The Kettlebell Get-Up and Swing

Von: Steve Maxwell

06.03.2017 | Functional Training

Erlebe Steve Maxwell live auf dem Kettlebell and Mobility Gathering vom 11.-12. März in Köln und auf dem FT Summit vom 16.-18. Juni in München


The kettlebell is a very old, time-honored training tool that had died out and disappeared. Only in some few places was the tool used and the training developed. I was on the ground floor of the re-emergence of the keetlebell in America, starting in the late 1990s and was one of the kettlebell pioneers in America. The kettlebell is definitely one of the most versatile training tools one could have in their arsenal. The array of exercises that one can do with a kettlebell can fill a book. In fact, anything you can do with a dumbbell, you can probably do better with a kettlebell. That said, it can be very confusing.

As many people know…I am a minimalist at heart. Not only in terms of possessions and lifestyle, but also my approach to exercise. Rather than see how many exercises–or how much volume–I can do, I prefer to discover the minimum I can do–and still achieve superior results. Exercise is like medicine, and so I want the most efficaceous dose. That is, more is not better, especially when it comes to available workout time and recovery.

I came up with an amazing minimalist program for myself back when I was training for the world championships in Brazilian jiu jitsu. I needed a supplementary strength program to keep me really strong, while at the same time not draining me of vital nerve energy I needed for my sport. I was already getting on the jiu jitsu mat 4-5 times a week and training competitively, that is, at a high-intensity. This is very physically demanding and leaves little “juice” for anything else. Still, it was necessary to maintain a certain level of muscular strength.

This, on top of owning and operating a gym, teaching fitness classes, and offering one-on-one personal training. Plus, at this time I was a family man, with children, and householder duties. So, I thought to myself, “What is the most effective kettlebell exercise?” “What gives me te most results in the minimal amount of time?” Or, to use the American expression, “The biggest bang for the buck.” I thought long and hard, ad came up with the two most essential elements, the two exercises which workt the body from head to toe…not just muscularly, but also cardio conditioning.


What I’d settled on were the Turkish Get-Up and the Swing

The Get-Up is an old-school wrestler exercise I’d been introduced to in 1964 by my high school wrestling coach. Back in the day, we performed it with dumbbells, but I’d realized early on in my KB training the Get-Up was even beeter done with a kettlebell. In fact, I liked the exercise so much, I came up with more than a dozen variations. What I discovered was there is no finer exercise for shoulder stability, core-activation, and total body coordination. One reason I liked it so much is it’s similarity to a classic jiu jitsu self-defense movement called “standing up in base”. Standing up in base is a foundational jiu jitsu movement upon which all other moves are built.

Having suffered many injuries to my shoulders, I found the Turkish was therapeutic and helped keep me out of pain. That’s suite a list of attributes for a single exercise! The other exercise I chose for my minimalist list was the kettlebell swing, which–when done properly–works aother extremely important foundational movement pattern – the hinge. Back pain and problems are epidemic in modern society because moving man became sitting man. People have simply forgotten how to hinge. The hinge is the method with which you pick up heavy stuff; it activates the massively strong gluteal muscles, works the spinal stabilizers and axtensors isometrically, gives the hamstrings plenty of work, and, at onc, activates the cardio-respiratory system like few other movements.


So there you have it, what I call a program minimum

A slow, high-tension strength move with lots of core-activation, with a lot of upper-body emphasis, and a faster, ballistic movement, that gets the heart pumping, lungs moving, ad can generate tremendous power in the lower body. I decided to add a third movement to the reperoire to balance the tri-planar shoulder girdle work of the Get-Up. Of course that is a pull. So, I would use the same kettlebell and do either weighted chin-ups, or pull-ups. Sometimes, if I didn’t have a pull-up bar, I’d do plank Rows, with the kettlebells, to give the pulling muscles proper activation. Even with a single kettlebell, I could easily do plank rows by placing my other hand on a book, a curb, anything the same height as the kettlebell handle.

I can hear people protesting, “But how about the Snatch? Isn’t that the supposed to be the best kettlebell exercise?”

I found that all the benefits of the Snatch are contained within the Swing, without any of the risk to the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Everything else is excess.  Even if you are using perfect form in the Snatch–which is difficult to maintain as you get tired–there is a well-known principle in sports called “overuse injury”.  A perfect example: you’ve heard of “tennis elbow”–and that’s just swinging a light tennis raquet around. You’ve perhaps heard of “swimmer’s shoulder” well, that is merely displacing water. Another is “golfer’s back”> Many golfers are crippled with back pain–Tiger Woods, for example–and they are just swing a golf club. So, if those light implements are capable of causing crippling, debilitating pain, from a build-up of micro-trauma over time, implements weighting only a few hundred grams, what do you think is the consequence of repeatedly throwing it overhead, anywhere from 16-32kg.

I’ve seen this phenomenon over the years. Michael Grudev stopped because he saw it was causing him damage. I’m a lone voice here, but the difference is that I don’t sell kettlebells, and so I am free to say as I please. I still enjoy kettlebells, and I use them all over the world, but I avow that you can get all the cardio and power you that you’ll ever need from the Swing. So here is the exact workout that I used training for my forst black belt jiu jitsu world championship:


2 days a week

I’d take a 16kg and 24kg into my private jiu jitsu room and lock the door. I’d set a timer. I used the Reverse Turkish Get-Up as my Get-Up variation. That is, Instead of loading up the KB on the floor, and getting back up again, I’d clean and press; lower to the floor, then get back up and repeat on the other side. If you’re unsure about what I’m describing, make sure to come to my seminars in Cologne in march or Munich in june 2017.


Here’s the Maxwell Kettlebell Challenge:

If you’re under 70KG use a 16KG KB. If between 70-80 KG use a 20kg. If over 80kg use a 24kg. Beginner women, use an 8kg. Strong women use a 12 or 14kg. Really strong women can try a 16kg. Guys of 90 KG can use a 28 or 30kg. If you do thise exercise and don’t consider it difficult, it is obvious you used too-light a weight.


Here’s the Get-Up Challenge:

At the start of a minute (on your timer)

Clean / Press / Slowly lay down In exactly 30-second – no faster / Slowly get back up in exactly 30-seconds. That is 1-minute.

Lower the kettlebell and switch hands

Clean / Press (or push-press) / Lay down over 30-seconds time and get back up in exactly 30-seconds. You have now completed 1 repetition.

Repeat for 5 rounds, which takes exactly 10-minutes. 5 reps left, 5 reps right.

The thing that will amaze you, is that even though you’re moving very slowly, you are generating a tremendous aount of metabolic stress and you will be amazed by how cardio it is. You will find the heart is working as hard as your muscles. The first time I tried it was, like “Holy sh#t!”

Okay, now for the 5-minute Swing Challenge!

At the start of each minute, using the same weight bell as you did for the Get-Up, at the start of each minute perform 20 Swings to eye-level. After the twentieth swing, grab the kettlebell and perform 1 Goblet Squat – just to maintain good hip mobility. Whatever remaining time you have in the minute is your rest.

Repeat at the top of the minute for five rounds. This should take you about 32-40 seconds. Rest whatever time is left of your minute. That is 100 Swings. Entire kettlebell work of 15 minutes. Finish with a couple sets of Chin-ups. I would hold the kettlebell with my toe to do the chin-ups. Sometimes I would switch the grip around and do pull-ups instead. This is an incredibly effective workout, sure to give you great results in minimal time. In case you think ther’s not enough variety, well, there is a ton of variety within even these two exercises:

Traditional Get-ups / Reverse get-ups / Shin-roll get-ups / Get-Ups with arm-bar / Get-Up with Gladiator pose

With KB Swings you have many options: Two-hand swing / One-hand swing / Alternating swing / Pendulum swing / Judo swing / High Pull swing / Walking Swing

Look, if it seems like it’s getting too easy, just use a heavier bell!


All the best

Steve Maxwell


Erlebe Steve Maxwell live auf dem Kettlebell and Mobility Gathering vom 11.-12. März in Köln und auf dem FT Summit vom 16.-18. Juni in München
Functional Training Magazin

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