Secrets Revealed of Old-Time Strongmen
November 27, 2015
By Dr. Mercola
Kettlebells offer dynamic, whole-body exercise routines that incorporate cardiovascular, resistance and range-of-motion training into one workout. Using kettlebells in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) format can burn more calories per minute than just about any other workout.
One historic exercise that's recently been adapted for the kettlebell is the Turkish Get-up. The Get-up brings you from lying flat on the floor to standing up in one fluid motion, all while holding a weight—typically a kettlebell—overhead.
It is believed that this exercise was invented by ancient wrestlers in what is now Turkey to prepare them for their grueling competitions. The video demo above is by my personal trainer of the last four years, Arnold Kolozsvari.
Legend also has it that when old-time strongmen were asked to take on an apprentice, they would send the applicant away, telling him not to return until he could perform one Turkish Get-up using a 100-pound weight. Then the real training would begin.1
History aside, the Get-up is a challenging exercise boasting an impressively long list of benefits when performed correctly, with the added advantage of requiring very little equipment—just a single kettlebell.
I personally try to do them several times a month with a 35 pound kettlebell. They really get you breathing hard. Let's take a look at how to properly execute a Turkish Get-up, in a way that you'll derive maximum benefit and safety.
The Turkish Get-up isn't a single movement but multiple motions woven together, incorporating all three planes of movement. Holding a weight overhead challenges your core throughout the entire exercise, which must fire continuously to keep your torso upright as you bend, twist and lunge.
In addition to building strength, Turkish Get-ups increase your overall body stability, awareness, balance, and coordination. Very few exercises can boast so many benefits. According to Breaking Muscle2 and Strong First,3 Turkish Get-ups have the following array of fitness benefits—and it's an impressive array!
Promotes upper body stability Promotes lower body stability Promotes cross lateralization (getting right brain to work with left side) Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg Gets the upper and lower extremities working reciprocally Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities Stimulates the vestibular system, which contributes to balance Stimulates the visual system, which contributes to balance Stimulates the proprioception system, which contributes to balance Develops a front/back weight shift Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength Promotes spatial awareness Closed and open chain shoulder stability Thoracic extension and rotation Hip and leg mobility and active flexibility Both rotary and linear stability Stability in two different leg patterns – lunge stance and squat stance Single leg hip stability during the initial roll to press and during the bridge
Turkish Get-Ups in 13 Not-So-Easy Steps
I highly recommend watching the featured video above with Arnold Kolozsvari. before reading the step-by-step instructions that follow. The old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words" really applies here. You can view still shots of proper body positions in this article in Body Building.4
STEP 1: Starting Position
Lie on your back on the floor with the kettlebell placed next to your right shoulder.STEP 2: Raise Your Bell
Roll to your right, keeping your right elbow pinned close to your body, and take the kettlebell into your right hand. Then roll onto your back and cradle the kettlebell to your chest. Your left arm is stretched out on the floor at about 45 degrees to your body.STEP 3: Onto Your Elbow
With your left leg out straight, bend your right leg so your right foot is flat on the floor. With your right arm, slowly lift the kettlebell straight up, locking out your right elbow. Keep your eyes peeled on the kettlebell—they should remain that way for the duration of this exercise.
Pressing your right foot firmly into the floor, roll up onto your left elbow while continuing to hold the kettlebell up high. This is like a partial sit-up with elbow support, and you'll be on your left butt cheek.STEP 4: Onto Your Hand
Once you're stable at the elbow, continue rolling up until you are supporting yourself on your left hand. You now have three bases of support—your left hand, right foot, and left butt cheek.STEP 5: High Bridge
Squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips off the ground, keeping your arm extended perfectly vertically. Remember to keep you eyes focused on that kettlebell! You now have only two bases of support (left hand and right foot), as your hips are no longer in contact with the ground.STEP 6: Sweep Your Leg
With your hips lifted high, sweep your left leg under your body, back to a point where you knee is on the ground beneath you. You'll end up in a position that angles your legs at about 90 degrees to each other. One knee will be pointing straight ahead, and the other should point directly at your hand on the floor. Keep your neck rotated upward, looking up at the bell.STEP 7: Up Tall
Take your left hand off the floor and bring your body upright. "Windshield wiper" the leg that's on the ground until your legs are parallel to each other in a lunge position.STEP 8: Stand Up
Driving from your back foot through your hips and into your front foot, stand up from the lunge while keeping the kettlebell straight overhead, tightening your core as you rise. Bring your feet together. Breathe... you're halfway there!STEP 9: Reverse Lunge
Step back into the lunge so that your left knee is on the floor again, with the kettlebell still raised high.STEP 10: Windshield Wiper and Hip Hinge
"Windshield wiper" your left leg until it's perpendicular to your right. Fold your hips over and place your left hand just in front of the knee on the floor.STEP 11: Sweep Your Leg
Sweep your left leg forward until it's straight out in front of you, heel pressed into the floor, supporting yourself once again on your left hand.STEP 12: Back to Your Elbow
Very slowly and with control, drop your butt back down to the floor, lowering yourself to your left forearm.STEP 13: Finish, Repeat
Very slowly, lower your torso down onto your shoulders and back, keeping your eyes fixed on the kettlebell raised above you. Slowly lower the bell to your stomach. Roll toward your side and place the bell on the floor. Congratulations—you're done with the first rep and ready to start he next.
Tips for Getting the Most from Your Get-Ups
Turkish Get-ups are intense and involve a lot of moving parts, so start with a light weight (or no weight at all) until you are comfortable with the movements. A good suggestion is to start with a shoe in place of a weight, just until you get the proper body mechanics down.
As Amy Rushlow says,5 "Don't be surprised if you look drunk doing it the first time." Beginners should start with a 10-to 15-pound kettlebell, at most. Twenty pounds is considered intermediate for this exercise, and 25 to 30 pounds is advanced. If you jump in as if you're already a "strongman," you'll increase your risk of injury.
Pause and take a breath between each position, mentally checking your form and making sure you're keeping your joints and core strong. If you're unable to complete a full rep properly, then stop rather than pushing it and risking injury.
Keep in mind that the benefit of this exercise comes from the quality of the movement, not the amount of weight. Twelve to 15 reps are excellent. Alternately, you can perform 1 to 3 reps on each side as part of your warm-up. Remind yourself to slow down—each rep should take you 45 to 60 seconds.
Seven Common Mistakes and How to Correct Them
Due to the complexity of Turkish Get-ups, there is a high potential for errors, especially when starting out. Please review the following list of the most common mistakes noted by fitness coaches in people performing these movements. Again, pictures can be quite instructive, so I suggest referring to the Body Building article cited earlier,6 as well as this article about common Get-up mistakes by Eric Cressey.7
Mistake #1: Failing to grip the kettlebell properly Unlike a dumbbell or barbell, the kettlebell is meant to be "over-gripped," or pulled into what feels like slight wrist flexion. This is necessary because of the offset center of mass of the kettlebell. It "hangs" below your wrist and on the back of your forearm, meaning it's trying to pull your wrist into hyperextension, which increases the likelihood of injury and loss of balance.
Over-gripping brings the center of mass closer to the bones of your arm and makes for a stronger, safer position. Think about making a fist as if you were going to punch a heavy bag. Use a firm grip, but not excessive.
Mistake #2: Bending your elbow One of the most potentially harmful mistakes is failing to keep your elbow straight while holding up the kettlebell. If you allow your elbow to bend even a little, you're holding the kettlebell with your muscles alone rather than taking advantage of your body's support structure. During a properly performed Turkish Get-up, the weight is always well supported by passive structures, i.e., your skeletal frame.
Bending your elbow destabilizes your shoulder and increases your risk for injury.
A bent arm also over-stresses your triceps, which can result in muscle fatigue and dropping the kettlebell—which can and does happen without warning. If this does happen, DON'T try to save it—just get out of the way and let the weight fall. If you're struggling with keeping your arm straight, your biceps may be too tight and some stretching is in order.
If you can't complete the Get-up with a straight arm, do only the parts for which you can keep your arm straight. Partial Get-ups are great exercises in and of themselves.
Mistake #3: Starting with an incorrect bottom arm position Your free arm (the one not holding the weight) should be positioned at a 45-degree angle to your body at the beginning of the movement. Mistake #4: Not actively getting up Some people mistakenly roll into the start of a Get-up instead creating tension and actively moving into the first position. Mistake #5: Rocking instead of hinging Instead of hinging, some tend to rock their bodies during the transition from three points of contact to two (or from two to three on the way back down). Make sure you utilize a hip hinge motion to shift your weight completely onto your back knee, which will make it easier to lift or place your hand back onto the ground. Mistake #7: Not creating enough space When your body is properly aligned, you'll maintain certain amounts of space between your torso and your limbs and head. If you lose those spaces, then you are beginning to rely on passive stability measures, as opposed to creating tension and actively holding positions. Mistake #6: Letting your shoulders and other joints go soft Your shoulders should be "packed," meaning the head of each humerus is deep in the socket, giving you strong control of your movements and protecting your joints and muscles. Think about pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets. This "anti-shrug" position engages your lats, which creates a "shelf" capable of supporting the kettlebell overhead and your weight on the floor.
If the anti-shrug doesn't help, then you might need to address tight muscles, specifically those around your shoulder girdle—pecs, lats, triceps, and biceps. This concept also applies to your other joints. Your shoulders are connected to your hips—each shoulder to the opposite hip—through a series of fascial slings.
If you shrug one or both shoulders, the loss of tension causes you to tighten up your hips, which in turn inhibits your ability to activate your abs when you roll up and decreases your ability to stand up powerfully in the lunge. Combined, these errors put undue stress on vulnerable body parts such as your knees and lumbar spine. Keep your joints in slight extension, as opposed to flexion. Be careful not to hyperextend your elbows or knees.
Mistake #7: Not engaging your anterior core Make sure you are keeping your ribs down and core braced throughout this exercise.