Get Up and Know Yourself

A great number of folks in today’s world live almost exclusively in the top twelve inches of their bodies.

We’re all fairly familiar with the processes of looking at things and thinking about things; when it comes to seeing and judging, we’ve got this.

But so, so many people are estranged from anything resembling an intimate, knowledgeable awareness of the rest of their bodies. Unless we’re feeling pain, it’s pretty easy to just passively navigate through the world as though our physical self was just a vehicle for propelling our head through space.

This is all the more true for people who have survived trauma as well as those who have experienced gender dysphoria and/or body dysmorphia.

As a result, it is not surprising to me the number of times when I ask one of my students where they felt a particular movement most within their body, and the answer is “I don’t know.”

Or when I offer the instruction to stand a foot’s length away from a kettlebell, and they stand half of that distance from the bell. Or twice or three times the distance.

The truth is, for many people it is far too simplistic to offer the suggestion to be present in their body, to feel what their body is experiencing, or to pay attention to the moment. While those are undoubtedly excellent goals, sometimes it’s two or three steps away from someone’s current state of connection to their body’s physical experience.

Enter the Get-Up

Movement offers an excellent bridge towards greater awareness of our physical selves. Many people discover this through movement practices such as yoga, martial arts, and tai chi, and I can personally attest to the importance of these practices along my own path (particularly Hoshinjutsu and body-positive approaches to yoga).

However, the potential for strength training to offer a similar bridge towards a mindful, compassionate connection to one’s body is often under acknowledged. I have written about it in a general way in this post (prior to my decision to step down from StrongFirst due to their refusal to use gender neutral pronouns on their blog), but today I would like to explore this potential a bit as it relates to one specific movement: the Turkish Get-up.

In this post, the incomparable Dan John quotes Otto Arco (aka Otto Nowosielsky) as having said:

The main purpose of muscle control is self-mastery. Muscle control involves far more than the mere ability to make the muscles contract. It teaches you to relax, which is sometimes even more important than contraction. It gives you a selective control, and therefore the ability to single out those muscles necessary to the work to be done, and only those muscles; leaving the antagonistic, or non-helpful, muscles relaxed.

Why are Otto’s words relevant when discussing the get-up? Because he was able to do a Turkish get-up with over 125% of his bodyweight held in one hand… and he did so through his ability to be radically present in his body enough to be able to manifest the selective control that he describes in the above quotation.

For a movement that takes from several months to several years to learn how to do well and a lifetime to hone, that level of accomplishment with the get-up is no joke.

In case you aren’t already aware of what, exactly, a get-up is, here is a video of me demonstrating one:

View this post on Instagram

I'm currently plugging away on a #blog post about the ways that the #tgu / #turkishgetup / #getup can help folks improve their #mindbody connection through #mindful movement. I took a bunch of videos of different drills connected to the get-up to post on the Positive Force Movement's YouTube channel, and then took one video of a basic get-up for my IG followers, too! For updates on this post, you can click over to follow my blog through positiveforcemovement.org, and search for Positive Force Movement on YouTube to follow me there! And, as always, three cheers for these fun leggings from @superfithero! #sponsored #transfolkscan #kettlebell #kalossthenos #positiveforcemovement #positiveforce #personaltrainer

A post shared by Lore McSpadden (they/them) (@positiveforcemovement) on

I will be the first to admit that the get-up is not a fully accessible movement, and that there are many people for whom several of the steps just aren’t a reasonable option, whether due to injury history, disability, or mobility restriction. That is okay! Your body is not the problem, and my motivation in writing this post is NOT to claim that everybody should be doing full get-ups, whether weighted or unweighted.

Rather, my motivation is to say that get-ups are a great tool for allowing folks for whom get-ups are a good option to learn about and be present in their bodies. For these folks, there are even several wonderful options for making the get-up more accessible, and/or exploring stages of it in focused ways.

For example:

  • Doing the sweep to a bench
  • Practicing the bridge
  • Doing each stage several times in a row before going on to the next one, doing only the stages that work for your body
  • Staying in the starting position while doing mobility drills for the hips, knees, and ankles (inspired by FMS)
  • Doing presses in several of the positions on the way up
  • Doing a get-up as slowly as possible

Each of these options provides you with opportunities to get to know your body, including its leverage points, its asymmetries, its strengths, and the ways that the different parts of your body do or do not work well together.

There are other benefits, of course. One that I often like to emphasize is the pragmatic value of practicing getting up from the ground, even if you don’t have the use of one of your limbs. This is obviously an important skill for older adults to maintain: after all, falls account for 11% of calls to 911 from individuals over 60 years of age.

However, people of all ages for whom get-ups are an appropriate movement option can benefit: I often will talk with my students about the time when I had a broken bone in my left foot, and how I was able to maintain my independence during my recovery time thanks to my ability to transition from one position to another by utilizing my knowledge of the different stages of the get-up.

And moving well, staying safe, and remaining independent are all important benefits of maintaining a safe and sustainable relationship to movement.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that those are all secondary benefits, all of which arise from what I truly believe is the foundation from which all other benefits of movement arise: the chance to be learn about our bodies in a loving and patient way so that we can truly, finally, be present within them.

(Photo credit for featured image: Jesse Amesmith)

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