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Why Getups?

January 11, 2011 01:08 PM

The swing and the getup are the two foundational RKC drills. Together they make up the program minimum and give us the base of movement and strength that lead to all other RKC skills. Ultimately we come to realize that they contain all the elements we need to build a successful strength practice.

Pavel says the swing is to RKC what Sanchin Kata is to Karate.?If we agree with that (I certainly do) then the getup is to RKC what the Sun Salute is to yoga practice. It is where we start, where we finish and where we continually revisit during the middle. It is where we develop mobility, stability and strength. If the swing is the center of the RKC universe, then the getup orbits it and provides the yin to its yang.

The getup has many uses and a deep but somewhat cloudy history. Dr. Ed Thomas tells us that it at least 200 years old. It can be used as a strength exercise, a mobility drill and a screening tool to check for movement restrictions. I first learned about it when I became involved in the RKC, and a few years ago conversations with Master RKC instructors Brett Jones and Jeff O'Connor about the work being done with the getup led me to look at my own practice and start digging for deeper skill.

There are a lot of ways to do the getup. Some are helpful, and some are dangerous.?I believe that the RKC version is the best variation of the drill that we can do. In my own practice, Kalos Sthenos was the starting point, and from there I simultaneously went deeper into analyzing physical limitations within the getup (both may own and those of my students) and began searching backward thru history.

Being a practitioner and performer old-time feats of strength, I was intrigued when I was told that the getup was used as a sort of Rite of Passage by some of the strongmen of the past to indicate if a student was ready to learn physical culture. That sounds a lot like a movement screen and strength assessment to me. Search the internet and you can find several photos legendary strongman Sigmund Klein in various positions of the "one arm getup". Klein included the getup in his challenge workout he called the "100lb drill".

The Great Joe Rollino was a student of Warren Lincoln Travis, another well-known strongman of the early 1900s. In 2009 I had the honor of meeting Joe at the Association of Oldtime Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS) dinner. Joe, who set many world records in his prime (including lifting over 500lbs with his middle finger at 140lbs bodyweight) died in march 2010 at the age of 104. He was hit by a van while walking crossing the street during his daily walk. At the AOBS dinner, I asked him about the getup specifically and he said "Oh Yeah! Mr. Travis had us the one arm getup. It's a beautiful exercise!" Kalos Sthenos indeed.

Today this RKC (and many of my colleagues) recommends doing a minimum of 50 getups per side over the course of several sessions without weight before progressing to the weighted version.?No need to re-invent the wheel, but it seems we may have re-discovered it.

In 19th century Europe, sitting "Turkish" style is what Americans call "Indian" style, on the floor with the legs crossed. In his list of official world records super-athlete George Hackenschmidt is listed as "Sitting in the Turkish Style, getting up with a barbell weighing 187lbs once and 110lbs 5 times".

Many of the old-timers used the getup as a performance feat, often starting in the standing position, descending to the floor, then back to standing. Sometimes this was done using a person as a weight instead a barbell or kettlebell.

Some other records to consider: According to David Willoughby in his book "the Super Athletes" John Collins did a get-down & getup with a 265lb man in 1940 and Otis Lambert at a bodyweight of 161lbs did a getdown-getup w/his 195lb stage partner Adolph Nordquest PLUS a 25lb dumbbell, totaling 220lbs.

The getup offers almost unlimited potential for developing strength, mobility and stability. Speaking from experience I can tell you that when my getup is strong, everything else is strong too. Introduce it into your practice, take time to explore it and reap its many benefits.


Dave Whitley is a Master RKC, CK-FMS, CICS and performing strongman based in Nashville TN. Visit his website for more information.

Short tip:
Many times, a problem in the getup can be traced back one of the step that preceded it.?

A common problem we see in the getup has to do with the initial setup before rolling up to the elbow. Of the legs are too close together, it robs power and prevents the ability to use hip drive to roll up, resulting in a crunching movement. If this is happening, try this: Set your knees the same distance apart as your swing stance and focus on driving the bent leg-side heel into the ground and rolling up onto the elbow.