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The Turkish Get Up: how one simple exercise can make you a better lifter

A couple years ago I was working out in a big box gym and I happened to be practicing my Get Ups. A young boy and his mother were walking by looking for a machine to use when the boy saw me doing a Turkish Get Up and said to his mom enthusiastically, ” let’s do that!”

“No! We’re not doing that,” said the mom.

At the time, there was a part of me that sympathized with the mom. There I was, performing what looked like a very complicated exercise and her son wanted to give it a try. She had no idea how to perform the movement herself, much less teach it to her son. So, it was a simple decision on her part.

Admittedly, the Turkish Get Up (TGU) is indeed a complicated movement with 7 distinct parts and plenty of room for technical error. However, the exercise is extremely approachable when you really start to break it down.

Here are a few reasons why.

It’s self-limiting

If you can’t handle the weight, you’re going to fall over.

And the risk is small because so is the weight. If you begin to teeter totter you’ll instinctively bring the weight in close and because you’re in a supine position you can still roll your way to the left or the right should the weight try and take you with it. You’re also only a few feet off the ground.

There are 7 parts

The perceived complexity of the TGU is also what makes it so scaleable. For instance, if you don’t have the dynamic stability in your shoulder to make it into the second phase of the movement (more on this in a moment) then you simply won’t get there. This way, you’ll know how far you can go and you will have identified a limitation in your own strength. Now you can go to work on fixing the weakness and return to the TGU when you’re ready.

It’s both an assessment and an exercise

This is the real beauty of the TGU.

Yes, it’s an awesome exercise, but because it’s self-limiting, it can also be considered an assessment. If you have an imbalance on either your left or right side, it will surely rear its ugly head. And if you can’t move into full hip extension then it’s likely indicative of a gluteal activation problem that needs to be addressed.

As you may imagine, we are just scratching the surface here of what the TGU has to offer you. But let’s get down to business, shall we?

There are several varieties of the TGU, but the one that follows is the purest form. Simply put, it’s a methodical pattern to press a weight overhead. You can almost think of it as an overhead press, but one that begins with you lying on the ground!

Before we get started with the fun stuff, remember, the TGU is complicated at first. It takes some time to go through the motions and really get that muscle memory patterned in. In the below sequence, I ask you to use a kettlebell, but don’t be afraid of using nothing at all and practicing in your living room first. And if you do decide to use a KB, go light. Step 4 is going to rock your world!

OK, here we go.

Here’s how you perform a TGU like a pro.

Step 1

Lie supine on the ground with a kettlebell just off to your right at about chest level. Now, roll your body over to the right and with both hands grip the bell and when you have a good hold, roll back to supine with the KB over your chest, held close.

Plant your right foot down on the ground such that your knee is bent. And position your left leg such that it’s maybe 30 degrees off to the side.

Press the kettlebell up and keep your shoulder blades down and back. In other words, your arm should feel nice and stacked against your body. You don’t want to feel as though you’re reaching for the ceiling.

Now, release your left hand and put it down on the floor at about a 45 deg angle to your body. With your left limbs splayed out you have created a nice base – you’ll use this foundation later.

Step 2

Now you’re going to start getting up. What you’re going to do next is to roll onto your elbow. A lot of people make the mistake of turning this into a sit-up – it’s not a sit-up!

Instead, you’re going to roll with a slight crunch and finish with your upper body supported with your left elbow. And this whole time, the KB is on the end of your straightened arm.

There’s a lot of great stuff happening at your right shoulder at this point. You’re dynamically stabilizing the weight and going through a nice range of motion in your shoulder joint.

Take a moment and check your form. Remember my mantra that I’m always echoing?

Tension where you need it, none where you don’t.

Test for this by making sure you can move your head just a little bit from side to side. You don’t need the muscles in your neck turned on and going crazy.

Step 2 should be completed at a nice slow pace so you can maintain absolute control. When the loading feels steady, move on to step 3.

Step 3

Here comes one of the fun parts. Using your core and your left arm, press yourself up to seated. Your left arm will straighten and you’ll end the movement with a nice vector of load – the KB through your right arm, across your chest and down to the floor via your left arm.

At this point your upper body should feel like a column. If you can’t maintain rigidity, then you’ll definitely break down in form in the next step. Your weight was too heavy. Check the ego at the door Stallone and grab a lighter KB.

Step 4

And here’s the second fun part.

Make sure your right foot is planted down firmly on the ground and re-position your left leg if you need to. You’re going to need a solid foundation.

When you’re ready, press your hips upward. You’ll have (3) points of contact with the ground. Keep your eyes on the KB.

This is a challenging position to hold. One hip is in full extension, the other, partial extension. For most of us that spend our days seated, this is a great movement to rehabilitate our gluteal acquisition.

But this phase of the Turkish Get Up is also very demanding, even for some people without a weight. Because now your left shoulder is asked to dynamically stabilize and also resist quite a bit of weight. If you don’t feel steady in this position, that’s OK. Focus instead on working the TGU only to step 3 and take a look at your shoulder strengthening program.

In a future blog post, I’ll look at some ways you can progress through some of the common sticking points.

But if you are nice and steady in this position, then – and only then – can you move on to step 5.

Step 5

It gets a little tricky here.

Slowly take weight off your extended left leg. Lift it off the ground and bring your knee under your body and on the ground. Now you have 4 points of contact with the ground, right (counting your left foot)? Things are getting easier.

Step 6

Re-position your base. Bring your right foot inward a bit so that you have a 90 degree bend in your right knee and turn your left leg so that it’s comfortably parallel with your right leg.

Step 7

You’re almost done.

Here you are, basically in a lunge position. Press up to standing.

Voila!

Need a video? I thought so.

There’s no need making a new TGU video because the best one was done by Gray Cook and friends:


Parting thoughts

Remember, go slow and keep your eyes on the kettlebell. This isn’t really an exercise that you would do the standard 3 sets of 10 and call it a day. Instead, think of this as a form of yoga. The whole idea is to be cognizant of your movement and aware of your body’s tension.

When you get it down, do me a favor and teach a friend. It’s a shame that more people are using the TGU in their workouts. It’s a great exercise with tons of benefit, but not so high on the popularity scale.

Happy lifting.

Related reading:

3 exercises not worth your time (and what to do instead)

 

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