Man doing a turkish get up with a kettlebell
Posted: September 25, 2020 at 7:00 am

Turkish Get Ups (TGUs), similar to kettlebell swings, are another one of the foundations of our programs at Industrial Strength.  The benefits of the TGU are plentiful, including general upper body strength, core strength, grip and wrist strength, shoulder mobility, and overall athleticism in terms of body control and awareness.  However, unlike kettlebell swings, the full version of the TGU might not be accessible to everyone because a fair bit of shoulder mobility is required to do these well.  As with the kettlebell swing, it is highly recommended that you work with a qualified coach to learn these – and note that just because someone is a personal trainer or works at a gym does not make them qualified to teach every exercise.  It is strongly recommended that you find an instructor or a facility that has ample experience and qualification in this movement.  In the meantime, here are three key details to keep in mind as you practice your TGU.

1 — The Elbow Remains Straight the Entire Time

The idea of the TGU is essentially to support a weight overhead while progressing from lying on your back up to standing, then back down again.  It makes sense that a rigid, locked arm can support weight better than a bent arm can, so it is prudent to focus on locking your elbow throughout the full repetition.  If you cannot maintain a locked elbow (possibly due to a lack of mobility) then it would be wise to do only partial reps where you only do the steps for which you can keep a locked elbow, and to of course also work on your mobility to eventually be able to keep a locked arm for a full repetition.

2 — Maintain a Straight Wrist Throughout

Just like with the elbow, it is important to maintain a straight wrist throughout the motion.  The shape of the kettlebell is such that it will be applying forces that try to move your wrist into extension (fold it backwards) and one of your jobs is to not let that happen.  This is especially important because if your wrist folds back it is more likely that your elbow will start to bend, and now we are talking about the possibility of the weight dropping … and possibly dropping onto you.  So, before you even pick up the kettlebell off the ground, make sure to set your wrist straight and to squeeze the handle firmly.

3 — Always use Both Hands to Pick Up and Park the Kettlebell

This is one of my biggest pet peeves in the gym, as I have seen it cause injuries that were easily preventable.  When initially picking up the kettlebell from the floor, lay on your side (like the fetal position) and grip the kettlebell with both hands, keep it close to your abdomen, and roll onto your back in such a way that your body and the kettlebell move as one unit.  Once you are on your back, press the kettlebell up with one or both hands (I use two hands, but one hand is fine if you so choose).  To park the kettlebell, do the reverse of these actions.  One of the worst injuries I have seen in the gym was someone who parked their kettlebell with only one hand while continuing to lay on his back instead of rolling to his side (he did this in spite of at least 5 warnings from me during that class).  He ended up popping something in his elbow fairly badly and never ended up coming back.  So, learn from his mistake instead of making the same mistake yourself, and always pick up and park your kettlebell safely.

4 — Progression

As noted above, working with a qualified coach is highly encouraged.  Just like with kettlebell swings, when it comes to the TGU the first priority will be simply learning to do them safely before you concern yourself with weight.  Typically this will mean learning the movement with no weight at all, followed by performing it while balancing some light object on your fist (using your shoe is perfect here).  Once you have that down, then it is time to start slowly adding weight.  As with the KB swing, do not rush your rest periods between sets.  Do something like one repetition on your left arm, then walk around and have a break for a minute, then repeat on your right arm.  Continue this format until you have done somewhere between 3-10 repetitions per arm (again, only one at a time).  Also, as with the swings, every once in a while you can do a similar “stress test” to see where you are at.  For TGU it is recommended to set the timer to beep every 60 seconds, and each round you will do one TGU (first round is left handed, next round right handed).  Continue for 10 rounds, so a total of five per hand.  A good goal for women is to do that with 24kg / 53lbs, and for men 32kg / 70lbs (same as for KB swings).

-Tony Gracia

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