There’s no denying that the Turkish Get-Up (TGU) sure looks cool — and when you do it, you definitely feel powerful and strong. But did you know it can actually save your life, too?
It’s true! More than just a self-esteem booster, the TGU is one of the most versatile skills you can learn. Not only can it make you stronger and fitter, it may even save your life some day. Whether you’re 8 or 80 years old, everyone can benefit from this skill. I know it sounds dramatic to say it can “save your life,” but I promise that once you read what I have to say, you’ll agree!
TGUs can be used as any of the following, and not necessarily in this order:
A corrective exercise
A life-saving skill
The TGU will improve your rolling, hinging, lunging, standing, kneeling, and pressing abilities. You will begin to increase your mobility, stability, and strength with just this one skill. I’ll start by showing you a full TGU, and then I will break it down step-by-step and explain how it can be used in all of the categories I listed above.
The Turkish Get-up — Step-By-Step
Start on your back with the bell by your right side.
Roll into the fetal position and scoop your right hand through the handle, using the left hand for assistance.
Roll onto you back and press the bell to a full, locked out, straight arm position.
Place your left arm and leg straight on the floor, about 45 degrees away from midline (like a snow angel).
Place your right foot on the ground with your knee bent to 90 degrees and leading with the chest, drive into the ground with all three non-loaded limbs until you have rolled up on your left forearm.
Keep both shoulders packed for the duration of the TGU and press through the palm of your hand until you left arm is straight (this is the “tall sit” position).
Press yourself slightly off the ground as you swoop your left heel toward your right foot, bringing your left knee toward your left hand. As you place your knee on the ground make sure your left hand, left knee, and left ankle form a straight line on the floor.
Hinge into the right hip, then drive to full hip extension (as if finishing a swing) into a ½ kneeling position.
Make a “windshield wiper” motion with the left leg so that both legs are now parallel in the bottom of a lunge position.
Dorsiflex the left foot (i.e. flex your foot so your toes are underneath you) and drive up to a standing position.
Take a large step back into the bottom of the lunge position, and “windshield wipe” the left leg.
Hinge at the hips and find the ground with your left hand (returning to that straight line with your left knee and left ankle).
Kick the left leg forward to the tall sit position, then come down to your forearm.
Roll down onto your back and into the fetal position to return the bell to the floor
TIP 1: Your eyes should be on your bell in all but two positions, the ½ kneeling and standing.
TIP 2: Begin unloaded (no kettlebell, just your body) and practice each step of the TGU. Stop at any sticking points and practice that segment until you own it, then proceed to the next step. The TGU is just as beneficial if you are only working at owning segments until you’re ready for the full get-up.
Next, let’s take a look at how you can use the TGU in all those categories I mentioned earlier.
Because the TGU is a full-body movement, it can be a great warm-up prior to other lifts/exercises in your training program. I personally don’t require much stretching/foam rolling prior to getting into my session. A few TGUs per side are all I need to loosen up most of the time, before moving on to other skills. On days when I wake up feeling a bit tight, I will do a quick joint mobility session before moving on to TGUs. You can also wave the load with your warm-ups. Example: full TGU on Medium day, light or bodyweight TGU on Light day, and heavy “half” TGUs on Heavy day.
A skilled coach who has either been through a certification or is very experienced in natural movement can use the TGU as an assessment to find dysfunctions. For example: are you lacking in hip, shoulder or t-spine mobility? Are you lacking in shoulder or core stability? Your coach will look for asymmetries or faulty movement patterns and the information she gathers from her observations can help her determine what the proper next steps should be for your program.
After your coach has assessed your movement, she may assign segments or full TGUs as your corrective exercise. In most cases the aim is to fix a faulty movement pattern. You may even be instructed to work just one position daily to fix the dysfunction or build strength prior to moving on. The TGU as a corrective exercise will have tremendous carryover to improving other skills in your program.
By definition an exercise is an activity requiring physical effort, usually carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness. In this category, you would perform multiple TGUs using a lighter load for more reps and sets. This approach elevates your heart rate, providing a cardiovascular benefit, and elicits an improvement in your strength endurance, which essentially means your body adapts to maintain consistent strength for a prolonged period of time. An example for using the TGU as an exercise (remember to use a lighter load): 5 reps right / 5 reps left x 2-3 sets.
In training, we refer to lifts as those movements performed with a heavy load to increase strength. When you want to treat your TGUs as a lift, I recommend starting with ½ TGUs with a heavy load (close to your 1-rep max) and just practice getting off the ground to a tall sit for singles or maybe doubles. For example: 1 Right / 1 Left x 2-3 sets. Once this becomes easy, you can progress into full TGUs.
The TGU is an important functional skill that can not only literally save you from a life-threatening situation, it can also help you when facing certain physical (non-life-threatening) challenges. There are many other “functional” skills performed in the gym, but few can transfer so directly into real-life situations as the TGU can.
Think of a job in which you would need to get up from the ground with a heavy load. A firefighter knocked down in a fire, wearing and carrying heavy gear, or even carrying a person? Law enforcement or military needing to get up if knocked down or trapped under heavy equipment? Training yourself to get off the ground with heavy load could be very beneficial in these settings.
Taking this even one step further, think of an elderly loved one. We don’t even want to imagine them falling and being unable reach a phone to call for help. The TGU can be a functional skill used to train older adults to get off the ground, into (at the very least) a crawling position to get to the phone. In addition, in a study performed in Brazil, Dr Claudio Gil Araújo and colleagues found that:
“If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculoskeletal fitness, but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.”
In the video below I show you some examples of how I would train students who might fit into these categories:
If you work yourself (or your students) up to perform heavy Turkish Get-Ups in segments or the full movement, think how much lighter it will feel to get off the ground with just your body.
I think we can all agree that the TGU is can not only make you feel strong and powerful, it is a skill that’s beneficial for just about everyone!
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About The Author: Karen Smith
Karen Smith is a highly-respected trainer and coach specializing in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a StrongFirst SFG Master Instructor and Chief Bodyweight Instructor. Karen travels the world instructing and certifying individuals through StrongFirst, and works with clients online and in person. Learn more about Karen on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.