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A Better Way to Build Kettlebell Turkish Get-ups

I’m pretty excited that we are about a week away from the release of our Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification (PKM). It feels like things are coming full circle, as it was going to my first kettlebell program in 2003 that made me re-think what it means to train functional fitness. Before that I had worked in strength and conditioning at a Division I program. We did a lot of things and some of it was good, but other stuff appeared less than optimal to me. I was too green at the time to really know what it was or suggest something better, but it was just one of those things that looking at it, I was reminded of a quote from strength coach, Mike Boyle, “if it doesn’t look athletic, it probably isn’t.”

kettlebell cleans

I think I had hair then!!!

When I attended my first kettlebell course I fell in love with the idea of a program that was about teaching movement, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure what that meant. Up till that point I squatted because that is how you got strong legs, we did power cleans because you have to be explosive, we bench pressed because you need a strong upper body. I didn’t really have much knowledge other than some really superficial ideas that don’t really question the why. For me, kettlebells challenged a lot those why’s and gave me a better way of teaching people true movement.

Over the years, I did fall out of love with many kettlebell programs because I thought it became more about “feats of strength” than teaching people. That was my motivation in creating DVRT at the time, develop a program that went back to problem solving teaching movement, but I also knew I always wanted to come back to kettlebells too. Our L.I.F.T. certification was the first step to that, but PKM is going to be something special!

That isn’t the point of this post though, I wanted to discuss an exercise that I learned almost 20 years ago that really shifted my mindset on strength, the Turkish get-up. The name came from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert, Steve Maxwell sharing how old time Turkish wrestlers (who were amazing athletes) used this drill to help their shoulder stability and strength. To be honest, I don’t know if that is real or an awesome story, but I did find the “get-up” being discussed in a great 1974 book about wrestling conditioning.


Not much cuing here, just “get-up and get back down” for the most part. 

The kettlebell get-up was an exercise I fell in love with, (when kettlebells only went up to 70 pounds, yes I’m old) I had to turn to dumbbells to do get-ups with 115 pounds. Now, I don’t tell you this to brag or sound impressive, but to  let you know that I spent a lot of time performing and teaching get-ups over the years. Like so many, I made a classic mistake in my early years of teaching the movement. That was I tried to teach the WHOLE kettlebell exercise at once, that wasn’t very smart!

No matter how you break down the get-up there are A LOT of moving parts and while it can build stability/mobility, it also takes some prerequisite mobility and stability to do the exercise right! What I quickly learned was splitting the exercise up into parts was really key! How did I do it?

I admit, calling this a “sit-up” isn’t the best choice of words because doing a sit-up is what we are trying to avoid. We want to really ROLL to our side. You can hear that is what I am actually expressing. How we use our points of contact to create stability and focus on rolling to one side. In the video above I come up to the plant arm, but you can do this just to your elbow.

While the get-up “sit-up” (man we need a better name;) is a good exercise to introduce the get-up into more individual parts, a lot of people can struggle to deal with the long lever arm the kettlebell creates as well as lack the shoulders stability/mobility to get in the right positions. That was very frustrating for me and my clients, until I thought how using the Ultimate Sandbag provided us some different opportunities. We could take away the long lever arm of the kettlebell and we could work on the core stability that not only allowed us to perform the get-up but build better shoulder stability/mobility as well. That led to the creation of our “Leg Threading” that you see in the video above. So, now we had more solutions to address for more issues.

I began to teach foundational leg threading concepts to people and then we would introduce the kettlebell over time. It began to be a more seamless teaching path to success and achieving the benefits of the movement. Now, everything wasn’t solved at that point. A lot of people struggled with being able to “get-up” correctly form the lying position and how to transition from the “sit-up position” to half kneeling and then lunging. That led us to think about more solutions.

Physical therapist, Dan Swinscoe, gives some great solutions to common issues in building a better kettlebell get-up. 

With Dwight’s expert coaching, you see I can also isolate the half kneeling portion to both teach transitions but also build lateral strength that so many people lack. This causes such a struggle being able to nail the get-up. Putting the Ultimate Sandbag on my shoulder isn’t just to throw something on my body, but to use it with intent like I break down. This leads me to then trying to build from half kneeling up where physical therapist, Jessica Bento gives us some great progressions.

The get-up in any form can be tremendous exercise, but like all drills, the real success is through learning the lessons of movement. What does the exercise teach us in how to connect our body and how to use our body more successfully. The moral is that in order to use more complex exercises we can use tools like the kettlebell or Ultimate Sandbag, but they only have power if we put the right intent behind them. Breaking down more complex exercises into parts allows us to develop and offer greater success. Looking forward to sharing more solutions in the upcoming posts!

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sandbag training