Cleaning Up the Turkish Get-Up: Stuff People Gloss Over Because They’re Too Cool

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“What does this THING even do anyways?!”

That’s pretty much the standard reaction/question I receive every time I have a client or athlete perform a Turkish get-up.

Photo Credit: Kristy Mox

What’s the big deal anyways, right? You take a cannonball looking thingamajig, hold it in your hand, and stand up with it.

La-dee-freakin-da.

 

There was a time, not long ago (<– I’m trying really hard to refrain from a Star Wars reference here), where I mirrored some of the same sentiments.

I attended a Perform Better conference where one of the presenters took the attendees through some basic kettlebell exercises – namely the swing and get-up – and I thought to myself, “This is so lame. It’s a fad. Can we please go do something cool like deadlift or play Laser Tag or something?”

Then I started seeing the same exercises pop up on various fitness websites – Men’s Health, Women’s Health, even T-Nation. No! Not T-Nation. Dammit!

Additionally I started listening to guys like Gray Cook, Pavel (no surprise there, since he’s essentially the guy recognized as popularizing kettlebell training in the States), Dan John, and many other reputable coaches start to speak to the benefits of kettlebell training, in particular the get-up.

To be honest, Eric (Cressey) and myself held off for as long as we could before we accepted that kettlebells were here to stay. Guess it wasn’t a fad after-all. And it wasn’t until a few years ago when we started making a concerted effort to implement them into our programming for our clients and athletes.

Lets bring this back to the original question: “what does this thing (meaning get-ups) even do anyways?”

Here’s the answer:

What DOESN’T It Do?

 

I’ve heard Gray Cook refer to the get-up as loaded yoga. He didn’t stand there or drop the mic or anything, but he should have. That’s an excellent explanation.

Think about it: what other exercise combines the interplay between mobility/stability while simultaneously having people incorporate the lying down, rolling, half-kneeling, and standing positions…..and then reversing those actions?

And this doesn’t speak to its versatility. I’ve used get-ups as part of an extended warm-up, as a corrective exercise, as a strength exercise, as part of a circuit or finisher (shown in the video above), and if I had a kid, I’d use the get-up as punishment for not eating all their vegetables.

In addition, it’s not uncommon to see a correlation between improved get-up performance and improved performance on the sexier lifts like squats and deadlifts.

And it’s here where I wanted to take a few moments to hammer a few bullet points on the get-up. Not so much a “how to” post – there are plenty of those on the internet, and I’d encourage you to seek out all the people mentioned above along with Brett Jones, Steve Cotter, Dr. Mark Cheng, Neghar Fonooni, and Artemis Scantalides – but rather just something to speak to the finer points of the movement that many people tend to gloss over.

1. Grease the Groove

I like Dr. Mark Cheng’s approach to the get-up.

He’s a boss.

There’s a time and place to push the envelop with the get-up, but realistically, it should rarely be a max effort endeavor. I.e., it shouldn’t look as if you’re passing a kidney stone during every transition on every rep.

Dr. Cheng is a guy who could easily use the Beast on his get-ups, but he rarely does. He likes to stick with a weight between 20-24 kg and focus on the QUALITY of the movement rather than making it hard for the sake of making it hard.

I get that sometimes we want to impress our friends or Twitter followers with feat of strength, and I’ve seen many gleaming examples of impressive get-ups. However, I’d encourage most people to err on the side of conservative and use a light(er) KB than they think 95% of the time. It’s only then you’ll learn and (soon) master the movement.

Which serves as a nice segue into my next point.

2. Slow Down, Buttercup

Pigging back off of Dr. Cheng’s sentiments above, the get-up is like a pot roast. Much like we allow the meat, broth, and vegetables to marinate over time; we also need to marinate the get-up.

The objective is NOT to rush1. It’s imperative to OWN every transition and stage of the movement. A common mistake many trainees make is they try to speed up the get-up. Sometimes it’s due to boredom (more on this in a bit) and they just want to get the set over with for….the….love….GOD!!!

Almost always it’s because many lack the stability to do the get-up right. This can be a bodily issue or weakness or, most commonly, they’re flat out going too heavy.

A proper get-up should take a good 45-60s/PER SIDE to complete. This is where those who have exercise ADD may get bored. Sorry, it’s just the way it is.

This is why I tend to program 1-2 reps per side on any given set. Anything more than that and people start to lose focus and/or start getting sloppy with technique.

Slow down. Own every position.

3. Wrist Position

The Turkish get-up is all about stacked joints and locked out joints.

I see it all the time: someone performs their get-up and their supporting shoulder is “shrugging” their bodyweight, the knee on their extended leg isn’t fully locked out, or they’re not getting full hip extension on their high-bridge (more on this below).

All are wrong, and all promote energy leaks which is only going to make the exercise harder to perform,

Another common snafu for a lot people is wrist position. Many will allow their wrist to extend back too far, like this:

1. Ouch

2. That’s a massive energy leak that’s going to make it much harder to control the bell throughout the rest of the repetition.

Instead I like to tell people to point their knuckles to the ceiling at all times. Like this:

1. Way sexier.

2. Less energy leaks.

3. Correct.

4. Don’t argue with me.

Not that I need to say it, but just to cover my bases: this rule applies THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MOVEMENT.

4. High Bridge vs. Sweep the Leg

You might have noticed I mentioned the high-bridge above. This is something I believe Dr. Mark Cheng introduced a few years ago, and something that himself and Gray Cook looked to as a way to “clear” someone of hip extension/hip flexor mobility.

 

We don’t have to be Nazis about it. It’s not right or wrong to include the high-bridge or not as a transition point. It comes down to personal preference. Really, it’s okay.

Although, anytime I can reference The Karate Kid – “sweep the leg!” – I’m all for it.

I will, however, caution fitness professionals to be leery of including this step with anyone who doesn’t have the prerequisite hip mobility to perform it.

5. Transitioning From Half-Kneeling to Standing

Last but not least, in the past I had always coached the “windshield wiper” as the best way to transition from the half-kneeling position to standing.

It works.

A few weeks ago, though, Artemis Scantalides and Eric Gahan of Iron Body Studios (located in Needham, MA), came to Cressey Sports Performance and showed us some cool hacks for the get-up. One of which I really liked and thought was brilliant.

 

And there you have it. Just a few things to consider to help clean up your get-up technique.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  1. Although, I’m still waiting for CrossFit to implement a Turkish Get-Ups for Time event any day now

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  • FreakSammy

    You had me with “reduce reps to 1-2 per side”.

    • coachryan

      Wait…TGUs aren’t for METCONS?!

      I tend to program 3 reps per set. 1x weak side, 1x strong, 1x weak. Helps to clean up imbalances pretty quickly.

      Also, i prefer to think of the TGU as 7 translations that add up to a full movement. I add extra reps for transitions within a TGU rep as needed to perfect each transition. Or work certain transitions solely.

      • TonyGentilcore

        Exactly. When coaching the TGU to someone new, I ALWAYS break it down to its components and have the person repeat each step over and over again as we progress through each component.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Not at hello?

  • Sold. Ironically I’ve been looking for good walkthrough on these. Keep it light and this is is a nice catchall warm-up. I think many people will try to start with kettlebells because they’re so hot right now, and from a glance kettlebell work can appear simple. I’m gonna go out on limb here and suggest it’s probably a better idea to learn joint-positions, tension, etc, with a bar. Especially for the overhead work. Thanks for the post Tony. Valuable.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Honestly, I coach the get-up UN-LOADED (or empty) in the first place.

      I don’t necessarily jump right to the KB (or DB for that matter).

      • Nothing about that surprises me. I’ve been using a light dumbbell just to have something to grip, but unloaded is wiser.

  • Anne

    On your last point, the transition from half-kneeling to standing, when coming back down I’ve always done the knee swivel aka windshield wipe. Could the alternative in your video be done transitioning from standing to half-kneeling as well? And if so would you recommend it?

  • I have to admit I’ve had the “what are TGU’s good for?” mentality that you describe ever since I had a friend tell me that he started doing them about 3 months ago. I’ll use the great tips you provide here and work on my form and eventually add it in to my kettlebell routine. Thanks!

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  • Randy Cain

    Love this!!! Thanks for the great info!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad you liked it Randy.

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  • Ethan Huber

    Hi tony

    Great Read Loved it!! I am not a workout enthusiast, recently I have developed interest in exercise and doing some research before starting, and thinking of home workouts as it will suit my working hours, While surfing I came to know that adjustable dumbbells are good for home workout through http://www.adjustabledumbbells.info Can you please suggest me whether ketlebells are good or adjustable dumbbells?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Both are fine Ethan. I’m not someone who feels KBs are THAT much more superior to DBs. I do like them for the offset nature of them and do feel they lend themselves better to get-ups and swing (especially the latter), but you can easily still use DBs for them too. At the end of the day, not a big deal.

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  • Greg W

    Turkish what? I stopped reading at the pot roast photo until I realised I had drool on my screen.
    Been looking for a breakdown of the tgu. Excellent work, cheers.

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