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Why the Turkish get-up is the most versatile exercise

Some exercises that increase your strength. Some exercises improve your mind-body coordination. The Turkish get-up does all this, and more

One exercise to rule them all.
One exercise to rule them all. (Istockphoto)

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One of the most underrated takeaways from working out is that, beyond just strengthening your muscles, it also promotes body coordination. Exercising also promotes better communication of the brain with the rest of the body, but even with itself. It is important to know that training the body in a specific way can promote ‘cross lateralisation’, which is the ability of one side of the brain to communicate with the other. 

Usually this happens with a multitude of exercises, especially those that involve cross-body movements and rotation. But what if there was one exercise that put the body through all of that and more in just a single rep? Well, there is. Enter, the Turkish get-up. 

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A Barbend article titled 10 Benefits Of The Turkish Get-Up To Elevate Your Entire Lifting Game sums up the benefits of the move in one of the best exercise sales pitches that I’ve read: “The Turkish get-up offers a legion of benefits for a host of training goals. Want to get stronger across your big lifts? Grab a kettlebell and perform some get-ups. Looking to improve your overhead mobility and stability in one fell swoop? Turkish get-ups. Searching for a unilateral movement that will increase your full-body strength, coordination, and help prevent injuries all at once? Learn the Turkish get-up.”

It adds that the exercise is not easy to learn, but is totally worth committing your time to. The get-up also works on increasing proprioception, which is basically how aware your body is and can react to its surroundings. A good place to start working on proprioception is walking backwards. Your Turkish get-ups will get better as you spend more time working on it, and like in every gym skill, it has levels of progression. The best part is, even 2-3 reps done a few times a week on each side are enough for its benefits to impact you. 

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While the kettlebell is the preferred equipment, there is no harm in starting with a shoe as weight. The exercise will start with you lying on the back, with one shoulder holding up the shoe (right hand in our example) while in a packed safe position (keep the arm, the shoulder and the core engaged throughout the move). The left arm is placed on the side at a 45-degree angle as shown in the video below, to help push the body as you move through the move. The right leg is planted on the sole of the foot and the left one is laid down (on the same side as the left arm). 

The first step is to learn the quarter or the half get-up. A quarter get-up would involve getting up while putting weight on the left arm to crunch up till only the left elbow is resting on the floor. Pause for two seconds and crunch up further until the elbow of the left arm is locked out and you are sitting on the floor, while looking up at the kettlebell or the shoe (or even just your raised right arm). At this point, the left leg is still flat on the floor, and the left arm is resting on the palm. 

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A half get-up would be when you “slide your left leg underneath you and toward your butt, placing your left knee and left ankle in a straight line with your left hand. Your left knee should be stacked directly underneath your left hip and the distance between your knee and your hand should be about the same length as your torso. If you need to adjust, adjust your knee and not your hand,” says an article on titled How To Do A Turkish Get-up. 

The full get-up involves standing up with the right arm still raised while holding the weight, and then reversing the entire move, till you are back to position one, which is lying down with only the right arm raised. The exercise involves many individual movements, including the lunge, the raised arm in an isometric hold, the hip bridge, the cross-body movement of employing your left hand and right leg to lift. Plus there’s the fact that balance is essential to keep the body from moving erratically. In one set of moves, you are working on your strength, your mobility, and your stability. There are very few skills which can be done with such ease and works on all three. The focus is also on two important joints: the shoulders and hips. 

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You need to be mindful of a few things while performing a Turkish get-up. Do not let your shoulders round while raising the arm, so choose your equipment and weight wisely. Make sure that the lying arm is placed at an angle that does not change too often. After all, the exercise needs a strong base, so do not let your knee cave in when you are shifting to and from the lunge position. Instead, emphasise on external rotation of the knee so that you can get onto your feet with more ease. 

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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