Durability Through the Turkish Get Up

how to do a turkish get up

The Turkish Get Up is phenomenal movement for many reasons. It features strongly in our general population training programs, and while it’s less common in my athletes training, we certainly use elements of it as appropriate. And that is one of the key things with the get up, there are so many elements to choose from, we can break it down into so many sections, each with its own unique properties.

First of all, let’s not forget that this is not exclusively a kettlebell lift, but at the same time the kettlebell lends itself to this movement almost better than any other tool (at least in my opinion).

So, while we’re talking about my opinion, what is the get up best for?

I use it primarily as a scapular strength exercise. Usually it’s lumped in as a core training exercise, and it is, but I feel most people don’t struggle with the lift because of core weakness. I believe they struggle due to shoulder stability issues and poor scapular control.

The Get Up can be a great tool to help relearn scapula control, especially the first few sections of the lift. Let’s take a look at them.

The Roll to Shoulder

Let’s assume that we have the kettlebell lifted and in place, the arm is up, the shoulder down and the same side foot is firmly planted.

The first thing I look for here is the hand position. Is the wrist neutral and is the thumb pointing somewhere behind the lifter’s head? The neutral wrist is just common sense; we don’t need this small joint becoming the weak link in the lift, so get the hand deep into the handle, up towards the corner as illustrated.

Why the thumb pointing backwards? As most people have poor scapular control at the best of times, their awareness of the scap is generally very low. So, cueing directly into that area can be a long winded approach to getting people to drop the shoulder.

I’m not a fan of the “packed shoulder” cue, I feel it encourages people to lock the scapula in place rather than allowing it to move with the arm.

We want to allow the rotator cuff musculature to operate reflexively in order to stabilise the load, not over power them with the prime movers.

On many people we come across, we find that the pecs and the lats are overly dominant in most movements. We want the lifter to experience supporting the weight as they move with muscles other than their habitual preference.

So the thumb aims behind the head somewhere, if the bell is in the right hand, the thumb will point somewhere between the lifter’s 9 and 12 O’clock, ideally somewhere towards the middle of that range. Too close to 12 and we can aggravate a tight shoulder, too close to 9 and we start to internally rotate and potentially lose stability.

If a person is struggling with this, get them a very light bell and have them hold it in the bottoms-up position. Have them simply internally and externally rotate the arm, the spare arm can be on their ribs under the arm feeling their “bra-strap” muscles, i.e. the serratus anterior, star to play. Once this is felt, we can move to the roll itself. The grounded foot is the key player here.

Press your foot into the ground, feel the glute fire up and use this to initiate the roll onto the unloaded shoulder. The free arm should be somewhere out to the side, wherever is comfortable and out of the way to allow the roll.

Again, I like people to learn this using a bottoms-up grip as they have to work to keep a vertical arm and maintain a slight external rotation and the engagement of the serratus anterior (or in plain speak, the bra-strap muscles). This very first stage carries with it some of the most valuable benefits of the Get Up, yet it is very often rushed, and rushing is not a quality we can accept with this lift.

So in early stages of training this lift, or if it’s an athlete looking for better dynamic shoulder stabilization, slow down, roll as far as you can, take the same side leg and actually take it over until you’re practically lying on your face. Pause here, just a few seconds, then roll back.

Use a bell you can control, and I would highly recommend trying the with a bottoms up grip. This will help you learn to control the shoulder without relying on the pecs, lats, anterior delt and upper traps. Now we’ve mastered the roll to shoulder.

Shoulder to elbow

Next is from shoulder to elbow. So we’ve rolled to the shoulder and we are happy. The shoulder stayed down, the neck stayed long, and we can feel the “bra strap” muscles. We can lift to our elbow and then to our straight arm next. Try to do this without relying on momentum. Be smooth. Keep looking up at the kettlebell. If in doubt, practice with the bottoms up grip.

The scapula will be moving with the arm as we go from the lying to sitting position. If we were to replicate the movement in a standing position, our arm would start straight out in front of us, move to the side then lift out through the scapula line to an almost overhead position.

Which, if you’ve ever had any physio treatment for an injured shoulder should look pretty familiar. This movement takes the arm and shoulder through a large range of motion. But as the arm attempts to remain vertical through the lift, it is the body, the spine and ribcage that are moving. This makes the Get Up ALMOST a closed chain movement, and that is what makes it so special and valuable for people to experience.

The proprioceptive awareness required to keep the weight steady as the body goes through such a large range of movement is second to none.

And as we’ve already mentioned, the muscles that control the scapula are working reflexively as a response to this proprioceptive feedback.

The additional instability of a bottoms up grip or the stress from a heavy weight causes an ever larger proprioceptive hit and gets an even bigger response from the rotator cuffs.
If we consider what they have to deal with as we move:

  • Roll to shoulder: retraction of the scapular, under load
  • Rise to elbow: some protraction as the spine flexes as well as upward rotation as the arm raises
  • Rise to straight arm: further upward rotation and now retraction again as the spine extends. You may even get the beginnings of a nice scapula posterior tilt here. Might.

This is all happening while the body is moving under a load. For many, just this section of the lift, from lying to sitting, is enough. They’re getting most of the main benefits of the lift just with this segment, so in my gym we keep them here until they are more than able to control the movement well for time.

Some never move beyond the Half Get Up as it holds everything they need from the lift.

The Rest | Part 1

The remainder of the exercise takes us from the sitting position up to standing. This continues to provide a challenge to the shoulder and rotator cuff, especially as we work to get our feet on the floor.

The leg sweep is the key part of the lift as far as core strength requirements go. We need to get our outstretched leg, bend it, sweep it through underneath us and get the knee on the floor close to our supporting hand.

It’s popular at this moment for people to be cued into a hip bridge; I personally view this as unnecessary.

The leg sweep action to get the knee down will change the torso angle and therefore the position of the arm relative to the torso. The shoulder will have to react to this, and it’s very common for people to lose control of the weight during this section, especially if their hips are tight.

If we can keep the weight stable as the body moves underneath it in this part of the motion, it’s a fair assumption that our scapula muscles are doing their thing.

The Rest | Part 2

The remainder of the lift offers less challenge to the shoulder unless you have mobility issues. Once the knee is down, we simply bring the torso to vertical so the arm settles next to the ear, and from here it’s simply a lunge up to the standing position.

Assuming that the lats aren’t tight or other issues are present, we should achieve the overhead position without too much of a problem. And that’s it. You are now stood up. All you need to do now is reverse the process and lie back down again (or move to another exercise). After all, it’s called a Get UP, not a Get DOWN!

Enjoy the Turkish Get Up as a process.

Don’t expect to build massive strength from performing this lift, but because of the huge stimulation to the scapula, the massive range of motion and the controlled agility required to succeed in the lift, your body will become a better integrated unit.

You will build a platform that is better able to both produce and absorb force. A body that has resilience, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Dave Hedges

Dave Hedges began training in 1989 when he took up Karate. As he grew into a lanky, skinny teenager, his Karate instructor told Dave he needed to get stronger in order to compete more effectively. This started a lifetime pursuit of efficient and effective training methods which ultimately lead to the methods he teaches today. WG-Fit.com

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