Our bodies are complex units made up of a multitude of interdependent systems — and yet it’s easy to forget just how incredible they are. But if there’s one movement that really showcases how awesome our bodies are, it’s the Turkish get-up.
The Turkish get-up is an opportunity for not only strengthening but also building full-body awareness. I view it as a celebration of movement for the whole body!
In this article, you’ll learn how to perform the Turkish get-up, step by step. Plus, I’ll cover how to correct four common mistakes and explain three exercises you can use to improve.
Let’s start with the basics.
The Turkish get-up (TGU) is a functional exercise that takes you from lying on the floor to standing up straight — all while holding a weight over your head. Typically, the TGU is performed with a kettlebell; the offset center of mass of the kettlebell naturally guides the arm into a good lockout position, making it particularly effective. However, it can be done unloaded or with dumbbells, barbells, and even with people!
The TGU requires many essential functional movement patterns, including the hinge, the lunge, the push, and the carry. As such, it can be used as:
The TGU is a total-body workout that challenges your core, shoulders, back, and legs. And as you can probably guess, training the ability to get up off the floor has important real-world carryover. Having the skills to get up safely can be life saving — whether it’s from a fall or just from being on the ground while gardening, playing, building IKEA furniture, or any other situation.
Another big benefit of the TGU is how effective it is at improving shoulder stability, mobility (loaded or unloaded), and overall resistance.
The shoulder joint is the least stable joint in the body, so it’s no surprise many people have experienced shoulder injuries. The TGU, when done simply and slowly, can help strengthen and mobilize the shoulder joint, which can in turn help reduce the risk of shoulder injury.
However, if you have a history of shoulder injuries or limited overhead shoulder mobility, you should absolutely consult with your doctor before practicing this movement.
As a compound exercise (an exercise made up of multiple smaller movements), the Turkish get-up can definitely look like an advanced, even complex, movement. But by breaking it down into smaller parts, you can absolutely learn how to do it.
While I’ll be explaining how to do the movement with a kettlebell, if you are trying the TGU for the first time or are a beginner, train the movement pattern with bodyweight only until you feel comfortable going through the entire exercise. Only then should you work on adding additional weight.
Keep it simple, fun, and unrushed. Make sure to pause and check your pace, space, and eye position at every step.
New to kettlebell training and looking for more information and inspiration? Learn the basics of kettlebell training and how to perform 5 beginner kettlebell exercises.
With so many pieces going into successfully completing a Turkish get-up, it’s no surprise there are some errors I see time and time again in my coaching practice. Read on to learn four of the most common Turkish get-up mistakes and how you can prevent or fix them.
For many folks, one of the hardest parts of the TGU is the initial transition from lying down on the floor with the weight overhead to sitting tall, propped on the non-working hand. The challenge is performing this while keeping the straight leg on the floor throughout, instead of allowing it to shoot up in the air. This typically happens if you only focus on sitting up, without pushing appropriately into the ground with the foot of your bent leg.
The half-wedge get-up, also known as a Turkish sit-up, is the best way to practice using the strength of your bent leg for a forceful hip extension that will help you roll onto the opposite shoulder and ultimately prop yourself with your forearm and then your hand. Once you’ve reached this tall sitting position, slowly roll back to the starting point.
One of the keys to performing the TGU safely is being able to maintain the weight in the overhead position — shoulder packed, arm straight and lined up with your ear — through the entirety of the exercise. This is one of the instances where the TGU becomes a great assessment tool, as any issues with the overhead position will become quickly apparent.
If the overhead position is an issue, basic shoulder mobility exercises may be in order, such as unloaded TGUs, kettlebell halos, and quadruped rocking.
With the kettlebell overhead, it can be tempting to let your wrist hyperextend while you try and support the bell. But let’s not forget: the kettlebell is not a handbag!
Hyperextending the wrist makes it really difficult to lock the elbow and pack the shoulder.
If you’re struggling with wrist hyperextension, take a step back and practice rack holds with a neutral wrist. Then you can progress into overhead holds, and before long you’ll be ready to try the Turkish get-up again.
While your instinct may be to get up and down as fast as possible — whether because you want to get through your reps or because you’re trying to finish the movement before there’s any chance of dropping the kettlebell due to fatigue — this is not a safe practice and may actually increase your risk of injury due to poor technique.
To see the real benefits of the get-up, you need to slow down, do a body scan at each position, and give your body adequate time under tension to increase muscle strength and endurance.
Is your grip slowing down your progress? Check out these 6 ways to improve grip strength and optimize your strength training sessions.
Making the TGU work for you is as simple as breaking it down into its parts and practicing each one independently. By making sure you groove the movement pattern and understand every piece of the motion, your get-up will be strong and safe for heavier weights.
If you’re looking to improve the different components of your TGU, try these three exercises.
Getting up from a lunge and back down while holding a weight safely over your head is one of the critical components of the TGU, and therefore is worth training and perfecting on its own.
Start by pressing the kettlebell safely overhead. Now touch your leg with your free hand and perform a reverse lunge with that leg. Practicing 3–5 reps per leg is a great way to test your readiness for a heavier kettlebell.
One of the first components of the TGU is a floor press, either assisted with your non-working hand or not. So it makes sense to work the movement on its own to really drill your technique and practice packing your shoulder with a full lockout of the arm.
Furthermore, working the chest with a kettlebell floor press — either with a single bell or double bells — is a great accessory to your barbell bench press.
In the TGU, the kneeling windmill marks the transition to the lunging position. Proficiency in this movement will not only help you move more seamlessly with the kettlebell overhead, but also help you work your hip mobility.
As you hinge back in a half-kneeling position, work to bring your hand down to the floor, or even your forearm if you’re able to move further down.
Whether the Turkish get-up is completely new for you or an established movement, you can be sure to find it a challenging exercise with numerous benefits worthy to be added to your arsenal of everyday badassery.
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