ANOTHER (Arghhh) Turkish Get-up Article

Why do we teach the Turkish Get-Up the way that we do? 

Is there a better way?

I remember seeing my first Turkish Get-Up (TGU).  It was 2005ish at a workshop in Stamford CT.  Steve Cotter, Master RKC at the time, was doing a presentation on kettlebells, and I was blown away.  I had never seen a TGU before.  At the first RKC workshop I attended, I recall vividly watching The Iron Tamer Dave Whitley do a TGU using a person instead of a bell over one of the breaks.  Again, I was amazed.

At that 2009 RKC workshop, after I had learned how to teach the TGU, I decided that everyone I trained/rehabbed would learn to do the TGU.  In the coming years, I even wrote articles about how great it was.  (The Forgotten Benefits of the TGU, The Simply Sinister Training Plan .  I have made the corny joke for the past several years that the TGU is the “Greatest Exercise………Ever” (you have to add the dramatic pause, it’s about the timing)!  So here is the deal, the TGU is THAT GOOD.   However, over the past years, I’ve realized something – teaching the TGU to someone that has never done one is tough.

Teaching the TGU at the Inaugural StrongFirst Workshop in 2013

I’ve had the opportunity to teach the TGU at several workshops (as part of other organizations and on my own), and it always went over well.  However, in hindsight teaching the TGU to the motivated person that had invested the time and money to attend a kettlebell workshop is quite a different beast than teaching the TGU to anyone else.  That person that is being taught at the workshop has likely already been doing TGU’s, so they kind of know what they are doing – it is more of a refinement than actually teaching a new skill.  The person that has never done a TGU has, well, NEVER DONE A TGU.

What I realized as I was trying to teach the TGU was that unless someone was going to a kettlebell certification course, they didn’t care about learning the TGU.  This presented an obstacle.  The TGU takes a while to teach to the person that has never been taught.  There are 18+ steps from start to finish – that’s more steps than it takes to do many things.  The athletes I was training that wanted to get better at their sport didn’t care about anything after step 3 – yes, I know, I’m a terrible coach for not explaining to them the benefits of the TGU.  The patients I was rehabbing didn’t care about anything past step 3 either.  It takes considerable buy-in for someone to want to go through the process of learning the TGU.

So, I asked myself two questions: First, is the TGU worth teaching to everyone?  Easy, a resounding YES!  Second, is how I was taught to teach the TGU the best way of teaching it?  Oh crap – how do I answer that?   If I say yes, nothing changes.  If I say no, then I have to admit that maybe what I was taught and what I believed wasn’t the best.  After some internal debating, I decided to work under the assumption that there might be a better way to teach the TGU – I just wanted to explore the possibility.  Not in an effort to come up with a a better way, but in an effort to develop the next evolution of the TGU.  

100+ People learning the TGU at the 2014 Japan Athletic Trainers annual workshop

After reviewing my notes from every kettlebell course, kettlebell workshop, or kettlebell lecture I’d ever attended, I came across one hard to read chicken scratch I’d made in the margin of a manual from an early course I attended.  “Spotting the TGU is a joke – just teach them to ditch the bell.”  I made this entry after I asked an instructor a question after we had been taught how to spot a TGU safely.  What I had written down was his answer.  Over the ensuing years, every time I watched the teaching progression of the TGU and then watched the “Spot the TGU drill” I chuckled inside (couldn’t laugh on the outside).  Watching people go through that drill is the epitome of “Busy versus productive.”  Over my training lifetime, I’ve spotted several hundred people on several thousand lifts and helped when they couldn’t complete a rep.  I’ve also been on the receiving end of a well timed spot when I’ve been a little over-zealous on the bench press or a squat.  However, in all of my years of training, I have never successfully saved someone on a TGU nor have I had one of my TGU’s saved by a spotter.  Here is why – spotting a heavy TGU is not safe for anyone involved.  Which  brought me to my first dilemma – “approach every lift like it is heavy.”  

That is apparent when teaching a deadlift, a press, a squat, a jerk, or a push press.  However, when we teach the TGU, the wires get crossed.  “TREAT IT LIKE IT IS A HEAVY TGU!” but, here, let us start with a shoe.  My second favorite corny TGU joke is stolen from The Iron Tamer himself – “What’s better than a TGU?  A heavy TGU!”  The shoe drill is an excellent drill in theory, but I got tired of telling people to straighten out their elbow and to get their arm overhead.  Apparently, their shoe’s weren’t like Thor’s hammer – DIDN’T THEY KNOW THEY HAD A HEAVY SHOE ON THEIR FIST?!? Part of what makes the TGU great is the part where we are moving under the weight.  Without the weight to move under, that sensory experience is lost which is counterproductive to learning how to move under the weight.  In the TGU we cannot pretend it is heavy, because the load is the most important part of that sensory experience.  

3 positions within the get up on Day 1 of a Certification course

When teaching a snatch, what is the first component of that drill that is taught (with either a barbell or a kettlebell)?  The Deadlift.  Why?  We have got to learn the slow, simple parts before we can learn the fast, complex parts.  However, we teach the get up as a whole, complex part. 

So, what I came up with was a way to teach the TGU that follows the principles of movement (instead of fighting them) and requires very few words. The best part is that instead of teaching one drill with 18 steps, this can be scaled to teaching 1 drill with 18 steps, it can be 18 drills with one step, or it can be anything in between depending on what the situation requires (it is scalable to anyone, anywhere).  

The biggest challenge to this is unloading, unloading the finality of what you have been taught.  If you can do that, then you are ready to learn this simple drill. 

I do believe that everyone needs to learn and to do Turkish get-ups, but rarely do I teach the full TGU and never do I teach it like I was taught.  When we are in grade school and the teacher tells us the story of the Thanksgiving holiday, we whole-heartidly believe them.  Why?  They are our teacher, they are our mentor, they are endeavoring to make us better individuals and we look up to them.  We trust them because they are impactful in our lives.  But, at some point, we get to where we realize that what we were taught might not be 100% correct; not out of spite or malice from our teachers, but because what we were taught is their interpretation -much like this article is my interpretation of teaching the TGU.  The truth often lies somewhere in the middle; this new variation of teaching the TGU will be great for some people and in some situations, but horrible for some people and in some situations. 

My goal: for you to be able to use either method at will to teach people the TGU based on the situation that lies before you – this is just another option.

Come back on 5/1/19 for Part 2 – and the actual drill…….

3 thoughts on “ANOTHER (Arghhh) Turkish Get-up Article”

  1. Why would you say that everyone should know how to do a TGU? I guess I have not found it necessary for a number of populations.

    1. The TGU is one lift where the lifter has to learn to move around a load. We see that a lot in the Olympic clean and jerk as well as the Olympic snatch. In all 3 lifts the lifter has to adjust to the moving load and reposition accordingly. The TGU is a much easier entry point to learn to react to a changing load than the Olympic lifts.

      Additionally, teaching someone to go from the floor to standing is literally a life skill. Doing it under load makes that even better.

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