Movement Minute - The Squat Get Up

The single-leg squat get up is one of those stupid little movements that looks so easy but is so humbling if your hip mobility is lacking.  This is the natural movement equivalent to pistol squats, which have always been a challenge for me. 

For a long time, my attempts were fumbling my way off the ground a few inches only to come crashing back down in an awkward thud.  (Some ninja I am) 

I then proceeded to sweep this one under the rug.  Can’t win ‘em all, right? I had plenty of alternative means of getting my ass off the ground so I wasn’t too worried about it.  Maybe it will just show up if I keep practicing around it. 


It didn’t. This movement kept gnawing away at me, but I kept ignoring it. 


My ignorance caught up to me during the physical tests for the MovNat Level 3 course. There was no way around it now. I skirted by on the slimmest of margins.  But the message landed; I needed to ditch my excuses and start earning this one.


No one variation will make or break your movement practice. The important thing is whether or not you can get up from the ground without using your hands.  Once you can do this one way, you can begin to look for other options to expand your toolbox.


Honestly, I’m still earning this one. I have seen this movement come with the greatest of ease for many people, but this one has been the Achilles heel for me and others. However, I have made a lot of slow progress over the years.  But in my experience, slow progress is real progress.  


The initial reaction is usually one of rationalization; I can’t do this because [fill-in-your-favorite-excuse].  I lift weights too often. My ankle dorsiflexion is just sooo bad. It’s a stupid movement anyways. Been there. 


An amazing thing happens when you stop looking for reasons why you can’t do something, you start looking for a solution.  


The single-leg squat get up requires that you are strong in hip flexion.  From a seated position, pull one leg in planting the heel as close to your groin as possible.  Use the strength of the ankle, hip, and core to transition support from seated to standing on the foot in a pistol squat position. Complete the get up by standing up from the bottom of the pistol position. Simple, but not necessarily easy.  


The video feature the progressions that have helped me build better hip mobility to start making progress.  Here is a short description of the main drills:


Sitting Variations

All of these various sitting positions have stand alone value for building strength and mobility. Specifically, these sits have helped me build strong hips and core strength.

  • 1/2 Long Sit - one leg straight out in front, one leg bent
  • Bent Sit - knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Side Sit - one leg tucked in front, the leg wrapped back behind the body
  • Butterfly Sit - soles of the feet together, actively pulling knees to the ground


Use active muscular engagement in each of these positions, you goal is to squeeze the creases of the hips in a fully flexed position.  This feels awkward at first but as your body gets more comfortable with this strength it yield more range of motion.  When you demonstrate greater responsibility, you are rewarded with greater freedom. Just a little embedded life lesson.  Anyways, I hold the strongest posture I can manage and even introduce reaching and rotating motions in all planes to further build active mobility.  


Squat Get Up (assisted)

The transition from the long sit to the bent sit and then up into a deep squat positions.  This one can be scaled by bolstering the hips a few inches off the ground lessening the demands of hip flexion.  The mobility badasses of the world can perform this variation without the use of the hand, no problem.  Us, tight/weak hipped folks, may use the assistance of our hands to transition into the squat position.  You can use some momentum to pull the feet in; I don’t call it cheating, it’s nervous system education. 


Rolling Squat Get Up

Using the momentum of a full supine roll is a great way to transition into the deep squat. For the longest time I struggled with this one, but it taught me a lot about the timing involved in the squat get up.  

As I'm coming up from the roll, I pull my feet in strong, push my knees open, and reach forward to bring my center of mass over my feet. My times I’ll stall here and just practice rolling into my deep squat and mobilizing the hips in the narrow stance. 


Rolling Single-leg Squat Get Up

The same movement as above, but when exiting the roll you only pull one leg in and pull into the pistol squat position.  Some flailing and balancing my occur but this is a very educational movement to teach the joints stability.  


Tuck Single-leg Squat Get Up

Next, I take away most of the momentum and just use a small rocking movement and hard tuck on the leg to transition into the pistol squat position. I love training these last two progressions for reps and I cite this as the biggest contributor to my overall progress.


Single-leg Stand Up

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that standing up from the pistol position is hard.  If you’ve never worked pistol squats before this may be the challenging piece of the puzzle for you. I suggest using the assistance of a fixed object to start building the strength.  When you can perform 1-2 reps without assistance keep “greasing the groove” with many sets spread out through the days and weeks.


The bigger point to highlight here is that sometimes it’s the simplest movements that get overlooked because they reveal glaring holes in our game.  Rather than turning away from the things that humble us, lean in and start creating a path. The skill is a nice addition, but the process is where we cultivate the tools to become better students. 


The Single-Leg Squat Get Up isn’t sexy or impressive, it’s just basic human movement.  On the other hand, if don’t possess the mobility for it you don’t have to shut down your training and hit the panic button. We needn’t be fanatical about acquiring elusive movement skills, but don’t discount them either. Try this one out. If you got it, cool; now refine it.  If not, try some of the progressions and practice the ones that feel the most relevant to you at least several times per week.  

Check-in from time to time on the full pattern and recognize your progress and little wins along the way.  It might clean up in a few weeks, or it might take years.  What matters most is that you're willing to put the time in sucking at some something, knowing all the while that it’s only a temporary situation.  Better comes along naturally.