Watch Your Back!

by Jarrod Fobes

Amber Glasgow, of the Ledaig Heavy Athletics Club, performs a Turkish Get Up with 35 pounds. The Turkish Get Up is a great exercise to strengthen muscle imbalances in the back.

Injuries have shaped a lot of my training, and there is nothing that will get you thinking more about how you train than an injured back. Bum knee? Work your upper body for a while. Injured shoulder? Train around it. Hurt your back? You won’t be in the gym for at least a few weeks. After my last back injury I got busy researching back health and learning what I could do to prevent any future relapses. From what I’ve learned, spinal “prehab” can be distilled down to two major factors. Here’s what they are and what you can do about them.

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalance refers to any break in the symmetry of the muscular system. You don’t want your right side stronger than your left, or your front stronger than your back. Most of you have heard that to protect your back, you should strengthen your abdominals. Strong abdominals are important to provide a counter to the powerful muscles of the lower back, but they are only part of the equation. Is your left hip flexor stronger than the right? Then your hip may be pulled down on the left side, and your back will struggle to compensate for it. Are your hamstrings disproportionately stronger than your quads? That may have an effect on the stability of your knee. If your knee goes out, your hips may start compensating for your injured knee. From there the chain of compensation can easily reach your back.

Fortunately there are two exercises that are terrific for correcting major muscle imbalances. One is the Turkish Get-up, already and official USAWA lift. The other is the One Legged, One Armed Deadlift.

If you are balancing on your right leg, you will grab the weight with your left hand. Put a slight bend in the knee of your support leg. As you lean forward to grasp the weight, your non-support leg should rise up, keeping in as straight a line as possible with your back. Maintain that alignment as you stand up with the weight. As with any deadlift, don’t let your head droop forward.

Both lifts should be trained heavy, but not to failure. Within a month or two diligently giving each side of your body equal work with these lifts, you should have corrected the major imbalances in your body. But stay on guard against overworking one side or the other in day-to-day life too: if you ride a bike, don’t always push off with your dominate leg. If you carry a kid around, make sure you use both sides of your body for roughly equal time. You get the idea.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance is the ability of a muscle to work for a prolonged period of time. It is related to, but separate from muscle strength, which most of us focus on in the gym. Many of us have strong backs, but inexplicably still have back problems. That’s because while we may be able to lift enormous loads with our backs, we haven’t conditioned them to handling sustained, symmetrical loads. Just as being able to do 100 push-ups may not translate into a huge bench press, heavy deadlifts do little to condition our backs to prolonged work. That is why kettlebell swings are so important.

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. You should have about a 90-degree bend in your knees, as well as at your waist. Do not let your back round, and keep your head up. The kettlebell (or whatever implement you decide to you use) will be in both hands tucked under your behind. Your wrists should rest on your inner thighs.

From this position, explode forward with your hips, extending the legs and back. The weight should stop at 12-o’clock, directly over head with your arms straight. A common mistake is to initiate the movement with the arms. The explosive hip extension should provide the momentum to get the weight moving. Guide the weight back down to the starting position, and repeat.

Since we’re focusing on muscle endurance, execute a high number of reps, at least 75. Focus on maintaining a high rep speed, too. This will mean starting with a lighter weight than most of us like to be seen with in the gym, but do it anyway. If 75 is too daunting, start with 3×25, and “steal” reps from the last set and give them to the first in following workouts. So following rep schemes might look like 35×25x15, 50×25, etc until you reach 75 reps. Once you can handle 75 you have the option of increasing weight or increasing reps. Besides muscle endurance, my posture has improved greatly since adding kettlebell swings to my routine. I recommend them to anyone whose shoulders roll forward. Another benefit of this exercise is the tremendous cardiovascular work it provides. If done with speed, explosiveness, and adequate weight, your heart will really be pumping by the end!

New Lift – the Turkish Get-Up

The starting position for the Turkish Get-Up.

by Al Myers

This is the only new USAWA lift approved at Nationals that I haven’t highlighted yet with a story.   It is a very unique lift in many ways.   The Turkish Get-Up  is NOT really a new lift as it was a favorite with old-time strongmen, and has been around forever.  It at times was called the “One Arm Get-Up”, and often trained by lifters that also specialized in wrestling, gymnastics or hand-balancing. Guys like Sig Klein loved it.  I first heard of the Turkish Get-Up several years ago when I read Brooks Kubik’s book Dinosaur Training.  In it he described the benefits of this exercise – how it strengthens the stabilizer muscles, improves flexibility, and  increases core strength.  The book mentions the old-time strongman Otto Arco and how he could do a Turkish Get-Up with MORE than his own bodyweight.  That is impressive!

During the rise from the platform, the lifting arm must remain straight.

We have two similar USAWA lifts to the Turkish Get Up – the Half Gardner and Full Gardner.  However, the Turkish Get-Up is a different lift in a couple of ways.  The TGU starts on the floor – the Gardner lifts start standing.  The TGU requires the use of a dumbbell or kettlebell – the Gardner lifts require use of a bar.  It is the “missing link” to the Gardner Lifts. I have mentioned this before but I am going to repeat it again.  This formula “sums” up these three lifts:

Full Gardner = Half Gardner + Turkish Get-Up

Last weekend at the Ledaig Record Day, several of us got to be the first ones to put a Turkish Get-Up record in the USAWA Record List.  This included  Dave Glasgow, Amber Glasgow, Chad Ullom and myself.  The TGU is a very popular exercise for trainees outside of the All-Round crowd.  Just “goggle” Turkish Get-Up and you will see what I am talking about.  The Cross-Fit trainees love this exercise!  But now since the TGU is an official lift of the USAWA, we are the ONLY weightlifting organization that maintains records for it.

Chad Ullom demonstrating the steps of a Turkish Get-Up with a 70 pound kettlebell at the Ledaig Record Day.

The Rules for the Turkish Get-Up

A dumbbell or kettlebell is used for this lift. The lift begins with the lifter lying on his/her back on the platform holding the implement in one hand above the body with a straight arm perpendicular to the platform. Once in this position, an official will give the command to start the lift. The lifter must rise to a standing position, holding the implement overhead with a straight arm throughout. The lifting arm must stay perpendicular to the lifting platform. The lifter may use the free hand to brace against the body or the platform during the execution of the lift, but must not touch the implement or the lifting arm. The implement may rotate in any direction. Once standing with the implement overhead, the implement motionless and the lifter’s feet in line with the body, an official will give a command to end the lift.

The Turkish Get-Up will be included in the updated USAWA Rulebook coming the first of August!

The Turkish Get Up

"It is a splendid exercise and showy feat to lie down and regain upright position holding a dumbbell overhead" - Thomas Inch

I recently received an email from Brian Brown, of Dubuque, Iowa asking the question – Why is the Turkish Get Up not an USAWA lift? Well – my answer was IT SHOULD BE!!!! This was a very popular lift among old-time strongmen. It was a favorite of such greats as Arthur Saxon, George Hackenschmidt, and Sig Klein. Thanks to Brian for providing this writeup about the Turkish Get Up.

The Turkish Get Up by Brian Brown

The Turkish Get Up is a great old-time strongman exercise in addition to being a great shoulder rehab, core building, and flexibility enhancing exercise. It also works all the muscles of the body, so it’s a great exercise to have in your arsenal in case you’re short of time for a workout.

In truth I don’t know what’s Turkish about the Get Up. I do know that you can do a Get Up with two hands or one hand. Typically the Turkish Get Up refers to the one-hand version of the Get Up. And you can use any kind of resistance you like, whether it be a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, sandbag, or your kid. I’ve tried it with my kids — it’s a great circus trick and they like it too!

To perform the Turkish Get Up, lie on your back with the weight overhead in one hand. While keeping your elbow locked and the weight overhead you ‘get up’ to a standing position. For competition purposes, this would be the end of the movement. But for training purposes, it’s more challenging if you then reverse the movement until you are lying back on the floor. Then you repeat for the other arm.

The basic sequence of the Turkish Get Up is as follows, to begin the movement, crunch your abs and obliques while moving the dumbbell slowly forward, then push off the floor with your free arm. If you can make it to the sitting position, you are pretty much home free! Then bring your leg opposite the weight underneath your body so that you are in a lunge position, then stand up with the weight.

There is another method whereby after you are in the sitting position, you get in the deep (seriously deep!) overhead squat position and stand up from there. But this is much more difficult than the ‘lunging’ method and requires quite a bit more flexibility and as such, less weight can be used.

Jeff Martone commented that the Turkish Get Up helped to rehab his bad shoulder. I’ve found this to be the case also. I had a delicate right shoulder from too much bench pressing and shot putting when I was in high school. When I discovered the Turkish Get Up a few years ago my shoulder problems disappeared. Also I have a friend with chronic back problems and he said that his back problems diminished remarkably after including the Turkish Get Up in his program. There is something unique to this movement in that the shoulders and hips seem to rotate around the axis underneath the weight, providing beneficial full range of motion.

I recommend sticking with low repetitions with this movement, unless you’re using it for a warm-up. Even with low reps, the Turkish Get Up can provide quite a metabolism boost. In the following video sequence I’m breaking my PR in the Turkish Get Up using 86.25 pounds (not bad for 6′2″, 188 lbs, and 36 years, if I don’t say so myself). Notice that I’m under the load for roughly 55 seconds. How many of these ’singles’ do you think I could handle in a workout? I can almost get around a 400m track in that amount of time!

A nice, challenging, simple workout is to do the Turkish Get Up as described above, but to insert an overhead squat once you are in the standing position, then continue with the Turkish Get Up by reversing the movement to the floor, and repeating with the other arm. You could also insert a press once you are in the standing position. I also like to superset Turkish Get Ups with a heavy lower body movement like squats since I use dumbbells for the Turkish Get Up and my bar is free for another movement.

What type of resistance you prefer is up to you. Based upon my experience, a barbell is easier than a dumbbell due to the additional balance provided by the length of the bar. And a kettlebell is easier than a dumbbell because the kettlebell rides a bit lower on the arm. For me, it’s easier to get the dumbbell into position compared to a barbell or a kettlebell.

It is said that back in the day, weightlifters had to Turkish Get Up 100 pounds before they were allowed to learn the Olympic lifts. This exercise is also supposed to be a staple of cage-fighters. 100 pounds is my goal, but I’ll leave the cage fighting to the pros!