Deconstructing the Turkish Get Up

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The Turkish Get Up is one of my favorite exercises, but I admit that wasn’t always the case.  When I first started learning it, it seemed too daunting, too confusing, and frankly I found other kettlebell movements much, dare I say it…cooler.

But once I got all the steps down and started building strength within the movement, I realized just how important (and, yes, even cool) this exercise actually is.  

For one, it is a total body movement.  In one choreographed dance with a kettlebell, you work your upper body mobility and stability, your lower body’s hinge and squat patterns, your core’s stability, and hell, even your brain even gets a workout.  TGUs are versatile – you can load it heavy and test your one rep max, you can pick a moderate bell and go for multiple reps before rest, or you even drill the exercise at body weight for a beneficial workout.

In it’s most technical form, you work with a heavy weight for an extended amount of time.  It’s a challenge.  Think of when you’re building strength in any other movement pattern – it usually means moving a lot of weight within a short rep range.  Meanwhile, a Turkish Get Up can take over a minute to properly execute even one rep on one side.  That’s 60-90 seconds where you are constantly balancing, wedging, and negotiating with a heavy weight overhead.  It takes focus, precision, and patience, but let me tell you, there is nothing quite like the feeling of when you set a PR in your Turkish Get Up.

So, to help get you all on the road to Tukish Get Up glory, I’ve developed a step by step guide to A) help it appear a little less daunting, and B) really hone in on technique so even experienced Turkish Get Uppers can continue to perfect his/her lift.

Here we go:

Before even tackling the get up, let’s talk about getting the kettlebell safely into the starting position for the lift.  You want to start resting on your side, facing the kettlebell.  Your bottom hand will be the one holding the bell during the TGU, so find a strong, comfortable grip with that hand.  Using your other hand to assist, bring the bell with you as you roll onto your back.  From there, use both hands to press the kettlebell into a locked out position.  Once stable, extend your assisting arm and that side’s leg at a 45 degree angle. And I MEAN a 45 degree angle.  It may seem like a small detail, but this is where you build your base for the entire movement.  I like to joke that the Turkish Get Up is the only time it’s appropriate to “man-spread.”  Hear me now, believe me later – TAKE YOUR SPACE!

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Alright – we are locked and loaded.  Let’s TGU.  To paint you the bigger picture, here’s a video of the full movement.  Consider it the image on the box of the jigsaw puzzle you’re about to build.  You’ll notice in the video that I demo it once from the front, and once from the side.  I also demo two options for positioning yourself for the lunge – don’t let it throw you, I will discuss it in detail come Step 4.

Step 1: The Roll

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I always say, the roll is the hardest part of the TGU.  If you make it past the roll, the probability is high that you are going to make it the rest of the way.  Here are a couple tips to set you up for success.
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Tip 1: The roll is often mistaken for a sit up or a crunch – it is neither.  If you watch closely in either GIF, my right glute is actually the first thing to lift off the mat – this is initiating my roll. Instead of thinking of sitting up to my elbow, I’m focusing on driving my rooted heel into the ground.  That ignites a chain of command starting with the glutes, connecting to the core – driving one forward and up.

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Tip 2: If you notice your extended leg kicking up and seesawing you into place, get it involved by thinking of driving the heel forward.

Step 2: Pressing to Palm

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This one is pretty straight forward, but there are a couple things to note.

  1. At some point during this step, your palm will rotate so that your fingers face behind you.  As you can see, mine rotates simultaneously; however, you could also press to palm first, and then rotate your fingers – almost as if you were squashing a bug with the heel of your hand.
  2. Be careful not to let your hand get too far behind you – notice that I even slide mine closer to me.  Often times, in anticipation of the next step, one will move the hand further back to allow for more space; however, in doing so, you are not only risking losing stability, but also the bell.  Instead, if you focus on “wedging” yourself between the bell and the floor, you will naturally be set up for optimal stability, and enough space to execute the movement.

“But wait, what is ‘wedging?'”

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

Wedging is something you’re doing during each step of the Turkish Get Up.  Just as a traditional wedge drives itself between two points, you are driving yourself between the bell and the floor.

Here are some images to give you a visual.

See how in each position, I’ve negotiated a little more space between the weight and the floor by getting more of my body under the bell?  That’s wedging.  In stacking your joints to standing, you become the force separating two unmoving objects.

Anyone at this point dare to tell me that Turkish Get Ups aren’t cool?  Didn’t think so…

Step 3: The Sweep

Quick disclaimer – if you’re coming here looking for information on the “high bridge,” you’re not going to find here.  I’m not one to say it’s wrong – lord knows I’ve pulled a few “high bridges” in my day – but for the sake of this post, I’m following the standards enforced by the RKC and SFG.  Email me privately if you’re one who’s just gotta have more high bridge.  I will be happy to discuss.

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Pressing into the planted palm and foot, lift your hips and pull the extended leg through and behind you.

Believe it or not, the trickiest part of this step is not the balance, but rather knowing where to place the moving leg’s knee.  All too often people get nervous and place it short, bisecting the invisible line drawn between the hand and foot.  Unfortunately, that’s just not a stable position.  Instead, aim to land the knee in line with the palm, as well as nearly behind the heel of your planted foot.  If you took an aerial shot of the ending position, your knee, palm, and foot would mark the corners of a triangle.  This is the strongest base for you to work from.

I would recommend finding this position several times without a kettlebell.  You want to be able to find it without looking down at the ground.  Why?  Simply put, the kettlebell goes wherever the eyes go.  If you’ve got a heavy bell overhead, and you look down and under to where your knee is traveling, that bell is going right there with you.

In fact, one of the best tips I can give you in regards to the Turkish Get Up is this –

When your hand is on the floor, your eyes are on the bell.  When your hand is off the floor, your eyes are looking forward.

That’s it.  Two options and a transition between the two.  When do you transition?  Well that brings us to…

Step 4: Hinge Baby, Hinge!

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Remember way back in the opening of this post when I said the TGU worked your hinge pattern, and you didn’t believe me?  Whatever, deny it all you want, I know you were skeptical.

Well here it is, the mighty hinge, and it makes me so sad that so many people try to skip this step.  Transitioning your stable structure from your upper body to your lower requires a big movement.  Make the task a little easier on yourself and USE YOUR HINGE!  Shift your weight back by sitting your butt towards your heel.  When enough weight has been transferred, pick up your hand from the floor and bring your torso tall.

As for where I’m looking…

Watch the GIFs and notice at the same moment my hand comes of the ground, my eyes look forward.  Don’t over complicate it – just make it happen.

Step 5: Preparing for Launch *cough* Lunge

Alright kids, it’s time for a choose your own adventure.  Both are completely legal in the world of kettlebells, it all comes down to which works better for you.

Option 1: The Windshield Wiper

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The Windshield Wiper is a small but important movement.  Some people rush and combine it with Step 3, but I will always argue to take your time and give it an extra moment to shine.  You’re simply guaranteeing yourself a better set up and a higher success rate when keeping the move separate.

Option 2: The Swivel

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The Swivel may appear daunting, but don’t let it scare you away.  Yes, it’s a bigger movement, and yes, you end up switching directions in an already complicated exercise, but let me draw your attention to its primary benefit.  If you’ll notice, my knee on the ground gets to stay exactly where it is, rather than serving as the pivot point like in The Windshield Wiper.  Should you be practicing on a harder service, or should your knees tend to be a little more talkative, The Swivel may be just the ticket for you.

Truthfully, I use both options interchangeably.  It truly just depends on how I’m feeling that day and what environment I’m training in.  Try them both and see what works for you.  To keep things a little easier on this post, the rest of the video demos will be working with The Windshield Wiper.  Again, if you have more questions regarding The Swivel, comment or send me a message.  I’ll be happy to elaborate.

Step 6: Ready to Launch *cough cough* Lunge

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Lunge to stand.  It’s pretty straight forward.  The biggest mistake I see happen here is when people get a little psyched out about the overhead weight and try to generate momentum to stand.  If you generate that kind of energy, it will translate directly to the kettlebell and will be very hard to control.  Instead, create tension.  Everywhere.  Breathe deep and brace your core.  Create a fist with your spare hand, or do as I do and work on your imitation of Magneto from XMEN.  The tighter you are, the more you will move as one solid unit, and bring that bell safely to standing.

Step 7: Top of the Mountain

Congrats, you made it!  Take a brief moment for reflection while continuing to pull up on your quads and squeeze your glutes.  Metaphorically wave to your friends from atop the mountain then get your mind right for the trek back to base.

Step 8: The Journey Home

The premise here isn’t too complicated – you’re journeying back the exact same way you just came up, but here’s the thing, I’ve seen a lot of people’s form and technique fall apart on the way down.  I think people assume that after they’ve stood up, the work is done and the goal becomes just to get back on the ground as quickly as possible.  That’s simply not the true.  Instead, make your goal to revisit each position with the same integrity as you did on the way up.

We can do this one together…You ready?

The photos on the left are on the way up, the photos on the right are on the way down.

Lunge 


Pretty solid if I say so myself.

Windshield Wiper

Oooooo look where I can improve – on the way down, I’m rushing my Windshield Wiper and melding it with my hinge!

Hinge

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Now the hinge is one step we need to stop and visit for a brief moment on the way down.  There is a very important hand placement that I would be amiss not to mention.

Sitting your butt back towards your heel, allow your hand to find your thigh.  From there, drive straight out to find it’s placement on the floor.  Again, similar to on the way up, people will try to create more space by placing the hand far behind them – this will lead to instability.  As you can see, I do move mine just one hand width behind me, which is fine.  Just be careful to not over extend yourself.

BONUS ROUND – Notice as my hand finds the ground, my eyes find the bell.

Alright, on with the show.

Not bad 😉

The Sweep

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Quick tip: On the way down, don’t let your butt slide too far through.  Sitting right as you bisect that invisible line drawn between your hand and foot is a good rule of thumb.

Ah yiss.  #nailedit

To the Elbow

 

This is another one people race through on the way down.  I’ll admit, I’ve breezed by it more than a handful of times.  Remember to treat it with respect – if you ditch it completely, your bell could gain a lot of acceleration, causing you to lose control right at the very end (#boosadface).  Better to play it safe and pause at your elbow long enough to snap a couple great Facebook profile pictures 😉

Back Home


Almost exactly where I started. #notsohumblebrag

Now our final mission is to see the kettlebell safely back to the ground.  The surest way to do so?  The same way we got it into the starting position.  Use your assisting hand to guide the bell back into your chest and roll the bell to the floor.

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CONGRATS!  You’ve just completed a Turkish Get Up!  Whether it’s your first, or your millionth, it’s something to be proud of.  The best part?  It’s a movement you’ll always have room to improve upon.  Writing this article has even made me aware of my own poor habits I can tighten up.  The important thing is to keep practicing and always strive for improvement.

Good luck and be sure to share your progress!  Happy swinging!

One thought on “Deconstructing the Turkish Get Up

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