight “settles” through you (remember: the weight is held by the ground, not the shoulder). This creates a strong and stable shoulder that is connected to your center and lower body. There will be some individual variation in how that looks and is accomplished, but the fundamental steps that we work through remain the same.
I always joke that there is never an excuse for being out of position during a get-up because you can fix it at the pauses between the steps. For example, if you realize your shoulder became a bit “disconnected” during the roll to the elbow, you can fix that and reconnect your shoulder at the natural pause that occurs before going to the hand. (You can also make a mental note to keep the connection during the next rep.)
A simple modification to the get-up that can make a big difference for many individuals is to simply allow a step of the front leg instead of a rotation or “windshield wiper” move of the rear leg.
Why perform this step instead of windshield wiper?
Due to post-surgical or tender knees or rough/tacky surfaces, the step reduces a lot of stress on the down knee. Just like a sweatband can be used to make the pressure on the forearm comfortable, the step of the front leg can make the get-up more comfortable and have people doing more of them (a good thing in my book).
- Pause and get settled prior to performing the step with the front leg.
- Shift weight to the down knee so you can slide or step the front leg.
- The step will place you in a great lunge position for the step up in the get-up.
- Be sure to reverse this step on the way down in the get-up. This is critical to being able to perform the side hinge to safely return the hand to the ground.
What to Watch For:
- Control your speed—if you try to move too quickly during the step, you could lose your balance.
- Practice with bodyweight and at lighter weights before using this in your heavier get-ups. I use this step of the front leg with my heaviest kettlebell, a 44kg.
- Be ready to catch your balance or bring the kettlebell safely down should you lose your balance. Your progress and practice through bodyweight and lighter weights should have the step “smoothed out” and understanding the weight shift, etc.
- In a group setting, the step of the front leg will have your student moving at almost ninety-degree angles in where they start and finish their get-up, so you need to be aware of this and space your students appropriately.
It was when I installed a ceiling fan in my office and realized that if I didn’t want to lose knuckles that I would need to step and use the ninety-degree change of direction that I fully embraced this technique. It is now my preferred way to perform the get-up.
The step of the front leg honors the principle of efficiently aligning the structure of the body during the get-up and it also allows for good individual variation. In fact, this technique is allowed for SFG get-up technique testing. (That said, remember that testing standards are necessary, but not the “only” way to perform an exercise/technique.)
Give this adjustment to the get-up windshield wiper a try and let us know what you think on the forum.
Bonus: How to Progress Weight in the Get-up
“When am I ready to progress to a heavier kettlebell?” This is a common question when it comes to the get-up, and I have an answer for you, as well as a way to progress to a heavier kettlebell.
I used to use the metric of being able to perform 5 continuous repetitions on each arm (you can rest between arms) to gauge when someone (or myself) was ready for a heavier kettlebell for the get-up. I believe this is still a good metric. At a minimum, you should be able to complete the Simple & Sinister standard of 5 get-ups on each side in 10 minutes before you progress to a heavier kettlebell.
Another approach is to apply continuous sets in building the get-up with a heavier kettlebell by looking for 5 continuous reps at each step of the movement (at least to half kneeling).
- Build up to 5+5 going to the elbow: This may mean starting at 2+2, 2+2, and 1+1, then progressing to 3+3, 2+2, and then on to 4+4, 1+1, and finally 5+5. (This can take weeks, by the way.)
- Then, repeat that progression but now going to the hand/tall sit position. Work on this and progress your way up to 5+5.
- After that, continue in the progression to perform 5+5 going to half kneeling. Once you reach 5+5 going to half kneeling, you or your student should also be able to perform singles in the full get-up with the same weight.
In my own training, I sometimes perform single reps and sometimes work continuous sets. This provides great variation and hits different benefits of the get-up, from endurance to strength.
Just remember that any day without get-ups is a bad day!