Why You Should Do Turkish Get-Ups

Turkish get-ups are an oddly named exercise that happens to be the perfect complement to most weight training routines.  In this post, I’ll go over how to do the exercise, I’ll explain its tremendous benefits, and I’ll provide guidance on how to incorporate it in your routine.

How to do a Turkish get-up

Start by lying flat on your back with a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) held above you in one hand.  The finished position is standing straight up with the weight held overhead.  To go from lying to standing, several steps are required including a sit-up motion, a glute bridge, a side plank, and a lunge recovery, all while supporting the weight overhead.  A short video demo works better than words to show each step:

Using dumbbell:

Using kettlebell:

A few key points that may not be obvious from the videos…

To sit up from the starting position, drive your heel and opposite shoulder into the floor.  This tip is critical for succeeding with heavier weights.

Maintain a tight core, and keep the weighted arm locked out and balanced straight overhead for the entire rep.

Do not rush the exercise.  Move slowly and under control for greater benefits.  Some people like to pause between each phase to emphasize control and increase time under tension.

Benefits of Turkish get-us

The get-up builds stability in the shoulders and core, mobility in the hips, and balance.  If you’ve been lifting weights for a while and no longer participate in regular sports, there’s a good chance those are all weaknesses of yours.

Most traditional free weight and machine exercises are bilateral movements (both limbs work in unison) done from a stable position, which makes them great for building the large prime mover muscles but not very good at building the smaller stabilizer muscles.  Turkish get-ups involve a series of unilateral movements done from unstable positions, which develops those stabilizers.

Why should you care about having strong stabilizers?  They’ll help you lift more weight to build more strength and muscle, and they’ll prevent injuries.  If you’ve ever watched someone fail on a squat or deadlift, it’s usually from the midsection buckling (i.e. core failure) rather than the legs failing.  Bench presses and overhead presses are often missed when the bar drifts out of position.  Weak stabilizers also commonly lead to shoulder and lower back injuries, whether it be at the gym attempting a heavy lift or at home doing something as simple as bending over to get something out of the fridge.  Bombproof your body by strengthening those stabilizers.

Another benefit of get-ups is hip mobility.  Most people have tight hips from sitting too long and neglecting to stretch, and tight hips are a common cause of poor exercise form and lower back pain.

How to program Turkish get-ups in your routine

Get-ups may be used as a warm-up and activation exercise at the beginning of your routine or as a strength movement of its own.

My recommendation is to use it as a warm-up and activation exercise.  Two to three times a week, at the beginning of your routine, do 2-3 sets of 3-5 slow reps, where one rep consists of one get-up for each side.  Increase the weight for each set, for example: 15, 30, 40 pounds.  It’s a great way to prepare your shoulders and core for the rest of your workout while stimulating and strengthening the stabilizers.

Another popular approach is to use the get-up as a strength exercise of its own.  Do 3-5 sets of 1-3 reps, working up to a challenging (heavy) weight.  By going heavy, you can potentially build more strength in the stabilizers, but you’ll also run the risk of overtaxing and injuring those muscles in the process.  If you choose to train it heavy, be ready to drop the weight beside you if it gets out of position.  In terms of weight goals, a get-up performed with 50% of bodyweight is considered quite respectable in the fitness community and achievable for most people with some practice.

Happy training and good luck!

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