The Turkish Get-Up

The one-arm get-up is general test of strength which had considerable appeal to most strongmen from yesteryear…

It has always made a hit with the theatrical public, for it was obvious to them that magnificent strength was being displayed when an athlete did a one-arm get-up with a heavy bell.

– Siegmund Klein (an American strength legend)

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The Turkish Get-up (TGU) is an outstanding exercise that develops strength, conditioning, mobility and stability throughout the entire body. It is both an excellent injury prevention and rehabilitation exercise for the shoulders. In fact, the TGU will give you shoulders that can take punishment, and dish it out.

It is a highly dynamic movement with enormous carryover to lifting heavy things. It does this by combining a series of movements from lying down to standing up with a heavy kettlebell overhead.

Many strong athletes have been humbled by the functional strength required to perform this movement, but mastering the TGU will make all overhead exercises safer and easier to perform.

A bit of history
The TGU was a staple exercise for the old-time strongmen and wrestlers. It has been said that this was the first and only exercise taught to many aspiring weightlifters to practice. The young athletes would have to master the TGU and be able to perform a TGU with 100 pound (45kg) weight with each hand.

When this goal had been achieved, the athlete was able to progress to the other lifts. There is some real wisdom behind that old-time methodology.

It takes tenacity and commitment to conquer this feat of strength. Secondly, it builds a solid foundation of strength that practically “injury proofs” the body, making it ready for more demanding training. It also significantly strengthens the major muscle groups, smaller stabilising muscles and the connective tissues.

Benefits of the Turkish Get-up

  • Promotes cross lateralization (getting the right brain to work with the left side, and vice versa);
  • Promotes upper body stability;
  • Promotes lower body stability;
  • Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities;
  • Ties the right arm to the left leg, and the left arm to the right leg;
  • Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally;
  • Stimulates the senses that contribute to balance;
  • Promotes spatial awareness;
  • Develops anterior/posterior weight shift;
  • Develops upper body strength, trunk strength, and hip strength.

How to perform a Turkish Get-Up
To keep it simple. The TGU can be broken down into three parts.

  • The half get-up;
  • The transition; and
  • The full get-up.

TGU: The starting position
Lying on your back, extend the arm holding the kettlebell in front of the chest with the arm locked out. If necessary, you can use your supporting arm to assist the initial lift or spot the weight. The goal is to get the weight into the locked-out position and not to build a big chest by pressing.

Post your left foot flat on the ground, with your heel close to your backside. This is the starting position. Remember to keep your eyes on the kettlebell throughout the exercise.

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TGU: The half get-up
From the starting position, with your supporting hand flat on the ground, roll slightly to your right side and sit up. Allowing the weight to drift forward slightly, then push off your posted foot to help you sit up.

It is acceptable to allow your free arm to assist slightly against the floor in sitting up. Finish with the left arm and kettlebell vertical (above your head), making sure the wrist is tight and elbow locked.

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TGU: The transition
In the transition, the athlete will move from the sitting to the kneeling position.

Begin by pressing the shoulder of your supporting hand (the one on the ground) away from your ear. This is important, but often overlooked step. It puts the shoulder into a strong position. It keeps the shoulder “active”, by keeping it in the socket.

Simultaneously press off your hand and posted foot, lifting your hips off the floor, forming a glute bridge. This will create the space necessary to swing your (right) leg underneath you as you slowly move into a three-point kneeling position.

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TGU: The full get-up
Slowly straighten your torso and pull your right arm up off the ground so that you are in a two-point kneeling position. Keeping your eyes on the kettlebell, and actively pressing the kettlebell straight up toward the ceiling.

Keeping your leg vertical, load your weight onto the heel, contract the outer glute and stand up, pushing the kettlebell up overhead as you straighten.

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From here, pause for a few moments, then reverse the steps under control to lower yourself on to the floor and back into the starting position.

Remember, there is no rush in completing this movement, and at times speed will destroy the movement quality, leading to an even more challenging or even dangerous practice. You will benefit from time under tension. So take your time and get it right.

Finally, always keep your eye on the kettlebell whilst conducting the movement.

 

Final thoughts
Mastering the TGU is an excellent investment of your time and effort. The TGU can compliment a variety of workout programs giving you many transferable benefits. It is versatile enough to be used as an injury prevention or rehabilitation activity, to a warm-up or even the main lift of your workout.

Personally, it is one of my favourite exercises (in and out of the gym), and has been a staple movement in many of my strength and conditioning programs over the years.

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