The Turkish Get Up is an amazing movement. A lot of people way smarter than me have said a lot about it and all the best coaches, physical therapists, and trainers have been incorporating it into their programs. But after teaching the Turkish Get Up to a few dozen people over the years, I want to talk about what I have learned from this old technique of getting a weight off the ground and over your head that should apply to every exercise you do.
Progression is Earned
There are 9 or so steps to the TGU, each step bringing you further off the ground with a weight over your head. Each step is progressively more complex, with less of a base of support. In essence, it gets harder as you get higher. One of the epiphinal moments that came at my RKC certification was when a student asked, "what happens if you can't do that step?" My Team Leader looked at us all puzzlingly and replied, "well, you sure as hell don't do the next one!" We live in a culture that tells us we can all be rock stars and super models if we take this pill or buy that DVD. But that's not real life. Progression to the next step is earned by mastering the steps below, and nothing teaches you that faster than dropping an iron ball on your skull.
Functional Mobility is Functional Strength
The TGU doesn't just require strong "this-muscle," or "that-muscle." It's more than a "strong core" or great glutes (although you need both). Performing the TGU demands that you be strong throughout the entire range of motion in all of your major joints. When I first tried the Get Up, I couldn't bridge because my hips were so dysfunctional: a problem I didn't even know I had. Hell, before the TGU, I didn't know I had hips. But after experiencing the embarrassment of being unable to get up off the floor, the most basic adult movement, I learned that strength without mobility is just not useful.
Form is More Important than Weight
My clients all learn the TGU without weight. I learned the TGU balancing a shoe on my fist. When I was at the RKC Cert, someone asked Dr. Mark Cheng how much weight he used for the Turkish Get Ups he practiced every day, and he responded, "I use an empty paper cup." The TGU is not about throwing big numbers up. Sure, if you can perform an ugly one holding a 56kg bell or some woman, that's pretty impressive. But trust me, it's not nearly as impressive as doing it perfectly with an empty paper cup. There is more to be gained from performing a move so masterfully as to make it seem elegant than in performing a move poorly but with more weight. Anyone who doubts that should watch Barry Sanders run. He wasn't the fastest or the strongest; he was the best.
Mastery Has Benefits
People ask me why the Turkish Get Up is so important, and the best way I can describe it is that "if you can do a perfect TGU, then I am fairly certain you can do any exercise and get crazy strong at it." Old school strong men would demand that potential weight lifters perform the TGU with 48kg before they even learned to bench press. If you have taken the time to master the TGU then I know that you are A) strong, B) dedicated, C) patient, and D) capable of doing nearly anything with your body. Mastery has benefits: strength, elegance and hotness.