Written by Will Safford – C.S.C.S
The Turkish get up is a technical move that is worth mastering for any BJJ player. If you’ve never heard of the TGU, it’s a full body exercise that requires you to rise from a lying position to a standing position, all while holding a weight overhead.
In most cases the kettlebell is the tool of choice when performing the get up, yet a dumbbell will work, sometimes a barbell if desired, and occasionally a human “load” is used, mainly for the “wow” factor however.
For the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the kettlebell and how it can be used specifically to benefit the BJJ player. Here are some of the many benefits that carry over to the mat:
- FULL BODY EXERCISE
- SHOULDER STABILITY
- CORE STRENGTH
- MOBILITY/MIMICS BJJ MOVEMENTS
- GRIP STRENGTH
The Turkish get up is a full body exercise that requires contribution from the shoulders, arms, chest, core, hips, glutes, and quads, and many of these muscles working cooperatively. Much like BJJ, the TGU requires functional groups of muscles to work together to facilitate movement.
How often on the mat are you pushing away with your feet and legs yet pulling in with your arms and back…and all while maintaining a stable core. The TGU has an amazing ability to illicit contribution from multiple muscle groups while demanding complete focus from the user, who must concentrate on a specific sequence of technical movements…a lot like performing a technique in BJJ.
The first time I was introduced to the get up was from best-selling author and fellow grappler Tim Ferriss. I mentioned I was battling some shoulder pain from BJJ and instantly he recommended I learn the get up for its benefits to the shoulder and rotator cuff.
When performed properly, the get up requires the user to maintain a “packed” shoulder, meaning tight in its socket, not loose and floppy. This trains good posture and good position of the humorous bone in the socket, while developing the small muscles around the shoulder, which work to stabilize the shoulder joint. Many times, these muscles are weak and underactive, leading to a shoulder that can move around undesirably in the shoulder girdle. This can result in issues like painful biceps tendinitis, nasty shoulder impingement, and at worst rotator cuff tears.
The TGU requires you to maintain and stabilize a weight overhead for an extended period of time, developing healthy, resilient shoulders. These qualities are essential for creating strong frames, pushing and holding off opponents, and defending against omoplatas, kimuras and americanas.
The Turkish get up is extremely unique in how it trains the core. It hits nearly all of the major core movements; flexion, rotation, and stabilization, while also training concentric, isometric and eccentric muscle contractions. It’s widely known that the core is hugely important in grappling, and all of the core’s functions are heavily tested during a match. The get up is one of the few exercises that demand your core to use all of these components in its entirety.
The first movement in the get up is an explosive contraction of the stomach muscles to get the overhead load, not to mention one’s own weight, moving from a “dead” position to a supported position on the elbow. This contraction makes the core strong and powerful, especially when performed with exceptional technique (no jutting of the neck, collapsing of the spine, or recruitment of the hip-flexor by lifting the leg off the ground) and with a heavy weight overhead (we’ll get into weight standards later.)
Next, the posterior chain is taxed when one drives the hip into the air to make space for the leg sweep coming through underneath. The side obliques get their queue when you must “hinge” from being supported by one hand and on one knee, to the upright and half kneeling position.
Next, a serious demand is put on all of the core’s musculature while stabilizing the spine when rising from a kneeling to standing position – all while maintaining the load overhead. These actions are then repeated on the way down, however with an eccentric contraction of the muscles, most noticeably on the last movement down to the mat when the user must slowly lower himself to the ground.
There is not a more “functional” way to train the core for BJJ then using the Turkish get up, especially when using strict form and a special focus is put on the core while performing the exercise.
(Poor form – collapsed spine, lifting leg, broken wrist) (Good form – proud chest, eyes on KB)
Mobility, another quality necessary for ease of movement and injury prevention in jiu jitsu, is developed while performing the Turkish get up. Unlike flexibility, which applies to muscles, mobility applies to joints, specifically the ability to express full range of motion within joints. There are two specific joints that come to mind when working the get up.
First, the shoulder joint must express range of motion when coming from the “hinge” position mentioned earlier to the “upright” position on one knee. This is the position where many people fail in the get up due to shoulder immobility and instability.
Second, the hip joint is mobilized when sweeping the leg under from the high bridge position. I cant begin to tell you how many clients I’ve seen get jammed up in this position due to poor hip mobility and/or mechanics.
Since white belt, I’ve been using the technical stand up during warm ups. We use this in warm ups not only because it’s a defensive technique used to get up and away from an opponent, but also because it forces you to mobilize or “warm-up” the hips by moving your legs from in front of you to under your hips.
This movement pattern is fundamental to BJJ and is developed and strengthened through the Turkish get up. This is also often why the get up is used first in one’s strength routine. It not only wakes up the whole body but also mobilizes important joints throughout.
Furthermore, the Turkish get up mimics movement patterns used in BJJ. The first explosive movement from the floor of the TGU is almost identical to when stuffing an opponent’s torreando pass from spider guard or escaping side control when an opponent is too low on the hips. This position is also used when coming up to the elbow in X-guard or 50/50.
The “leg sweep” of the get up, as mentioned earlier, is used obviously when performing the technical stand up to move away from an opponent, but also when coming up from many different sweeps including sweeps from X-guard, De La Riva, Reverse De La Riva, and Spider variations, to name a few.
The trick is to train the get up often enough to build muscle memory and develop strength in these positions, so the next time you find yourself there your training kicks in and you perform almost instinctively.
Another immensely valuable quality in BJJ grip strength. Yes strength is important, however grip strength endurance, I find is even more important as a match deepens into the final minutes and seconds.
When performing the get up with a heavy weight (above 53lbs) the grip is seriously tested. One rep with a heavy weight will surely tax your grip, but sets of five will see what your grip is really made of.
For an even tougher challenge, try a set of “bottoms up” get ups in your next workout. This will quickly humble many of us, and expose a limiting factor which will have you back down to the lighter sized bells in no time. Always remember, kettlebells hurt when dropped on your face so plan accordingly when choosing a weight for the bottom’s up TGU!
(Bottoms Up Position)
Finally, the Turkish get up can train explosiveness, although it is most typically trained at a slow, controlled tempo designed for strength. To train explosiveness from the floor, try starting with the kettlebell in the bottom of a floor press position, almost like a bench press position but on the floor.
The kettlebell handle should be resting in the scoop of the thumb and bell on the back of the forearm, hand stacked vertically over the elbow. Now from this position explosively press up from the floor directly to the elbow. Practicing this one movement of the get up alone, for reps, will make you explosive from the floor when blasting out of side control or framing away from an opponent.
Similarly, during the last step of the get up when you lunge from a kneeling position to a standing position, focusing on driving your force through the ground explosively will develop powerful takedowns and a strong base.
(Explosive TGU from floor)
The Turkish get up has too many benefits to be missing from the serious jiu jitsu player’s arsenal. I recommend first learning this movement with strict form and practicing it slowly, making each step separate and deliberate, without combining or passing quickly over any steps. Once this can be accomplished for five reps on each side with a 53lb kettlebell try working with a 70lber or more for single reps.
Once these milestones are met, add in the explosive reps from the floor press and bottoms up variations. The Turkish get up should be performed in the beginning of your routine with reps kept at or below five per side. When performing the “quarter get up,” or just up to the elbow from the back, you can add more reps. I like to work this particular part of the get up to emphasize being explosive through the core for no more than 10 reps, with 5 being optimal.
I recommend hiring a certified kettlebell trainer to learn the get up. There are many minor subtleties of the move that are often overlooked on YouTube University. So do yourself and your game a favor, and invest the time and resources into mastering the Turkish get up.