Could you use more muscle, better coordination, and improved conditioning? What about a half-dozen Playmates, a million bucks, and Rachael Ray as your personal chef?
What if I told you that you could get all of that—well, at least half of that—with one exercise?
Once relegated to MMA fighters, Crossfit crazies, and older weekend warriors, the Turkish Get-Up (TGU) is the best exercise you're not doing. You took the time to learn how to properly deadlift, squat, bench, and power clean, but like an oil tower in There Will Be Blood, I still believe you're leaving precious resources untapped.
I have no qualms in saying that learning and practicing the TGU will be one of the best investments you ever make for your body. Will you get a few strange looks from other people at your gym? Sure. But so do the guys who flex their abs in the mirror, and their egos haven't been deflated yet.
Fatties and beanpoles run amok and lifters with decent bodies are fairly common, but guys with functional, symmetrical muscles are few and far between. And if I've learned anything it's this: to get uncommon results, you must train in uncommon ways.
If you want a better body, a new challenging exercise, or just some good ol' fashioned hip mobility and core strength, then the TGU is perfect for you.
The Seven Steps
The TGU is separated into seven steps that can also be seen as a progression model; many newcomers to the exercise can simply do the first couple of steps for a training effect. But more on that later. The important point is this: do not take any of the steps lightly.
Some may seem simple, but it's in your best interest to pay attention to the details if you want to reap the benefits and save yourself from an embarrassing dumbbell-to-head situation. You must master every single step before putting it all together.
1 – Roll to Press
While the roll to press looks easy, it's very important you take time to practice this motion until you can easily set yourself up for the remaining progressions. This step not only entails getting the weight overhead from a flat back position, but also getting yourself into proper alignment to safeguard your body for the rest of the movement.
How it's done
Get in the fetal position on your right side with the dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand. In one fluid motion roll onto your back and press the dumbbell into the air, keeping it locked and stable. Your right knee should be bent with your toe pointed away from your body and your heel close to your butt.
You want your entire upper body pressed against the floor, with your shoulder blades pulled together. (A common error I see is the shoulder of the working arm raised off the floor in the beginning of the exercise.) Your left leg should be straight, with your heel pinned to the ground, while your left hand rests on your abdomen.
- Get into a tight fetal position and roll your body away from the weight as you press it overhead.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Keep the heel of the right foot close your glutes and point the toes slightly away from the body.
A quick note on breathing: Since the TGU is an exhaustive movement, you never want to hold your breath at any point as one full repetition can go as long as 60 seconds. However, you should also never fully breathe out as you want to keep some semblance of tension at each progression.
Instead, you want to practice short, shallow breathing in order to maintain a balance of tension in the lats, core, and shoulders and relaxation in the neck and face.
2 – Press to Elbow
It's important to drive the heel of the working side into the ground as if you were about to lift your hip. The strong-side arm should stay locked since you want to avoid pressing the weight during this stage. (In fact, you shouldn't press the weight at any time during the TGU other than on the first step.) In one controlled motion, shift your bodyweight away from the working side and rest on your opposite forearm.
Here, your chest should stay up, your working-side foot is flat against the ground and close to the glutes, and the non-working heel remains planted against the ground.
- Push the foot of the strong side into the ground as you use your hips to initiate the movement.
- Keep the heel of the opposite side planted against the ground and the toes pointed upward.
- Keep vertical alignment even during the movement (keep the chest up).
- Flex the lats. This is your "shelf" to keep the weight stable and any unwanted pressure off the shoulder.
- Keep your eyes on the weight or toward the ceiling at all times.
3 – Post-Up Position
This step involves straightening the arm of the non-working side until it's fully extended and your palm rests flat on the floor. Again, dig into the ground with both heels as you don't want to rely on pushing off the forearm. Make sure to sit up tall when doing this as you don't want to lean on the extended arm which would result in shoulder discomfort and possibly injury.
- Keep the opposite hand close to you to avoid any impingement on the shoulder.
- Don't slouch. Sit up tall with the chest open and the head up.
4 – High Pelvis Bridge
If there was ever a time where the TGU displayed what it can do for hip mobility, core strength and shoulder stability, this is it. In this step, you'll perform a high pelvic bridge by driving the hips upward, creating a nice stretch for the hip flexors while activating the glutes. There should be a straight line from the knee of the working side to the top of the head setting you up for the opposite leg to sweep underneath in the next progression.
- Focus on your breathing. This is an awkward position and you don't want to make it harder on yourself with screwed up breathing patterns.
- The key here is balance. There shouldn't be a great disparity in tension from one side of your body to the other.
5 – High Pelvis to Knee
If you performed the last step correctly, there should be enough space to slide your opposite leg underneath you. This is perhaps the most challenging step as it involves a tremendous amount of flexibility in the hips and shoulders to keep the movement under control.
This is also where most beginners commonly lose their breathing pattern and strain their way through the movement. The non-working side knee should be in a straight line with that hand.
- Take your time. Breathe at each progression before moving on to regain body awareness and focus on the next step.
6 – Knee to Kneeling
In this step, simply rise from your three points of contact (foot, knee, hand) into a standard lunge position. A common error in this step is pressing the weight up as your body comes up. As with all other progressions, there should be little to no movement of the working-side arm as you want to keep it rigid while bringing your body up instead of pushing the weight up. Avoid arching your back excessively as you want to be tall in your stance.
- Avoid pushing off the opposite arm to get into position. Use your core to initiate the movement as you shift the opposite foot to a standard lunge position.
7 – The Stand
Come to a standing position by driving off the ground with both feet. Again, it's important that you don't press the weight.
- This should be performed as if you were doing an overhead lunge, which is a tremendous accessory exercise for this progression.
You Gotta Get Up to Get Down
Once you've mastered all the progressions you can pat yourself on the back, but you're only halfway done with the TGU. Now all you have to do is get back down.
Simply reverse each movement until you're flat on your back again, keeping your arm locked at all times. (Some people find this more difficult than actually getting up.) Once you're staring at the ceiling again you've successfully completed one repetition.
Be sure to keep the reps low in the beginning (no more than three per side) as form is crucial with the TGU.
I recommend slowly going through each progression after your general warm-up to prime your body for whatever big lift you have for the day. If you can't do all seven steps fluidly, start with the first and keep building until you can do the complete movement.
How to Add the TGU to Your Training Program
Weeks 1-4 (Use as a warm-up)
Perform each progression in sequence for a set of three before your core lift for the day, but after your general warm-up.
For example, start with Step 1 for a set of three and come down to the starting position before doing Step 2 for another set of three. This will ensure each of the beginning steps stays reinforced as you move on to each progressively more difficult progression.
Weeks 4-8 (Use as the first exercise of the day)
Continue to use the progressions as a warm-up. After which, perform three sets of three full TGU's on each side with a light weight (only slightly heavier than what you used for the warm-ups).
One rep equals a full TGU (up and down) done on each side. Rest as long as needed between sides and between sets.
Weeks 8-12 (Use as the main lift)
After warming up with your progressions, go for five heavy sets of two. Use the same protocol as the last four weeks but with a heavier weight.
- A good warm-up includes a good amount of foam rolling, especially in the thoracic spine, IT band, rectus femoris, quads, and hip flexors.
- Make sure you have plenty of room for this movement. You may want to kick a soccer mom off her Bosu ball and steal a corner in your gym.
- Never try to save the lift. If the weight gets away from you, drop it! It's better to leave a mark on the floor than suffer a dislocated shoulder.
The Big 5 are great, but the Turkish Get-Up may just be the missing piece to building an overall strong, coordinated, muscular body. Give it a try and let us know how you do. (Oh, and you're not a total badass until you can do it with a loaded barbell.)
- Cheung, Mark. Cook, Gray. Jones, Brett. "Kettlebells From the Ground Up – The Kalos Sthenos".