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Re-Thinking The Turkish Get-up

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When I first got into kettlebells back in 2002 I was most intrigued by the “newer” exercises. Coming from a strength and conditioning background, drills like snatches, cleans, and of course squats along with presses weren’t very new to me. Sure, they had their own technique with the kettlebell, but that was less interesting to these unusual kettlebell exercises. Yes, drills like the swing and Turkish get-up definitely caught my attention more.

kettlebell Turkish get-up

I won’t lie, I did love the snatch too! Looking back I’m not sure which I like more, the 124 pound kettlebell snatch, or that I had some hair!

The Turkish get-up was something that even more intrigued me. It was SO different from anything I had seen. What was it though? What were we training and using it for? 

Training the shoulder girdle was the most obvious benefit to the Turkish get-up. However, I had trained my shoulders for a long time after tearing both rotator cuffs bench pressing when I was 15 (yea, I was a VERY typical high school guy in the weight room;). Yet, trying to do the Turkish get-up felt like I had never trained my upper body ever before, especially my shoulders. 

Of course you don’t get the rest of the benefits of the Turkish get-up until you do it! Having to move through these different patterns and positions exposed issues in both hip mobility and the connection of the shoulder, hip, and core. I really enjoyed doing the Turkish get-up even though it got the ODDEST stares in the gym, working up to using 115 pound dumbbells at the time.

Turkish get-up

The first time I saw the Turkish get-up was a series of pictures by martial artist, Steve Maxwell in a 2001 book. 

Once in a while I would catch someone in the corner trying to figure out the movement for themselves. I really did they would have asked me for help because most people made the Turkish get-up into a sit-up, which to be fair, goes back to how we misunderstand really the role of the core. 

As more and more in the industry got into the Turkish get-up, we heard how wonderful it is for both stability and mobility training. Interestingly enough, the more I used it with clients, the more I realized something slightly different that would change my approach to the Turkish get-up. 

The Turkish get-up COULD be a great way to build stability and mobility, but you ALREADY had to possess some of both. In fact, you needed a decent amount because getting in and out of the positions with the weight overhead required a higher baseline of strength and mobility than most of my clients had at the time. 

I know what you are thinking, “Josh, did you do the Turkish get-up with the shoe on the fist first?!” While that can be a useful coaching cue, I found it more about reinforcing what the proper positions were and how to be more accurate with the transitions. Unfortunately, it did little to build the strength and mobility that was needed to perform the Turkish get-up. 

Looking back, I was quite disappointed in my younger self because for a while I gave up on the Turkish get-up for my clients. After a little time though I became determined, I knew the Turkish get-up was a valuable exercise, more valuable than most. How was I going to solve the issues that I had seen before though? I wanted to slap myself upside my head and give my best Homer Simpson “DOH!”

Up Downs are a great way to build some of the combination of strength, stability, and mobility that we need to make proper transitions in the Turkish Get-up. DVRT Master, Cory Cripe shows some great progressions!

I couldn’t believe that I never thought about deconstructing the Turkish get-up and training more of the individual parts of the movement. One of the benefits of having so many phases of the drill was that we could actually train specific qualities and portions of the full Turkish get-up.

After all, my clients had to have the ability to get the weight overhead in the right position, be strong enough to maintain it, they had to be able to lunge with a long lever arm, and having tri-planar mobility of the hips. We could do that as you see in the videos below, but I also saw more opportunities to problem solve. 

The traditional Turkish get-up was actually just called a get-up for a long time. While it was usually done with the weight overhead, it dawned on me, did we have to? Thinking more about how we could use the Ultimate Sandbag to solve movement needs, it came to me that if we put the load on the shoulder we could build that strength we needed for the Turkish get-up while we worked on improving shoulder stability and mobility. 

Turkish get-up

When I began to work with clients on these techniques, I realized how valuable this simple change became and how it even offered us different opportunities that the Turkish get-up. We could really focus on the qualities of the rolling pattern, how to build better ground engagement, learn how to connect the core and hips more efficiently. That led me to developing what we call in DVRT land (a very nice place to be) as “leg threading”. 

Leg threading has many similar qualities to the Turkish get-up, but also has some profound differences. For one, the head turning is really essential in saying a drill incorporates a rolling pattern. If you are unfamiliar, rolling patterns are used in physical therapy for those that have gone through serious neurological traumas to restore function. Now, I realize that there is a good chance that isn’t you! However, in recent years rolling patterns have been used to also assess dysfunctional core control because real core stability shouldn’t have us being really tight and it should have us moving. 

We can also work from specific positions of the movement allowing us to deconstruct a more complex drill like the get-up into individual components to train. 

Rolling patterns are great to use to screen people’s movement tendencies, but also to teach that foundational core stability that I just discussed. That requires us to turning our head first because our head leads our nervous system. We can’t really do that in the Turkish get-up because our body follows our eyes and head. If the weight is above your head, you can see that being a potential issue!

In a paper in the North American Journal of Physical Therapy (you can read here), “Using Rolling to Develop Neuromuscular Control and Coordination of the Core and Extremities of Athletes”, the authors describe some of the values of rolling….“Abnormalities of the rolling patterns frequently expose proximal to distal and distal to proximal sequencing errors or proprioceptive inefficiency that may present during general motor tasks. Finally, many adults have lost the ability to capture the power or utilize the innate relationship of the head, neck, and shoulders to positively affect coordinated movements.”

That means we can use leg threading differently and we can add on the ability to really emphasize the 3D movement of the hips and the frontal plane strength needed to do the Turkish get-up. It isn’t an either or scenario with these drills, but people are typically surprised to see what leg threading teaches them that they may have missed in the Turkish get-up. 

Of course we can also do the Turkish get-up with the Ultimate Sandbag. Some will probably point to not having the ability to work on shoulder stability. We do, just not with the arm you may THINK! If you look at what happens and how we cue the arm in contact with the ground there is actually A LOT of shoulder stability being trained. 

My hope in posts like this is that we learn to deconstruct any movement into parts that we can then rebuild into really successful drills. The best solutions are often NOT just hammering the same drill over and over. When we do build up the qualities of an exercise (what we should be after anyway, not the exercise itself) we can accomplish so much more and give such a better experience to those we are tryin to help!

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