Turkish Get-Ups: The Best Exercise You’re Not Doing

Over a hundred years ago, a group of Turkish wrestlers set out to invent a total-body movement that would prime young athletes for competition — an exercise that would build stamina and flexibility and improve stability and strength. The Turkish get-up was born. A wrestler lay supine on the ground, one hand holding a kettlebell straight overhead. As the name suggests, all he had to do was, well, get up. “As legend goes,” says Pavel Tsatsouline, a strength and conditioning coach credited with bringing kettlebell training to the U.S., “if an athlete could complete a perfect get-up with a 100-pound bell, only then could his coach allow him to continue his training.”

A century later, the smartest people in fitness still embrace the get-up. “If you had to choose one exercise to do the rest of your life, Turkish get-ups would give you everything,” says New York trainer Don Saladino, who has used the move to get clients like Ryan Reynolds in superhero shape. That doesn’t mean lifting a 100-pound weight, either. Even holding a light kettlebell can leave you gassed, Saladino says. “The key is how slow you go: Continuous time under tension is when you see real benefits.”

Perform get-ups regularly and you won’t just get fitter — your body will be more bulletproof. “The get-up targets muscles that traditional strength exercises fail to develop,” says Tsatsouline. “It takes your shoulders through all planes and ranges of motion, making them more resilient and injury-proof.” Same goes for your hips and even your ankles. As Saladino puts it, “The get-up is the true test of mobility and strength.”

A caveat: Get-ups are not first-timer friendly. Completing just one is a seven-step process that can leave you fumbling for where a hand or foot should go — all while balancing an unwieldy metal orb above your head. But as with any new skill, practice will dial in muscle memory.

We broke down the movement step-by-step. Before using a weight, make a fist and put a sneaker over your hand. Once you can perform the entire move balancing the shoe on your knuckles, you’re ready for a kettlebell.

How To Do A Turkish Get-Up:

1. Lie faceup holding a kettlebell in your left hand with arm extended, eyes on the bell, left knee bent with foot planted. Extend right arm and leg to the side at a 45-degree angle.

2. Forcefully roll onto your right hip and forearm, left arm still locked in place. As you move, think about driving the knuckles of your left hand toward the ceiling.

3. With your right palm pressed firmly into the floor and left arm still straight overhead, throw your right leg behind you, placing your right knee down on the floor.

4. Keeping your left arm straight and eyes on the bell, press through your left foot to raise hips high and come up onto your right hand. Your right leg is still extended with heel on floor, and your arms should create a straight line.

5. Lift your right hand off the floor to rise to a kneel, maintaining left arm position with biceps close to your ear, abs tight. Eyes are off the bell for the first time; look straight ahead.

6. Stand up, squeezing glutes and pulling your shoulder blades down and back to maintain a solid trunk.

** Now reverse the movement — carefully retracing your exact steps and keeping your weight-bearing arm locked — to return to start. Repeat the entire sequence on the opposite side.

Try these variations

Doing a regular Turkish get-up gives you a hell of a workout. (Try the exercise with a 16-kilogram kettlebell — about 35 pounds — a few times on each side and you’ll see what we mean.) But you can also tweak the move to focus on a certain payoff, or use it to create a quick mini-routine. Here’s how.

Crank calorie burn

Grab a moderately heavy kettlebell, and begin the get-up — but once you come up to your forearm (step 2), lie back down. Now start again, coming up to your forearm, then bridging your hips and rising up onto your hand (step 3), then return to start. Keep this up, repeating one step each time you do the movement until you’re (finally) standing up. This not only extends the exercise for a killer cardio workout, it’s great for practicing your form. Consider once through on both sides as 1 round.

Do 8 rounds. Rest for 1 minute between sets.

Build more strength

Choose a heavier kettlebell than you’d normally use, and start a timer. Move through the steps of the get-up, but pause 5 seconds at each transition. Complete 1 rep on each side (that’s 1 round), then check your timer. That’s how much rest you get before the next round.

Do 5 rounds.

Create an entire routine

Using a moderate-weight kettlebell, do 5 goblet squats (holding the bell at your chest). Now do 10 kettlebell swings. Finish with 5 get-ups on each arm. That’s 1 round. This 10-minute bout from Tsatsouline pairs the get-up with squats and swings for a complete strength and conditioning routine. The key? “Approach it as a practice, not a workout,” he says. “The goal isn’t to get smoked — it’s to get better.”

Do 5 rounds.

FYI: Don’t make this mistake.

Once you’re lying back down at the end of a rep and ready to switch arms, resist the temptation to pick up the kettlebell and haul it across your face or chest to get it to your opposite side. “It’s dangerous, bad for your wrists, and it shows a lack of discipline,” says Saladino. (You surely care about at least two of those things.) The best practice: At the end of a rep, use two hands to guide the bell to the ground, then drag the weight in an arc on the floor around the top of your head and to your other side. Use both hands to lift the bell back up to your starting position.

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