How to Master the Turkish Get-up

The TGU: A Quick Intro

The Turkish Get-up (TGU) is one of our go-to exercises for everyone who walks through our doors here at Halevy Life. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is basically a slow and deliberate way of getting up from the floor with a weight over your head, and then returning to the floor the way you came. Here it is artfully demonstrated by Jake:

As you can see, the TGU works through several different postures and positions. It is also a very complex and involved movement that will have entry-level trainees looking at a coach like he has three heads. However, the TGU works through so much, that teaching it to our clients is always a worthwhile priority.

I’ll spare you from the geeky details here, but at its heart the TGU teaches people how to move, and how to move well. We’ve touched on the Functional Movement Screen and fundamental movement patterns in this blog; the TGU just so happens to take you through these fundamentals, from supine all the way up to standing.

Of course, there are some obvious benefits to the TGU as well. Increased strength and stability of the shoulder. Increased strength and stability of the core. But as coaches, we could argue that the movement benefits are the real difference-makers for our clients. Better balance and body awareness. Better integration between the upper and lower halves of the body. The list can go on. Good movement here begets good movement elsewhere.

However, trying to teach the TGU in one shot is an exercise in futility. This is even more true in a semi-private or a group setting. There’s just too much going on for both the coach and the trainee. Because of this, we’ve taken our time over the past few months to progress our SureFit members through the Turkish Get-up piece by piece. By breaking it up this way and repeating them over and over again, we’ve made it easier to for us to teach and our clients to learn. Practice makes perfect, and it’s as simple as that. Here’s the progression we used, from beginning to end.

1. Rolling

Upper Body Rolling and Lower Body Rolling are the first two exercises here. We’ve spoken before about the importance of rolling. It’s a low threshold movement that brings both the upper and lower extremities into one working system, and contributes to better movement in other exercises and patterns. It’s also one of the first movements in the TGU, as you’ll see later.

In Upper Body Rolling, the goal is to use as little (and by that, I mean try to use none) momentum, or “oomph,” as possible from the lower body. The essence of the movement here is to have the body simply fall into a prone (face-down) position, and then fall back into a supine (face-up) position. If you were at the edge of a cliff, you would roll right off.

To roll to your right from either a prone or supine position, lead with the left arm and follow your hand with your eyes until the weight of your body pulls you into the opposite position, as shown in the video above. The same rules apply for Lower Body Rolling, except that you would now lead with the leg instead.

One of the benefits of rolling is bringing the upper and lower body into one working system. To do so, you’re actually using your core to tie them together, so rolling is as much a core exercise as it is one of those odd “functional” exercises that trainees raise their eyebrows at. There’s also a mobility component here as well for the t-spine and shoulder complex.

2. TGU Roll to Elbow

Once you’ve mastered rolling, the TGU Roll to Elbow is the next step in this progression:

The very first move is a roll into the supine starting position. This is done by cradling the weight with both hands, then rolling and pressing the weight up simultaneously. Now, if you have the weight in your right hand, think about rolling into your left side by bracing your core by pushing through your right foot and left elbow, and punching the ceiling with your right hand. You should end up on your forearm here. Avoid crunching the weight up, which is asking for trouble once we load these movements up.

As a side note, when performing this and the progression to follow, I prefer not to bring the weight back down to the floor after each rep, especially if more than 1 rep per set is prescribed. This lets you focus solely on that roll to elbow.

Once you can do this in your sleep, we can add more steps.

3. TGU to Glute Bridge

Here, we’re coming up onto our hand and then pressing up into a single-leg bridge. Focus on pressing up through the entire foot, putting as much force into the ground as possible. I find that doing this helps trainees begin to understand the concept of mechanical advantage and how much position matters.

Think of it this way. In terms of a maximal vertical jump, are you able to jump higher from a wide sumo stance or a narrower stance where your hips are stacked on top of your feet? Generally speaking, it’s hard to produce force from a bad position. Especially in a complex and challenging motion like the TGU, repositioning is warranted, and I’ll point out examples of this later.

4. TGU to Half-kneeling

Picking up from where we left off, bring your outstretched leg behind you and plant your knee. The better your glute bridge was in the previous step; the more clearance you have to bring your leg back. You also want to plant your knee directly underneath your hip, as that this is the most comfortable position for your body to support weight. From here, sit into your hips and pop up into a half-kneeling position. Reposition yourself so that you are facing forward.

5. Turkish Get-up

To complete the TGU, we simply stand up from the half-kneeling position. Here it is in full again.

Notice that as I’m going through this, I’m repositioning my hands and feet as necessary. This harkens back to the point I made about mechanical advantage earlier. By repositioning myself, I’m making it easier for me to get into positions that allow me to safely and effectively bear more weight.

In all these progressions, you want to keep the working arm as straight as possible the entire time. Focus on going slow with control, and be very deliberate. You should be able to hold a baby up with this technique, and that’s definitely something you would not want to drop.

Spend some time with each step of this progression, build proficiency, and work your way up. For beginners, going through the motions here with little or no weight could be challenging enough. Once the full TGU is second nature though,  you can continue to challenge yourself by loading it up. It’s a fantastic exercise once you get there, but it probably won’t be something you’ll enjoy. There’s a reason so many people hate to love it!

by Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau Halevy Life Staff CoachJeremy Lau is a Staff Coach at Halevy Life.

Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.

As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.