The Turkish Get Up is arguably one of the most functional exercises you can do and an essential kettlebell exercises to learn. In a nutshell, the kettlebell Turkish Get Up (or TGU for short) involves lifting a kettlebell from a lying position on the floor to standing up straight with the kettlebell overhead at all times. The Turkish Get Up is a primal movement that provides tons of benefits and works so many muscles. And while it may seem simple in theory, knowing how to do a Turkish Get Up the right way is super important.
When people are just getting into kettlebell training, one of the very first exercises that they want to do is the Turkish Get Up. Rightfully so, the Turkish Get Up is a cool and powerful looking exercise. However, when done incorrectly, a Turkish Get Up can be dangerous. The Turkish Get Up is actually an advanced kettlebell exercise, so it is important that you learn it correctly from the start. It’s worth taking the time to study the basics of the TGU before jumping into it. This is where we come in.
We asked kettlebell expert Scott Viala to put together a complete guide on how to do the Turkish Get Up. We have a video further below where he will walk you through exactly how to do a Turkish Get Up, step by step and with all the important tips, cues, and mistakes to avoid, that way you can maximize benefits and avoid injury.
We will also be addressing the benefits, muscles worked, how to incorporate TGUs into your training, and other frequently asked questions.
While the origins of the Turkish Get Up are unclear, which includes where exactly the Turkish Get Up originates from and why it is called a Turkish Get Up, it is believed that a form of the get up has long been performed by wrestlers from regions in and around what is now Turkey.
One anecdote states that wrestling apprentices from the Middle East would have to first learn how to do a Turkish Get Up and then be able to do it with 100lbs before they could begin training. However, others claim this story applies to circus strongmen.
Some claim that the TGU was invented by strongmen in Britain and given the name “Turkish” based on the fact that it looked like the seated reclining position in Middle Eastern hookah lounges.
Another theory is that the modern TGU has been adopted from similar age-old exercises. Persian wrestlers perform a type of get up, which dates way back, with a piece of equipment that looks like doors (they are called Sangs). It’s possible that Turkish wrestlers modified that movement, and then modern training has modified it even more into what it is today. Again, this is just speculation, but it does make the most sense that the exercise dates way back and it has been modified and there have been various kinds of get ups throughout history. After all, it is a primal kind of movement.
All in all, we can’t be exactly sure what stories are true or what the history of the Turkish Get Up really is because there is no proof. Naming it the “Turkish” Get Up may just be a form of marketing, as makes it seem more cool and exotic (i.e. Bulgarian Split Squat and Romanian Deadlift). In any case, what we are sure of is the Turkish Get Up is extremely beneficial, which is why it is performed regularly by high impact athletes (especially combat athletes), powerlifters, strongmen, crossfitters, weightlifters, and nowadays, even bodybuilders.
Note: Most people will state that this is an old strongman and/or wrestling exercise. The strongman basis makes sense as it is an impressive feat, and the Turkish Get Up is performance like - to take a heavy weight from the ground up to a standing position. And while it is impressive to bear witness to someone doing a Turkish Get Up, especially with a very heavy weight, the benefits are far more profound than it simply looking cool...
There are many benefits to adding Turkish Get Ups to your workout plan. We will go over the main ones now.
All in all, the Turkish Get Up is a very dynamic exercise that requires a lot of focus (remember, just one set likely takes around 30 seconds), and that targets many muscles, moves you through all three planes of motion, and improves many pillars of fitness - strength, mobility, stability, and thus, durability.
The Turkish Get Up is a total body exercise that requires integrated movements and muscle contractions across the entire body. So, you will be working many muscles when doing TGUs.
Furthermore, your muscles will be working both dynamically and isometrically, which is great for strength and explosiveness. Turkish Get Ups necessitate isometric contractions more than most big movements, while combining the dynamic joint actions of the hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows. It’s truly an all in one exercise.
Here are the muscles worked when doing a Turkish Get Up.
Shoulders: This includes your front, side and rear delts as well as your rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers (which are technically part of your upper back).
Core: Your entire core will be engaged during a Turkish Get Up, so your abs, obliques, low back (spinal erectors) and all the small muscles in-between.
Gluteals: Proper hip function is essential for Turkish Get Ups, which means your glutes are going to be firing off like crazy. Your Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus will be fully targeted during Turkish Get Ups.
Upper Back: Your entire upper back gets worked during Turkish Get Ups, which includes your traps, rhomboids, teres major and minor, lats, posterior deltoids, levator scapulae. This means you will be building incredible scapular stabilization.
Forearms: Keeping those wrist straight and that kettlebell gripped tight is going to strengthen your forearm muscles incredibly well. Your grip strength will become super powerful.
The above are just the main muscles being worked, as even your chest, triceps, quads, hamstrings, and calves will be in on the action.
If you are just starting out with Turkish Get Ups, especially if you are a beginner to fitness in general, then you should honestly not being using a kettlebell at all. Practice the movement for the first week with just your bodyweight. Test yourself daily. Get the movement pattern down pat. If you want, try to use a light object like a water bottle or a shoe. You’ll probably be surprised how difficult it is and how even just your bodyweight alone is a good workout.
Once you are comfortable with the movement (and you can do each step correctly), start with a light kettlebell.
A 5 to 10 pound kettlebell is a good starting weight for most people. Although if you are a stronger individual, you can probably get away with 10 kg or more (22lbs+).
Note: If you don’t want to start with just your bodyweight and you have some good experience with kettlebells or weightlifting, the average man that is a beginner of Turkish Get Ups should be fine with an approximately 20lb kettlebell and half of that for a woman.
One side might be easier than the other, so let that other side catch up before you increase the weight. This is the great thing about Turkish Get Ups, it fixes imbalances.
If you can do 5 on each side in under 10 minutes, then you can increase the weight. This could be a weekly or monthly increase depending on how often you perform Turkish Get Ups. Don’t over do it, but Turkish Get Ups are an exercise you can perform more frequently, it’s not like barbell squats where you would do them once or at most twice a week.
Go up in weight at a reasonable pace. If you only have 10lb increments (i.e. you are at 10lbs now and your next kettlebell size up is 20lbs), give it a try when you are ready but just use a lower rep count and take more time between reps.
You should be using single casting cast iron kettlebells. While competition kettlebells can be used too, cast-iron are the best for Turkish Get Ups.
“Single casting” meaning the kettlebell is casted from one single piece of metal (not two pieces, with a handle connected to the bell).
Choose the right weight load. Even if you are a strong person, when learning this movement, start light. That way you can do the exercise properly though each stage of the movement. The main reason people hurt themselves with the TGU is that they start with a kettlebell that is too heavy and load it improperly through poor form - weight follows form.
First, we have an in-depth video of how to do a Turkish Get Up by kettlebell expert and coach Scott Viala. Then, below, we have a summary of the How To TGU video with step-by-step pictures and instructions, as well as common mistakes.
In the above video, Scott will show you how to do a Turkish Get Up. He will breakdown each stage of the TGU, emphasizing tips, cues, and common mistakes so that you fully understand the various phases/steps of the movement.
While it is a long video (13 minutes), we highly recommend you watch the entire video and pay strict attention to the cues. After watching and listening to Scott perform the TGU, you will know exactly how to perform the exercise with all the nuances each step of the way.
You can even grab your kettlebell and follow along to the Turkish Get Up with Scott as he will walk you through it slowly. Throw the video on and it will feel like you are right there with Scott in his kettlebell class getting your Turkish Get Up license.
**Keep your eyes on the kettlebell at all times through each step**
If you have trouble sitting up smoothly, you likely have a weak core and this needs to be addressed. Do core exercises to strengthen your core.
If you have trouble keeping the bottom leg straight while sitting up tall with the kettlebell overhead, you likely have tightness in your hamstring, so work on hamstring flexibility.
If you can’t extend the hips correctly, you may have tightness in your hip flexors (do these hip flexor stretches to work on mobility and flexibility).
If you feel you are extending via the lower back rather than the hips, you may have weak glutes (work on glute exercises and glute activation)
You will feel that rotational mobility working here.
If you have tight hip flexors, this part of the TGU might be difficult for you. Hip flexor stretches should help with this.
If you have trouble with this position, you will need to work on core strength and glute strength. These are important stabilizers you’ll need.
If you have trouble with this movement, practice overhead lunges with a light kettlebell and work your way up in weight over time.
Now to the DESCENT…
Option 2: Instead of sliding your left hand back, you can plant your elbow and forearm to the floor and then slowly lower your back and the right shoulder to the floor.
THAT’S IT. NOW ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS REPEAT THE SAME STEPS ON THE LEFT SIDE.
Note: Between each step, you will have a slight pause to make sure that you are positioned correctly and everything is good to go, but you won’t be holding any position for a considerable time normally. It reads a lot longer than it actually takes. That said, this is not a movement that you want to speed through, it is about control, so it does take much longer to complete one rep of a TGU than it does almost any other exercise. It should take you 20+ seconds to do one rep.
While there are slightly different variations to the Turkish Get Up, and most are fine, we prefer to perform them as described above and as Scott demonstrates in the video. You can consider the above to be the absolute standard, correct form.
If you didn’t pay attention to the common mistakes within the steps, we suggest you go back up and read carefully. But, to emphasize some of the important ones:
Again, if you didn’t read the common mistakes within the steps, go back and do so, it’ll make more sense that way.
Beginners will always be recommended to do Turkish Get Ups without a kettlebell to start.
If you really want to drill the movements into your head and make them second nature quickly, begin by only doing a Half Turkish Get Up (bodyweight only). Practice Steps 1-3 (getting into the up sit up position with your palm to the floor), then reverse it. Drill these first three steps into your head.
From there, practice the Full Turkish get up, really emphasizing Step 4-6. If you have to, keep reversing Steps 4-6, like you did Steps 1-3.
When you are comfortable with the movement at 10 reps each side, add a light kettlebell, but go light and start with Half Turkish Get Ups again. Just like you started, practicing Steps 1-3, but this time with the kettlebell. After you do 10 or so reps on each side and you feel comfortable with it, add the rest of the steps.
If you find it difficult to do a Turkish Get Up with a kettlebell or like your form isn’t right, go back to naked (no kettlebell) Turkish Get Ups. Don’t feel embarrassed, just keep practicing without a kettlebell until you get it down. Feel free to keep referring back to our video above so you can nail the Turkish Get Up the right way.
Turkish Get Ups are great to do as a warm up (actually like a post-warm up so you aren’t going into them completely cold) or they are great to throw into a strength training session at any point.
Some people even do Turkish Get Up only workouts, but that is not so common, unless on an active recovery day.
If you do them as a warm up, you will probably be going relatively light. In this case, do 3-5 each side after a bodyweight dynamic warm up. Remember, one rep is going to take you around 30 seconds, and you’ll need a short rest between sets so 5 each side is going to take around 10 minutes.
If they are part of your workout, you probably will want to stick to around 5 each side in total. You can break that down in different ways depending on the workout protocol (i.e. circuit or sets x reps). If you are going relatively heavy, you could do 1 each side for 5 sets, or 5 rounds if part of a circuit.
If you do them at the end of a workout, the same applies. If you go heavy, the volume will be lower (i.e. 1 each side for a few sets). If you go light, then you can do 3-5 each side back to back (either one side at a time or alternate sides each rep) with rest only as needed.
HOW MANY TURKISH GET UPS SHOULD I DO?
Doing 10 Turkish Get Ups per day is totally fine. So, 5 each side. Unlike other kettlebell exercises (and strength training exercises in general) you can do Turkish Get Ups every day as long as the load is not too heavy. If you do heavy load Turkish Get Ups, then give yourself a couple days between TGU sessions.
HOW OFTEN TO DO TURKISH GET UP?
Turkish Get Ups are one of those exercises that you can do every damn day.
You can do them as a warm up (right after you get your body warm with some bodyweight movements and mobility work), you can throw them into the main workout, or you can do them at the end of a workout. You can switch things up every day. It’s up to you.
You don’t have to do them every day either. But if you want to master the Turkish Get Up and get stronger at it, we recommend doing them at least 3 times per week.
HOW TO INCREASE TURKISH GET UP WEIGHT LOAD?
Using the weight you are comfortable with, instead of going from position to position, hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds. This is isometric strength building that should help you get stronger for a heavy kettlebell.
Don’t go up unless you are absolutely ready. Pushing it too hard can lead to injury which will only set you back. You should know when you mastered a weight and are truly ready for a heavier challenge.
We hope this how to do Turkish Get Up guide helps you on your journey to mastering the Turkish Get Up. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us!
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