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November 9, 2010

December Turkish Getup and Kettlebell Swing Challenge


December Turkish Getup and Kettlebell Swing Challenge.

December is right around the corner. Last year a few hardy souls from the Kettlebell Inc. forums accompanied me on a little personal goal I’d set forth for myself involving nothing but Turkish Getups (TGU) and kettlebell swings for the entire month of December. We completed one TGU for every day of the month, and 7,000 swings.

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So, one on December 1st, two on the 2nd, up to 31 on the 31st of the month. One rep is from floor to standing with the kettlebell fully locked out, on both sides. This equals hundreds of reps of this exercise by the end of the month. We allowed one “Amnesty Day” per week from the exercise, to be taken any time. I think this year, two days off per week is acceptable.

I usually work with kettlebells from 16kg-40kg. Each day I would begin with the 16kg and “run the rack” up to the 40kg, then start back on the 16kg, until I reached the required number for that day.

Swings were completed as follows: 1,000 week #1; 1,500 week #2; 2,000 week #3 and 2,500 week #4, to be broken up in any way, with any weight. Any swing variation was permitted.

Why the TGU?
Some of you may recall that from October 1-November 6th, I did 5,000 kettlebell snatches. This was the third year for this goal.

In case you are wondering why I didn’t publicize it too much, it is because some people simply are not ready to snatch a kettlebell and injuries will likely result in people that are not ready to complete that kind of volume with that particular exercise. It is not very forgiving.

The Turkish Getup is another story. I don’t think you can do too many of them if you are doing them correctly. Yes, you can be stupid and do them with too much weight, too fast, or fail to pay attention and injure yourself. It is far from an “idiot-proof” exercise, that just anyone should attempt without quality instruction. But, since a good number of kettlebell instructors rightly focus on the TGU from the outset of kettlebell exercise, it should be accessible to most beginners.

Other benefits are that it is possible to work around an injury with the TGU. If someone is not able to complete the full movement, then perhaps only progressing to the sitting phase of the exercise (the Half Getup, as it is sometimes called) is appropriate. Also, being as the Christmas season is likely to be chaotic for many, who might not have access to kettlebells all the time, the TGU can be completed with any object. Dumbells, shoes, sandbags, or even just bodyweight work just fine if no kettlebells are available.

Repetition is the best teacher.
There are some lessons that only lots and lots of correct reps can teach. A martial art master once noted that 10,000 reps of each basic strike, block and kick is enough to attain a rudimentary understanding of each movement, but it takes 100,000 reps before anything like mastery occurs.

I recall that during a period in 1997, I went through a phase during my martial art training where I was completing almost 2,000 reps of each basic technique each week. I also recall tournament fighting during that period and being able to strike an opponent before I even realized I’d done so. I won’t over-intellectualize something that works, all I can do is work hard to somehow get the same result again.

I have found that the TGU is sort of “self-correcting.” Meaning, failure to do things like activate the lat and “seat” the shoulder will become obvious after enough reps with enough weight. Again, quality instruction is key here to avoid injury in the beginning, and to ensure that you are doing the movement correctly. I would advise using different weights throughout each training session.

The kettlebell swing is also something that is very basic, and while proper instruction is absolutely essential in the beginning, lots and lots of reps will be the best teacher. I think you’ll find that it is almost impossible to do 7,000 swings in one month with any appreciable weight incorrectly.

Benefits of the TGU and Kettlebell Swing:
Here is where things get a little subjective. When I did this last year, I noted that every muscle in my upper body stood out, and I felt stronger in every movement. I kick myself now for not taking detailed stats before and after, but I didn’t expect the gains to be so pronounced.

For lack of a better explanation, I felt like my whole body moved much more fluidly. I felt zero pain in my left shoulder, which had been bothering me for several months. It was like I had just given my body an overhaul.

I view the TGU as an injury prevention, flexibility and stabilization drill, not as a stunt or “max load” type of exercise. It is about making your body injury-proof.

Jeff Martone, of Tactical Athlete, credits this exercise with rehabilitating a laundry list of shoulder injuries, and says that it is rumored that the old time strongmen (the guys in the leopard skin tights and big mustaches) didn’t teach aspiring strongmen any exercise until they could do the TGU with 100lbs. Check out the link below for an article by Jeff on the TGU.
The Turkish Get-up

I know that the volume of kettlebell swings I did had something to do with it, as well. The legs, glutes, abdominals, back and cardiovascular system are taxed heavily during the swing. The final week includes almost 500 per day.

How many people do you know lose a pant size between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I didn’t, because I was already pretty lean, but I will say that at least one person reported that kind of result.

Who is in?
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