History of the Turkish Get Up

Objective and Background

Turkish Get-Ups (“TGU”) are commonly employed in CrossFit workouts, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss the origin and history of the TGU.

A Wrestling Scenario To Help Visualize the Functionality of the TGU

A TGU is a functional movement, training a wrestler/grappler to escape from the bottom position and get back on their feet in  a fight. This is easier said than done, especially when the guy on top is driving his shoulders into your chest and jaw and you are gassed. The guy on bottom first needs to create space between him and the guy on top.  He needs to get his shoulders and hips both off the ground and away from the guy on top. The guy on bottom’s second movement is to use his arms and or legs to maintain space and thereby keeping the guy on top from pressing the advantage. The guy on bottom’s third move is to pop up into the standing position. All three movements may involve the guy on bottom using a stiff arm to keep the heavy/fast/angry guy on top at bay.

Performing TGU’s during training prepares the wrestler for this challenging technique in a fight.

The Distant History of the TGU

Turkish wrestling developed over the past couple thousand years, and is an outgrowth of the steppe tribes that used to inhabit the area now known as Turkey. Nearby locations, especially towards the Levant and Europe were developing into agricultural societies. Not so for the peoples occupying ancient Turkey–they maintained the lifestyle of steppe tribes.

If you’ve never lived as a steppe tribesman, its a tough life. If your hunt is unsuccessful, you don’t eat. As such, martial training started young. Prior to the advent of Islam both boys and girls were trained in this rough and tumble culture. Later, just boys went through this specialized training.

The steppe tribes were horse warriors and they learned to ride and fight from an early age, becoming expert warriros. When they raided enemies, each warrior had numerous horses. Using a sort of High Intensity Interval Training, the warriors would ride one horse at a high speed until exhaustion, then switch horses. Each horse would get a long break from carrying a rider. This method ensure a very high average speed over very long distances (in fact this high average speed of steppe armies was not equaled until perhaps the 20th century and then only sporadically).

Mind you, these were not occupation armies…just raiding parties. One reason steppe warriors including Gehngis Kahn’s empire fell apart was his armies were just this…raiding parties…not armies of occupation intent on staying anywhere very long. They moved fast, fought hard, and moved on. In contrast European armies moved at the pace of the slowest element–the baggage train.

Their bows were made of bone and sinew, since wood was not available. Warriors had to be trained from youth to be strong enough to string these bows. It is highly likely that Odysseus‘ bow was of this type, and none of the suitors had the strength to string that bow…just Odysseus.

The Turkish wrestling culture originates from this tough world of mounted steppe warriors.

The oldest sporting event in the world (that I am aware of) is the Turkish Wrestling Championships known as Kirkpinar. This contest has been held every year since 1640. Unlike Wimbledon, no light cake and strawberries are consumed. Just lots of tough guys wrestling in an open field.

In “old school” Turkish wrestling, there was no time limit. No. Time. Limit. That meant wrestlers needed strength and tremendous muscular endurance. Even wrestling a few minutes would gas most people and these old school matches might last all day and night and maybe into the next day until a victory was decided.

Modern Turkish wrestlers have I think an hour and a half time limit, followed by a quick tie breaker if necessary. Compare this to even a championship UFC bought of no more than 25 minutes.

The TGU was devised to help prepare these wrestlers for such bouts.

Performing the TGU

This blog post from Robertson Training Systems does a nice job illustrating how to perform a TGU, so I won’t repeat that here.

This video shows an interesting variations of the TGU, called the MMA Get Up (called the “self defense get up” in the second part of the video). We trained the MMA Get Up all the time at Ground Control Baltimore. This is essentially an “unweighted” TGU, so perhaps a good place to learn the basic movement pattern before adding load.

Why CrossFit Athletes Should Perform TGU’s

The TGU is a super important movement pattern to understand and master, especially if you are a grappler. The TGU movement challenges an athletes coordination, strength, muscular endurance, and core stability–all also obviously important to CrossFit.

Once the CrossFit athlete masters the basic movement pattern, the athlete can challenge load, reps, and intensity.

TGU can be performed unweighted (common), loaded with kettlebells (quite common), loaded with sandbags (uncommon, but a slightly different technique), loaded with barbels (uncommon…and an extra dimension of balance and coordination), and loaded with a training partner (uncommon…and with an added dimension of strength and trust between training partners).

Try a TGU the next time you are at the box. And know the TGU’s part in the history of functional fitness.

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