Rumor has it that when an individual wanted to learn the ways of the Old Time Strong Men, that he would be instructed to come back when he could do a one arm get up with 100 pounds. The legends grows with each blog article written and strength story told. Whether it is true or not, we will explore the vast benefits of the Turkish Get Up (TGU).
The Turkish Get Up (TGU) is an exercise that incorporates a variety of key training elements that everyone can use in their daily workouts. This one exercise combines a set of movements that work to train athletes in their coordination, strength, muscular endurance, core stability, hip stability, and shoulder stability. TGU’s also integrate the three balance systems, vestibular, visual, and proprioception throughout the entire movement. We will also discussed how these systems can be manipulated to enhanced proprioception function.
But first, let us take a step back and talk about the stages of human motor development for a minute. As infants we immediately begin to explore our body by wiggling and moving about. As a child begins to master these developmental steps, their nervous system allows them to progress and move to something more complex. For instance, once a child figures out how to roll over, they then will raise a hand or elbow, begin to crawl, stand, and ultimately start walking.
The Turkish Get Up is a movement exercise that mimics many of these motor development progressions as we just discussed. The TGU will begin with an individual in a lying position, then rolling on to an elbow, progressing to a ½ kneeling position, and again ultimately standing up. This is a prime example of a complex progression that will train/re-train the body’s nervous system. Easier said than done right? Let explore what the necessary steps are to safely and effectively complete a Turkish Get Up.
Due to complexity of the TGU we begin the learning process with no weight or the practice with a yoga block or tennis shoe on the fist. This allows the student to feel safe while concentrating on what their body is doing. The block and shoe helps to keep our movements honest, as our arm deviates from our center of mass the block or shoe will begin to slide off fall of our knuckles. Everything is performed the exact same way it would be if we did have weight. This helps to solidify the movement patterns to ensure safety and efficiency.
My good friend Chris Nelson had a knack for proficiency and efficiency. Whenever we would tackle a project, he would say “slow is steady, and steady is fast.” This term has stuck with me ever since and it applies more than ever when performing the TGU, not to mention numerous other movements as well. Jeff Sokol, a Strong First level II instructor, refers to setting a goal of completion in 2 minutes. Focusing on the fluidity of the movement and not rushing the steps, exploring your body limitations, while increasing strength through added time under tension.
Steps for the Turkish Get Up
Step one: Starting position with the Kettlebell raised overhead
Here the element of shoulder stability is key to the open chain system (free to move). The shoulder must be tightly packed, activating the stabilizing muscles to the scapula (rotator cuff, latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, lower trapezius). The wrist is strong in a neutral position and not hanging into extension due to the weight. Core is engaged and tight, the opposite arm and leg are pointing 45 degrees off of our mid line, and the same side leg is bent also pointing roughly 45 degrees out.
Step two: Rolling onto the elbow
This movement requires both core stability and axial trunk rotation control. This component of the TGU is essentially the first step of a rolling pattern. The leg that is bent on the same side of the arm holding the kettlebell will push into the ground forcing the body to roll sideways to the opposite arm, which is positioned 45 degrees off of the body. As the torso and the rest of the body roll, the arm on the ground will drive down into the ground acting as a fulcrum to prop the body on the elbow. The arm holding the kettlebell will drive towards the ceiling.
Step three: Side lying elbow to hand
In this position, the shoulders are now in both an open chain and closed chain position. The shoulder holding the kettlebell is in an open chain position and the opposite shoulder is in a closed chain position (hand or foot is fixed and cannot move). Both shoulders are implementing two different forms of stability. From the elbow position the hand on the ground will drive into the ground as the rest of the body elevates and is propped up on the hand. Make sure the shoulder is not dumping or rolling forward and that we are trying to keep an external rotational position.
Step four: High hip bridge
Here hip stability and gluteal activation are key to elevate the body into a bridge-like position. Core stability is also needed here to maintain a linear position before transferring to a tripod half kneeling position, all the while while each shoulder is working on stabilizing either the body or the weight.
Step five: Leg pulled back through to a tripod half kneeling position
This is a difficult portion of the TGU, but great for core stability and shoulder stability as the kettlebell is elevated overhead. Our spatial awareness is challenged most during this transition, as the leg must go in the appropriate position between the leg and arm fixed on the ground. To complete this we need to know where our body is in space with or without visual cues. One important component that is often misunderstood, is the landing position of that leg. Essentially we will create a tripod to support the arm and the kettlebell, which is above us, but the lower half of that leg will be perpendicular to the foot that is grounded. This step is vital to ensure proper spinal position.
Step six: Tripod to half kneeling
This is one of the most important steps in the TGU especially when heavier weights are involved. When we pull the leg through from the high bridge position, the shin must be perpendicular to the front foot. This allows us to use the mechanics of the hip hinge to pull ourselves up into an erect half kneeling position. If that leg was parallel with the opposite leg and we attempt to pull ourselves up, we see that all of the movement comes from the lumbar spine in a lateral bending motion, with a great amount of stress. Simply by rotation that leg 90 degrees behind the other foot we can take advantage of the hip complex and glutes to save our back and safely pull ourselves up.
Step six: Kneel to stand
Once we pull ourselves up into the half kneeling position we will windshield wiper our leg 90 degrees so that the legs are parallel. Moving from the half kneeling position to the stand helps develop a weight shift from the back to front. Weight shifts are seen throughout the TGU positional transitions and require a great amount core stability.
The way back down has the exact same steps, but done in the reverse order.
Overview and summary of benefits
This is one of the few movements where the individual are manipulating their body around the weight. Typically we see the more traditional movements where our body is set and we do work by moving the weight around us. This summary of steps is the mapped out guidelines that we use when coaching students or patients, and is by no means set in stone as other providers and coaches may have different cues, less steps, or added steps. After exploring the steps to the TGU we can see how the body’s balance system and nervous system are stimulated. Once these steps have been mastered, one might challenge the nervous system even more by performing the movement with their eyes closed, or adding head turns at every step.
- Promotes upper and lower extremity stabilization through open chain and closed chain positions
- Promotes upper and lower extremity mobility
- Spinal stabilization as well as mobility in the thoracic region
- Engages the hemispheres of the brain to communicate through cross lateralization patterns
- Teaches dissociation patterns of the extremities from the core
- Promotes cross crawl patterning, tying the right arm to the left leg, and so on
- Stimulates our balance systems, vestibular, ocular, and joint proprioception
- Spatial awareness through center of mass shifting
The Turkish get up is a challenging exercise that requires many elements being performed at once, which requires a great amount of focus. Due to the nature of the exercise, I suggest performing the series of movements and mastering them without weight before adding the kettlebell. Having a coach or personal trainer assist and guide you through the TGU with weight would be the best option as your progress to help prevent injury.
-Health Through Movement-
Dr. Antonio Gurule DC, CSCS, CrossFit Level-1
Enhanced Movements Chiropractic and Wellness Center 1817 Highway 42, Suite A Louisville, CO 80027 enhancedmovementschiropractic.com