Ever since Arnold showed us the way in Pumping Iron, the world has come to truly appreciate physical beauty. The bodybuilders of that era were not only massive and aesthetically symmetrical, but they were also strong as hell. If you want to be a truly impressive physical specimen, you have to be able to walk the walk. I’m going to briefly cover 2 foundational Kettlebell drills that will be the perfect complement to your current training program whether you’re a bodybuilder, strength athlete, or just want to “look good nekkid.”
First up, The Get-Up.
What do you want to accomplish out of your warm up? Do you want to increase your core temperature? Check. Do you want to improve your flexibility? Check. Do you want to create a solid connection from your central nervous system out to your limbs that you plan on lifting with? Reduce chance of injury? Increase strength? Triple Check. The get-up does all of these and more.
A warm up does not mean a halfhearted standing hip flexor stretch before you squat, it means that you are preparing yourself to get the MAXIMUM benefit of everything you put into your workout.
The get-up, put simply, is standing up from a laying down position with a weight held overhead throughout. Sounds simple enough right? Sort of. Let’s go through the basic steps in the RKC standard get-up (you will practice with no weight to begin with until you feel confident in the new movement):
1) Pull and Roll
a. Roll over to the side, grab the kettlebell (or dumbbell) with both hands and bring it to your chest
2) Firing Range + Hand and foot
a. Extend arms above with your shoulder blades tucked into your back pockets so that you maintain shoulder integrity. Then you will take your free arm down away from you at a 90 degree angle with your right foot brought in towards your butt as if you were going to do a glute bridge. You should feel solid here.
3) Up to elbow
a. Here is where things start to go wrong for some people. You are going to roll up to your elbow while keeping your arm extended overhead, without collapsing and letting your shoulders float up into your ears. As my friend Jeff O’Connor says, “Ears are shoulder poison!”
4) Up to the Hand
a. Same position as before, but you are going to be supported on your hand rather than your shoulder. Again you should feel solid in this position—if not, that is an indicator of tightness or weakness, so spend some time here.
5) The High bridge
a. Many who perform the get-up will question the high bridge, but I believe that it is actually the most important part of the get-up. From the supported on the hand position, squeeze your glutes and bridge your hips as high as you can towards the sky. You should strive to get a sensation of “connecting” your right glute to your left lat which is supporting your weight. Like a bridge.
6) Knee to hand (T-position)
a. Now that you have created the space with your high bridge, slide your left knee back underneath you so that your knee comes to your hand (it’s important that you are close to your supporting hand because you are going to lift your hand in the next step, so you are creating a stable base here. Your shoulder should still be down packed into its socket and your shoulders should be away from your ears.
7) Lunge Position
a. Using your hips, you are going to lift your hand and torso from the supported position into the bottom position of an overhead lunge. I recommend going very slowly here because it is easy to rush this step and lose your shoulder integrity.
8) Lunge to Stand
a. Stand up. Don’t let your front knee cave in while you do it. Drive through the heel and squeeze your glute. Stand tall.
You just did a get-up, and now you can go back the way you came (my choice) or you can lower the weight and start over from the beginning.
Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t go smoothly at first. Practice each step individually until you really own the movement, and things will really flow together, giving you some excellent benefits. Keep in mind that weight isn’t everything with the get-up and I generally do 1 or 2 reps with a 35lb kettlebell in my warm up. Just because I go light with the get-ups doesn’t mean I don’t get after it with my other lifting though.
Apart from being a good warm up, the get-up is also an excellent drill for increasing your ability to train your shoulders with more volume. More structural integrity, and more time under tension will give you the boost you need to really blast away at your shoulders in a way that isn’t going to leave your joints feeling sore anymore. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of the get-up I highly recommend Kalos Sthenos by Gray Cook and Brett Jones.
Next up: The Swing.
The swing is everything that exercise should be: explosive, aggressive, hip extension.
Any athletic movement, is going to have its foundation in hip extension; throwing a punch, sprinting, jumping, lifting something heavy…If you don’t have good hip extension, you don’t have an athlete. The swing trains hip extension. Period. It will give your glutes that much needed kick in the… uh, glutes; and it’s explosive nature will make an athlete out of you while firing up your central nervous system.
Stand about a foot away from a wall, facing away with your hands interlaced behind your head. Now, without losing your balance, touch your butt to the wall behind you. You should be in a position where your shins are vertical, your spine is straight and your hips are hinged backward. This is the bottom position of the swing. Now using the position do a set of deadlifts with your kettlebell using a strong lockout where you actively squeeze your glutes and lock your legs. This is your top position.
At this point you may be thinking, “okay, so this is a deadlift then, big deal,” but that is not the case. The positions may be the same, but the swing is different. Now you are going to do another set of deadlifts but instead of starting with the kettlebell between your legs, you are going to start with it 6 inches behind you. Now I want you to explode into that top position with your arms relaxed. You should notice that the kettlebell floated in front of you. This is what happens during the swing. Your hips are the engine, and your arms are the steering wheel making sure you don’t throw it through the wall.
When you feel comfortable with your half-swing, don’t let it touch the ground between reps. Hike it back behind you like a football and find your bottom position, then explode into a strong lockout. If you turn the swing into a squat + front raise combo, I will kill you. If you haven’t found your glutes yet, it is only a matter of time when you incorporate the swing into your training.
Swing Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55RGLE1VTIc
How to put it all together:
Warm up with a few sets of 10 light swings. Practice your get ups for 5:00 minutes or so (that should equal about 2 get-ups per side/alternating to give you a time reference) at whatever step you might be working on, or all of them.
Do 2 more sets of swings, slightly heavier, go as high as 15 reps, this is just a warm up. You should feel the blood flow warmly into your legs and back, preparing you for deadlifts (or whatever you might be doing).
After your workout, I want to see a swing finisher.
It’s going to be very simple, but I don’t want you to skip it because it looks too easy.
When the second hand of the clock hits 12, do 9 swings. When it hits the 6, do 9 swings. Do this for 5 minutes. This should work out to a :15/:15 work/rest ratio, or close to it. Set the bell down in between. This is one of the best ways to hack away excess fat while at the same time really lighting up your posterior chain, increasing your total strength potential.
It’s a relatively small investment, but you will be amazed at how this little extra will go a long way.