Why You Should Be Doing Turkish Get Ups.

Man doing a Turkish Get Up with a dumbbell

Turkish Get Ups (or TGUs as I'll refer to them from now on) are a fantastic all body exercise that holds many benefits for boardsports. Apparently so called because ancient Turkish wrestlers invented them and used them in their training, they were also used by Turkish Janissaries (elite infantry units of the Ottoman Empire), old time strongmen and Russian soldiers.

In this post I will outline why you should be doing them, how you should do them and what kind of sets and reps you could use.

The Why

TGUs use a huge array of different muscles in the body all at once. And any exercise that does that deserves your respect and attention as you get more 'bang for your buck' as they say. You will be using your core, your legs, your hips, your arms, your back and your shoulders. And if you are doing a higher rep set, definitely your lungs as well!

But not only do TGUs use a lot of different muscles, they link the groups of muscles in a hugely coordinated way too. This means your neuromuscular system gets a workout as well - your central nervous system (CNS) controls your muscles in the execution of multi-limb, functional movements. You have to move in a very coordinated pattern of steps in order to perform the movement correctly so your brain and your muscles have to be working in perfect unison.

The TGU also exposes any imbalances or weaknesses between the left and right hand side of your body. This knowledge can then be used to target those areas for more work using other exercises. But simply by performing TGUs these areas will start to become stronger and more balanced.

The smaller stabilizing muscles of the body, such as the rotator cuff of the shoulders and the piriformis in the hip, are quite often the ones that are hindering our overall strength gains. Renowned physical therapist Gray Cook suggests that “stabilizers are what give you the mechanical advantage to be stronger.” TGUs work all of these muscles to a great degree and so are a perfect way to ensure you have balanced strength.

Lastly, you will improve your flexibility and mobility greatly by doing TGUs, especially through your hips and shoulders - two areas a lot of people are notoriously tight in.

If you have read any of my other posts, especially the one on 'Why Train For Boardsports When You Can Just Do Them?', you will see that the Turkish Get Up has you covered on all bases. Most boardsport performances will be improved if you work on getting your core, legs and shoulders stronger, more flexible and less prone to fatigue.

The How

You will want to start with a light kettlebell or dumbbell, in the region of 2-4kg (4-8lbs) until you really get the movement nailed down correctly. A lot of people I see training go too heavy and make a mess of the hip raise/ leg sweep part because they are too busy focusing on how heavy the weight is above their head. Keep it light, get the movement down solidly, and then step it up in weight.

As to if you should use a dumbbell or kettlebell it really comes down to choice. I find a kettlebell easier to use as it has a more compact shape but it can also sit awkwardly on the back of the wrist. If a dumbbell is more comfortable for you to hold then that's absolutely fine.

Once you have become very comfortable with the movement you could experiment with holding a barbell. This becomes a whole different ball game in terms of balance!

  • Lay on your back with a Dumbbell or Kettlebell in your right hand, arm extended up to the ceiling. Your arm should remain locked straight throughout. If you find your arm bending drop the weight back down to something a little lighter.

  • Lift your right knee and place your foot flat on the floor near to your glutes.

  • Keeping your eyes on your hand/weight, sit up powerfully onto your left elbow.

  • Move up onto your left hand and place it on the floor just behind your back and out to the side.

  • Lift your hips up high (this is the important bit) so you are balancing on your left hand, left heel and right foot. Your body should be in a straight line, almost like a reverse plank position.

  • Keeping your hips high and eyes on the weight, sweep your left foot through underneath you. This is the step a lot of people find hard. Make sure you really lift your hips up high to allow space to sweep the leg under. You will also struggle if you hips are tight so some flexibility work on this area is important if you can't get your leg through neatly and comfortably.

  • Place your left knee on the floor directly under your hip. At this point your left hand should still be on the floor.

  • Once you are in a comfortable position with your legs lift your left hand off the floor so you become balanced in a lunge position.

  • Both knees should now be bent at roughly 90 degrees and your eyes can now look straight ahead.

  • Stand up out of the lunge and bring both feet together. This is the halfway point.

  • To go back down, step backwards with your left foot and drop back into the lunge position.

  • Place your left hand flat on the floor a little to the side and behind you. Take your gaze back up towards the weight.

  • Using your hand to support you lift the hips and sweep the left leg back underneath so it is straight out in front once again.

  • Sit back down on the floor, slowly lean backwards and come to rest once again on your back.

  • Your arm should still be straight and locked out above you.

  • Lower your right leg back to the floor.

  • That's one rep, good job!

The two most important points to remember are:

  • Do not let your arm bend - if it does the weight is too heavy.

  • Do not stand up until you have achieved a solid lunge position with both knees at 90 degrees.

When you initially sweep your leg underneath your knee will flex to a great degree. If you attempt to stand from this position it will put unnecessary stress on your knees.

If the weight is heavy you can start in a curled up position on your side holding the kettlebell as it sits on the floor. Then you roll onto your back and press the kettlebell up to arms length above you to begin.

What Sets and Reps?

There are lots of ways you can programme TGUs into your sessions but two ways I like approaching them are as follows:

1) The first is to work with a lighter weight but higher reps for muscular endurance - how long your muscles can work without getting tired.

You could perform say 4 sets of 8-10 reps on each arm (trust me, this will be hard!) with 2-3 minutes rest between sets. This amount of reps will really get your lungs working as well.

Or alternatively you could set a clock for 2 minutes and perform reps in that time.

Note - When performing reps in the higher range ensure that your movement pattern does not break down. It is better to stop at 6 reps if you feel your movement is getting sloppy than it is to keep going to 10 reps but with bad form.

2) The second is about a heavier weight and less reps for a strength based workout.

Keep the reps low at perhaps only 2-4 a side but keep increasing the weight across the sets. Five good working sets will be enough.

Trying to sit up from the floor once you have 16kg plus (35lbs) in your hand becomes a workout in itself and you will soon see why TGUs really are fantastic for your core.

When you become adept at the movement and your TGUs get a little heavier they really get your core working hard and are also one of the best exercises for creating a solid and stable shoulder complex as they utilise all the big muscles of the shoulders such as the deltoids and traps but also the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff and scapula stabilisers that often get neglected and when overused are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain.


As far as exercises go Turkish Get Ups are one of the best and you should definitely think about including them in your training sessions. However, they do take practice and beginners may find them hard at first. You need a degree of flexibility in order to perform them properly so take your time, practice with no weight at all at first (a shoe is a good substitute) and stretch out the muscles of your legs and hips, such as your glutes and hip flexors if you are finding them tricky.

If you would like more information on fitness training for boardsports please take a look at the rest of my website and drop me an email if you have any questions.

Have fun!

#turkishgetups #core #TGUs #kettlebells