Rubik’s Get-Up

by Annie Vo on May 2, 2018

Annie Vo Get-Up Rubiks Cube
When I first learned to perform a get-up, I was unsure of its purpose. It seemed almost like a series of random movements, ultimately resulting in getting off the floor. Of course, being able to get off the floor safely has its advantages, but even when progressing with resistance, it was still somewhat of a mystery to me.

Sometimes in order to understand new information, it is helpful to liken it to something old. The use of analogies in teaching has been shown to have a positive impact on the way we process new data. Analogies foster learning by highlighting the similarities between what we already know and that which we seek. The mind is complex.

Over the years I have come to think of the get-up like a Rubik’s Cube.

The Rubik’s Cube is a 3-D combination puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Erno Rubik. Originally called the Magic Cube, the goal is to align all of the color-coded squares on each side through a series of pivots. The shifts of the cube are smooth, tracking on an internal core track until the final destination is reached. The cube is considered incomplete if the sides are not aligned appropriately.

Although it is widely misreported that Dr. Rubik created “the cube” to be a teaching tool to help his students understand 3-D objects, his actual purpose was to solve the structural problems of moving parts independently—without the entire mechanism falling apart! In many ways, the get-up has the same goal.

Each movement in the get-up is a pivot from the body’s core joints—the hips and shoulders. The pivoting should be smooth. Once the position is established, all “sides” of the get-up cube should also be aligned. The spine must be straight throughout the get-up. The body’s center of gravity must be balanced between the limbs. The angles of the hips and shoulders positioned to provide maximum support and stability. Each limb, joint and muscle must be arranged and coiled underneath the weight overhead to create a solid foundation.

As you develop your technique, you are likely to discover information about how you move, including strengths and weakness, balances and imbalances, and which areas should be developed. Your get-up is your sculpture. It is constantly evolving. The way you perform each pivot, swivel and shift can reveal or obscure what is truly beneath the surface. If you rush it, then you’ll miss the point.

As a Senior RKC Instructor, I’ve had the privilege of teaching the get-up to hundreds of coaches and kettlebell enthusiasts, spanning a multitude of backgrounds. Throughout my tenure, I’ve noticed that there are three common places in the get-up where symmetry and alignment tend to get neglected, even among experienced get-uppers. Here they are:

Initial Shift to the Elbow

The get-up begins in a lying position and is initiated by rolling up to your (unloaded) side. It is to be performed without any jerking or momentum. Imagine your trunk is one unbending steel rod that must be adjusted by wedging between the hip and shoulder. The result is a straight, stacked vertical line from the ground to overhead—a track as clear as the pathway of a Rubik’s Cube’s axis.

However, often the shoulder of the planted arm is forgotten in the pursuit of this vertical line, and sags forward. This is usually the result of not knowing how to find the alignment, and overcompensating. In short, it may feel like it’s lined up but it isn’t. If this is the case, there is unnecessary pressure on the front of the shoulder. To avoid this, make sure to preserve your vertical line by employing the support of the greatest shoulder stabilizer you have—the lat.

Problem shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded and relaxed.

Problem shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded and relaxed.

Proper shoulder position—Shoulder is aligned and lat is packed.

Proper shoulder position—Shoulder is aligned and lat is packed.

Shift to the “Tall Sit”

When moving from the elbow to the straight arm seated position, the support shoulder has a tendency to rotate forward, therefore “exposing” itself and falling out of alignment. The support arm is arguably the most important part of the “tall sit” portion of the get-up because it determines whether you will be able to support your overhead weight (and bodyweight) while your legs swing under you. The support arm (and opposite leg) are responsible for supporting the body as it is lifted and rotated like a Rubik’s Cube.

To perform this transition with the greatest mechanical advantage, make sure your shoulder is in line with your planted hand and also rotated back and down, to ensure that the lat muscle is engaged.

Problem shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded forward.

Problem shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded forward.

Proper shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded back and in line with the hand.

Proper shoulder position—Shoulder is rounded back and in line with the hand.

Leg Sweep (both directions)

From the “tall sit” position, rotate your leg under your body, and place your knee on the ground. Sometimes people don’t bring the leg far enough under, on the way up. Remember, the angle of your hips should be roughly 90 degrees. Picture how difficult it would be to twist Dr. Rubik’s contraption if its sides were unaligned.

Conversely, a common mistake on the way down is to place the supporting hand (rather than the knee) out of alignment. It’s important to keep your grounded hand extended just beyond the knee.  A visible, vertical line should begin from the grounded hand, up through both shoulders, and overhead, ending in the kettlebell held firmly at the top.

Problem knee position—The knee is not drawn underneath far enough creating a less than 90 degree angle at the hip.

Problem knee position—The knee is not drawn underneath far enough creating a less than 90 degree angle at the hip.

Problem hand position—The hand is placed out of alignment from the knee.

Problem hand position—The hand is placed out of alignment from the knee.

Proper hand, knee, shoulder alignment—Hips are at 90 degrees and a vertical line is created from grounded hand to KB.

Proper hand, knee, shoulder alignment—Hips are at 90 degrees and a vertical line is created from grounded hand to KB.

These are time-tested tips to help improve your get-up. You’d be surprised how often revisiting these basics can help improve overall performance. Do not lose sight of the fact that your training is constantly evolving and never be afraid to revisit your foundation.

“Mind the edges of the cube or else Hell will literally break loose”

“Mind the edges of the cube or else Hell will literally break loose”


Annie Vo, Senior RKC, PCC Team Leader is a personal trainer, fitness writer and presenter in New York City. Contact her through her website


Frank Delventhal's Kettlebell squat massacre

A great training session often ends with a crisp finisher to expend any extra energy. At the end of a recent session, my students weren’t very enthusiastic about doing Dan John’s “6 Minute Squat Challenge” (one goblet squat every 30 seconds and staying in the lower position during the break). I like Dan John’s finisher, but my students wanted something with more variety. One student commented that they’d “rather have something nice, like a mixed grill plate.” That inspired me to name their finisher “Katrins Grillteller.” (Grillteller is the German word for mixed grill plate.) When I asked them if they wanted to do the squat challenge or the “Grillteller,” the decided to choose the “Grillteller” since they didn’t know what it would be. Afterwards, they renamed it the Kettlebell Squat Massacre.


All participants should be proficient in the following squat variants: double kettlebell front squat, single kettlebell front squat and the goblet squat. Be sure to review the correct form for each move and ensure that everyone is safe to complete this intense workout finisher.


Have everyone form a large circle. Since most people will accidentally decrease the size of the circle during this finisher, mark the boundaries of the circle with small items.

Each person should choose a kettlebell that they can squat with for many reps. When performing the finisher, everyone squats at the same time—down and up when the trainer instructs them to do so. When everyone is standing again while keeping their kettlebell in the rack position, they march to their next spot on the circle. When everyone is in place, everyone squats together again. If someone’s kettlebell gets too heavy, they should quickly get a lighter kettlebell and rejoin the group.

For groups of less than four people, it’s best to do two rounds, otherwise one round is often enough. Each squat should be held in the bottom position for at least one full breath. Of course longer is always more “efficient.” Staying in the bottom position of the squat for a longer duration is the first way to make the finisher more difficult.


Everyone squats and stands at the same time. When everyone is standing with their kettlebells held in the rack position, it’s time to move forward again. This finisher is not a race, so there is no reason to rush the movements . Be sure to remember where you started on the circle, so you know when one round is complete. If the group is struggling to stay synchronized, be sure that you are giving clear instructions so that everyone can follow your commands.

As a trainer, I like to join in with this finisher. Normally I only lead the training and do not train myself. But I have found that if a coach joins this grind, then everyone seems to be more motivated. If you are the trainer, be fair to your students and pick an appropriately heavy kettlebell. Show that you can do what you expect from your students. “Shared pain is half of the pain.” The goal is for everyone to safely reach their limits and still finish.

Kettlebell Squat Variations

Double Kettlebell Front Squat

Frank Delventhal Double Kettlebell Front Squat

In larger classes it’s not always possible for everyone to have two kettlebells, but this is a great variation when there are not too many people in the group. Fewer people also means that there will be fewer stations on the circle for this difficult squat variation.

Single Kettlebell Front Squat (Left Side)

Frank Delventhal Single Kettlebell Front Squat

Pay attention to the time spent in the squat. At first, participants can stay in the squat longer when they’re “fresh.”

Single Kettlebell Front Squat (Right Side)

As above. Adjust the time spent in the squat, so that all can still hold a correct position.

Goblet Squat

Frank Delventhal Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Since the lower position of the goblet squat is relatively easy to maintain (and also a good mobility exercise in itself), aim to stay longer in the squat. So that “nobody gets bored”, while holding the squat, I recommend trying a few “kettlebell curls” since the elbows are already on the inside of the thighs. When leading the finisher, I will do the following reps: 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1. Don’t overdo it. And if you can do more than three curls, the kettlebell you’ve chosen is too light for the squats!


The kettlebells are placed inside in a circle, then everyone gets on all fours and crawl once around the circle. Knees do not touch the ground, and keep the torso parallel to the ground. Imagine that you’re a moving coffee table

(Evil) Cardio Variation

Replace each kettlebell front squat round with kettlebell thrusters.

Frank Delventhal Double Kettlebell Thrusters

For an cardio intensive version of this finisher for very fit participants, try double or single kettlebell thrusters instead of squats. To perform this movement, squat down with the kettlebell, then use the explosive power of your squat to continue through your arms, pressing the kettlebell overhead. Since the kettlebell is already in motion from the power of the squat, you can lift heavier weights overhead than with a strict military press.

After the kettlebells are thrusted overhead, lower the kettlebells back to the rack position under control, then walk to the next circle position. For an even more difficult variation, keep the kettlebells overhead (“waiter’s walk”) and walk to the next point before bringing the kettlebells down to the rack position. This challenging variation is a good way to strengthen the shoulders and the top position of the lockout.

For groups with mixed fitness levels, advanced students can opt to do the thruster variation. If it becomes too difficult, the student can just switch back to front squats and walking with the kettlebells in the rack position. Be safe and use common sense.

The Unspeakably Evil Variation:

If you do the double thruster variation, add left and right single kettlebell thrusters before doing a round with regular double kettlebell front squats. (This variation is a good way to see how stupid tough you are.)

Adjustments for making the difficulty easier or harder:

  • If your kettlebell becomes too heavy to maintain good form, get a lighter kettlebell and rejoin the group.
  • For a more difficult finisher, do more rounds for each squat variations
  • Adjust the time spent in the bottom of the squat position
  • Adjust the time spent in the rack position before squatting down
  • A larger circle is more difficult, a smaller circle can be easier
  • Replace front squat variations with thrusters (let the kettlebells sink back into the rack position and then continue)
    • To increase difficulty when doing thrusters, leave the kettlebells overhead while moving to the next spot on the circle
  • Do goblet squats with or without “kettlebell curls” at the bottom of the squat
  • For masochists, plan to do thrusters before double kettlebell front squats


Video Example (In German)


This is a “delicious” finisher that can be customized and made to be challenging for anyone. Even though it may sound complicated, it is in fact quite simple:

Everyone gets kettlebells and stands in a circle. They squat together, then move to the next position on the circle. When you reach the point on the circle where you started, switch down to an easier squat variation. The last round is crawling. Enjoy your “meal” and let me know how you liked it!

The original article published in German:



Frank Delventhal, RKC2, PCC, 1 Dan Aikido, performing strongman. Visit his website:


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