The turkish getup is one of the most respected, and at the same time most hated, exercise in the world of functional physical culture. Often, the mere mention of them to my clients will be met with a draining groan. Similar to many lifts in the realm of strongman (or strong person as I like to call it) the turkish getup is not a kettlebell specific exercise. Although many people do consider them to be a part of kettlebell training. While it is true that the turkish getup being performed with any heavy object will improve your kettlebell lifts, the TGU is not necessarily a kettlebell exclusive exercise. I want to help you understand why the turkish getup is so important for kettlebell training, functional exercise, and everyday life.
Driving with your brakes on is one of the best analogies I have ever heard for why people fail to reach their potential in training. Imagine buying a high powered muscle car to compensate for the fact that you drive everywhere with your left foot on the brake. This is what most people do when it comes to developing strength. Trying to build muscle before your joints have normal range of motion will do little to improve your overall strength until you learn to relax the muscle you already have. The turkish getup is one of the best exercises you can do to teach your nervous system to take the foot off the brake. The fact is, most of the tightness in your muscles are due to an over reactive nervous system than shortened muscle fibers. Sedentary lifestyles in modern day man have caused our nervous system to become unaware of the limits of the physical body it coordinates. For every muscle that contracts to produce force, another must relax equally for the force to be applied. As the range of motion increases, the nervous system tenses up the reciprocating muscles to protect them from moving any further than the safety limits that have already been established. If nothing has been programmed, then you can imagine those reactions can happen at any time in any way. This is one of the results of a highly sedentary lifestyle.
The Turkish getup isn't about building muscle, it is about teaching your nervous system strength within a range of motion. If you are able to teach your nervous system exactly what the limits of your body really are, you will then be able to maximize your abilities. On the totem pole of strength, the mind/body connection sits at the top, just below that we find flexibility, then muscle tension, followed by stamina. The turkish getup will dial in the top two things on this hierarchy and as a result, every area of your physical strength will improve. I am a firm believer that your two overhead kettlebell lifts, the clean & jerk, and the snatch should never outgrow your turkish getup pound for pound or rep for rep. The kettlebell snatch requires excellent hip flexibility to perform to your potential, especially in the hip flexors to allow hip extension to occur. The overhead position at the end of a clean & jerk or snatch requires excellent shoulder mobility in order to neutralize the weight properly. Generally, the two most fundamental exercises are limited by one's ability to relax the reciprocating muscles, not produce force from the contracting ones. The turkish getup is the exercise that will provide that benefit and ultimately help improve all of your kettlebell workouts.
Lifting weight overhead properly is one of the most beneficial ways you can build overall strength. It requires both flexibility and force to move anything heavy overhead. By placing heavy weights above your center of gravity, you can also teach your body what neutral posture is. Most chronic joint pain comes from bad posture, and most bad posture begins with your mind being unaware of your body. Your mind not only loses track of what good posture should be, but also what alignment your body is currently in. Stabilizing weight overhead helps remind your nervous system what good posture is and also helps it become more aware of your own posture. The turkish getup will improve all of your overhead lifts, providing you with some incredible benefits.
In this video, I am going to break down the turkish getup step by step, I will go slowly enough so that you can follow along. You may use any piece of equipment you like, or nothing at all. Something as light as a water bottle is fine, but feel free to challenge yourself as you see fit. When you are ready to increase intensity in the TGU, first consider using a load that is less stable. Holding the center of a barbell can be a great way to make this lift more challenging without moving up in weight. If you happen to currently dislike the TGU, then simply try this: measure your performance in your favorite lifts, then practice your turkish getups for a week (about twenty minutes/day, five out of seven days), and come back and retest your favorites. The improvement you will see may be enough to motivate you and maybe even shift your perspective on this ancient exercise. Who knows, maybe one day, you'll even grow to enjoy them!
Peter Hirsh is a nationally certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor who has been teaching and training with kettlebells for over ten years. Peter has dedicated his life to the enrichment and well being of others and currently teaches classes and trains students one on one in San Diego, California. Wanting to reach a larger number of people with his teachings, Peter started Kettlebell Movement, a website dedicated to maintaining the authentic teachings of kettlebell training and promoting a simple and effective holistic lifestyle anyone can follow. Kettlebell Movement posts free weekly kettlebell workout videos.