Many trainers in the circles of awesome coaches I hang around the internet and in person with, will talk about the pillars of strength movements and I do mention them often myself.
The squat, hinge, push, pull and brace and often the additional carry is added to make up the essentials that any body will thrive with.
In the category of bracing we have many dynamic and isometric (moving and static) exercises that require the torso or core if you like, to be stiff or to react to movements with localised or global bracing. One such movement is the Turkish Get Up, brought to popularity by the awesome nomad of health, strength and fitness, Steven Maxwell. Steve brought this exercise to the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) curriculum and the world has been a better place ever since…. amen.
Well kind of. If he had worn a onesie, a cape and a mask, probably more people would have paid it attention and embraced it with the attention it so deserves. Yes, it’s one odd looking exercise that requires the willing and eager exerciser to move fluidly and safely from a lying to standing position all the while holding a weight overhead. It’s actually a move you can see in many circus acts! But, you can learn it too.
It’s kind of the nerd of strength exercises in my mind. It has so much to share with us, teach us, it knows how to correct us, wont let us go too crazy with loading but get’s put in the corner and mocked for being weird or ‘too functional’ and is frequently the recipient of the ultimate gym rat question – “Uh, what muscle does that work?”
Before I commence my pastoral praise of the glorious TGU (and rational too), I want to raise one point I brushed on above. The Turkish Get Up wont let you do too much. Like a whole range of full body movements it’s a self-limiting exercise… uuuuurrrr, a wha’?
A self-limiting exercise as defined by Gray Cook “requires mindfulness and an awareness of movement, alignment, balance and control. Self-limiting exercise requires engagement”
Here’s an extract from Gray Cooks Movement book with other self limiting activities.
The self limiting nature of the TGU isn’t what really attracts me to it. The self-limiting nature of the TGU is just a mechanism to limit how much I do with it.
The TGU provides a whole host of vital movement patterns such as a hip bridge, a hip hinge, shoulder stability, single leg strength and knee stability as well mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles…. AND the whole time, trunk stability. It really is the multi-tool of the exercise toolbox.
However, the single reason I love the TGU is for the upper body requisites it demands, develops, reinforces and continuously teases and tests.
Ahhhh, so very satisfying!
When I initially discovered the TGU it was on the recommendation of a shoulder rehab article that I can’t recall at this point! In the mid to late 2000s I suffered continuously with shoulder and elbow pain. Everything hurt me and nothing helped and I did seek professional help. One leading sports doctor injected me with cortisone and informed that I should never go heavy again in any presses or ‘weights’ [FULL STOP].
“PFFT!” says I.
My early exploits with learning the TGU was luckily via videos I watched from RKC certified instructors. At that time I didn’t realise how well they performed and taught the exercise but I liked what I saw and it felt good to practice (so much so that I later certified as an RKC trainer). Other videos looked inferior and a risk to be honest, even with my limited skilled eye at that time.
As a barbell guy in the 2000s I didn’t own a kettlebell but had access to plenty of bars and dumbbells – these are what I practiced the TGU with.
But, this is why the TGU is so cool. It’s a movement, so the tool you use is irrelevant really. As coach Dan John writes often, the Goal is to keep the Goal, the Goal.
I wrote about about the physical attributes required and developed by practicing the TGU and this is of course what drew me to. I won’t bore you with all the problems I had with my shoulder, but essentially as the result of injury, poor rehab, limited mobility and even reactional strength, my shoulders physical abilities were poop. Push ups hurt, bench press hurt, pressing over head was a big no-go and even throwing ball with friends hurt. Poor me :’-(
I commenced my TGU practice on quiet Saturdays at the gym so no one could see what I was doing and how weak I looked doing it! However, my body took to it pretty quickly and before long I had moved from a bar 15kg barbell to loading the bar up. The movement wasn’t as pretty as what I would now perform, but my shoulders loved it.
Here’s an early 35kg Barbell Get Up
From this point I really started to re-explore other movements that required my upper body to do stuff. Very exciting considering all I ever did was pulling and lower body movements.
I stopped waiting until the gym was dead to do my TGUs and started to show off my new friend during busier times but, most gym patrons at that time only participated visually. I didn’t how the hell to teach it anyway back in 2009.
Such was the success of my time with the TGU that I did get back to the old gym favourite, the
bench press Thee Bench Press (to give it its full title). Following a gradual plan I built up to a 120kg bench but for healths sake, I discontinued that once I got more involved with Kettlebell training.
I continued to practice the TGU as I do still today and my shoulders have never been happier. I haven’t had a shoulder issue for ages and if old pains flare up after a vigorous weekend of gardening which in fact is the only activity that annoys it, I revisit light TGUs and my other mobility tools.
Whilst every shoulder problem is different, my own case involved shoddy movement and stability. Playing with the straight-arm strength exercise that is the Turkish Get Up gave me back a new lease of life in my training that has opened up a complete range of things I can now do.
I’ll end this piece now but i’ll end it with an invitation to you, to go seek out a StrongFirst instructor or an RKC instructor to learn how to practice the Turkish Get Up. I have only brushed on the many other physical benefits it offers but trust me, it saved me and I’m confident it can offer you plenty of benefits and light-bulb opportunities.
Take care, go learn stuff and if I can help in any way, just get in touch.