How and when to use the high bridge and when to use the “step-across” instead of the “windshield wiper”
At every HKC and RKC, I’m asked why we test the low sweep instead of the high-bridge. I also get a lot of questions regarding the “windshield wiper” vs. the “step-across” to transition in and out of the kneeling windmill to the lunge position. It’s time to explore each movement and gain a deeper understanding of some of the benefits of the get-up.
When I first became certified and started teaching the get-up, it was referred to as the “Turkish get-up”. Here’s the criteria that was given and tested at that time:
- Keep both shoulders packed.
- Keep the wrists neutral at all times.
- Keep the elbow locked at all times.
- Keep your eyes on the kettlebell.
Oh and well…. get-up! That was it, get up anyway you can.
Let’s just say the get-up has come a long way, baby. It’s transitioned from having very little explanation and direction to (for a time) elaborate direction, with a focus on corrective uses and advanced movement patterning.
You can say that now we have found a happy medium, erring on the side of explanation and points of movement. But, we have also found a good balance and an easier way to teach the get-up to newer kettlebell instructors and users.
The High Bridge or the Low Sweep
One area of confusion with the get-up is whether to use the high bridge or low sweep.
First, let me explain where the high bridge came from, and why it was initially introduced as a teaching and testing skill. The high bridge came from the FMS concept of using movement as a screen. When it was first introduced into the RKC curriculum, the high bridge was used as a screen for tight hip flexors. However, we began to notice that when people were doing the high bridge, their lumbar spine was actually in hyper-extension instead of full hip extension. I remember discussing this with Gray Cook, and he agreed with that it was one problem with using the high bridge as a screen, since it is easily cheated. It does not actually demonstrate whether the person is in full hip-extension or hyper-extension of the lumbar spine.
Secondly—and more importantly—you would not put a client, with a kettlebell in their hands, into a high bridge and then say, “Aha! You have tight hip-flexors”. Of course not. Long before they do that high bridge, you have deduced that they have tight hip-flexors from other screens. And from a safety perspective, you would not let someone perform a high bridge until they had opened up their hip flexors and could perform the movement correctly without a kettlebell.
Since one of the end goals of the get-up is to go heavy, for the purpose of safety and efficiency, you will want to pull your leg back and get your hips under the load as quickly as possible. The high bridge takes unnecessary risks with a heavy load during the transition.
That said, the high bridge is great with a moderate to light weight for a more advanced kettlebell user. Done correctly, it demonstrates shoulder stability, hip flexibility and control.
Performance Tip: Think of the high bridge and sweep through as a tall side plank. When moving into a high bridge, post over towards the side, your shoulders should be stacked over each other. The hips will rotate slightly upwards, but the shoulders and t-spine are stacked vertically. Practice lots of side planks from the elbow and tall side planks, before moving onto the high bridge.
The “Step Across” Variation
Moving on to the next modification, using the “step across” instead of a windshield wiper. As stated earlier, the body needs to transition from the tall-sit position smoothly and with control all the way to lunge. That means the hips need to get under the kettlebell as quickly and safely as possible—this includes the sweep through and transitioning to the lunge.
From the kneeling windmill position, the torso is moving from a horizontal position to upright, as the hips are coming under the torso and kettlebell. The hips need to fully extend with the glutes tight as you move into the lunge position. That’s a LOT of movement happening at the same time. The more stable and connected to the ground the body is, the safer and smoother the transition.
That is why the windshield wiper is taught and tested. Both legs remain firmly on the ground and the hips easily and fully extend.
Performance Tip: think about finishing at the top of a swing. The glutes contract hard and fast and the hips fully extend, allowing your body to find stability in the lunge position as soon as you hit it.
A potential problem with this movement is the pressure and friction placed on the knee. Obviously, if the knee is feeling pain, this could jeopardize the movement. The ground you are training on becomes an issue, and individual knee sensitivities should be taken into account as well.
One way to solve the issue is to use the “step-across” modification. From the kneeling windmill, you simply lift your torso up and then step your loaded foot across into a lunge position. This will take the windshield wiper out of the movement and “save” the knee.
The downside to this modification is the inherent lack of stability as you lift your loaded leg up and step it across. You are also changing the orientation of your head and body, which can also cause us to lose stability and control. Lastly, it is much harder to keep your glute and hip tight and contracted as you move the leg, leading to another possible loss of control.
As we say in the RKC, “safety trumps performance”, so if you have sensitive knees or are training on a hard or rough surface, the step-across is a modification you can use to protect your knee and stay in control.
My personal recommendation is to buy a $20 pair of knee pads or have your clients purchase them for training. I do a lot of kneeling training and take knee pads with me everywhere to use for all kneeling training and stretching. $20 knee pads are a cheap and easy way to protect your knees and increase the effectiveness of your kettlebell training.
Andrea Du Cane is a Master RKC Kettlebell Instructor, CK-FMS, CICS, and RIST, ZHealth certified, she has a BA in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and is also a Pilates instructor. She is the author of several books and dvds including The Ageless Body, The Kettlebell Boomer, and The Kettlebell Goddess Workout. She has over twenty years of aerobics, weight training and fitness experience, with an additional background in… Read more here.