May 3, 2012 — 9 Comments

Recently, the Whole9 published a 3 part series where they asked 12 fit pros which 5 exercises they would pick if they were only allowed to pick 5, in order to promote long term health and wellness.  I rehashed that article and provided a 7 day workout split that I think would be pretty sweet, utilizing the exercises that the experts provided.

Some people really got their panties in a bunch about the exercise selections (ok, one person), specifically the predominant inclusion of the TGU.  This person was arguing that the OHS was a superior exercise for health and wellness.  I do not believe it is, and clearly the other experts didn’t either, since they didn’t place the OHS ahead of the TGU.  The TGU was picked by 5 out of the 12 experts, and the OHS squat was picked by 2.  I will guarantee that if the blog post had 10 exercises, both numbers would’ve gone up.  I would like to discuss why I believe the TGU is superior to the OHS for health and longevity-in a fairly general manner. (I’m not going to address each specific detail in depth).

But first….gotta throw out some disclaimers and notes to stop silly arguments before they arise (hopefully):

  • I’m not saying the OHS is bad.
  • I’m not saying the TGU is perfect for everyone
  • I won’t entertain arguments such as “the TGU isn’t functional because you never have to hold a weight over head while lying and stand up” because that means you are arguing for the sake of it, and we could make that silly argument for pretty much any exercise.

Let me quote Dan John on each exercise:

TGU-“The Get Up (not the “Turkish Sit Up” as I often note) is a one stop course in the basics of every human movement from rolling and hinging to lunging and locking out.”

OHS-“the overhead squat requires total concentration, total lockout and perfect positions. There is no cheating; one can’t squirm, roll the knees or hips, or let other body parts help kick in. It builds “Dad Strength.” (my note-people CAN cheat, and WILL cheat, especially at lighter loads which are deemed as progressions or termed scaled down by some-poor movement done lightly isn’t scaled down, it’s poor movement)

These two quotes illustrate why for the discussion of TGU vs OHS in health and longevity the TGU is superior.  For building total badassery, I would put them in the same space-with a caveat, you have to be able to do the OHS well!  And that isn’t actually all that easy.

OHS common issues which produce ugly/scary/shitty form

  • ankle mobility
  • hip mobility
  • thoracic/shoulder mobility
  • shoulder stability
  • core stability
  • knee stability

Tell you a secret…..the TGU will help with hip mobility, thoracic/shoulder mobility, shoulder stability, core stability, and knee stability.

You cannot just throw someone into an OHS with less weight and think that the form will   “fix itself”.  You can’t just coach some people to dorsiflex more or stay extended in their posture.  Specific mobilizations, and support drills will need to be used.  This isn’t being lazy or ignorant in coaching, it’s being realistic and thorough.  Getting good at the TGU will help you to be able to OHS squat, and you can have beginners start getting up right off the bat, you just keep the load very light, or even unloaded when needed.  That doesn’t work with the OHS because if they are too tight/weak anywhere, they won’t be able to keep a good position since the bar will be held forward of the head, and as such they’ll be engraining poor movement, which is bad…even if it’s for more reps or more weight (in the short term)!

Lower body mobility is a huge limiter for the OHS, and makes the lift potentially dangerous if you cannot get into proper position, whereas the TGU single leg positions allow people to work around and improve the limited hip mobility (and stability).  Thoracic & shoulder girdle mobility/stability demands are monstrous in the the OHS, and can lead to really shaky movement they are poor.

The TGU allows you to work on each side more specifically, and that is another reason I believe that TGU is better is because it is unilateral.  I understand that you can ultimately load more on bilateral lifts, but more isn’t always better-it’s just more.  Having single shoulder, hip, leg ability is huge!  If you always are doing bilateral lifts, you will not develop unilateral competence.  I believe transference from unilateral and single limb lifts over to bilateral or double limb lifts is greater than the opposite direction.  And, many people hide unilateral stability problems, simply by being strong and competent in bilateral lifts (for instance, two hands overhead spreading the bar is actually using the bar shape to help gain stability, which you cannot do with only one hand. The weight wants to go wherever it wants to go, and the shoulder (not just shoulder) of the arm holding that weight has to really do its job on its own).  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO BE STRONG UNILATERALLY!

This post is pretty rambly, and that’s fine with me, so I’ll add another point: “core” training.  Both exercises train the core because it must be stable under load and while moving up and down.  However, the TGU also has elements of rotation and anti rotation, and lateral flexion and anti flexion—which is including so many more demands than the OHS.  At heavy weight the OHS core demands ARE huge…true, but even at lower weights the TGU delivers a more comprehensive training stimulus to the “core”.

I’m happy to have a quote here from Dallas of Whole9, I almost included a picture of him here, but didn’t want the dazzling beard to take attention away from the article.

“The “best” exercises (when selecting a very short list) aren’t always the ones that generate the most power. You can’t (at least shouldn’t!) do the TGU “for time”, but you could do light OHS fast if your technique and mobility were solid. But if you’re looking to develop genuine full-body strength and stability, you do so by paying attention to detail, and scaling the load such that you must be acutely engaged in the activity (there are no mindlessly-performed heavy TGU), not simply moving more weight or doing it faster. Quality of movement matters, and the TGU is not only self-correcting at heavier loads, but it is also an elegant way to improve both mobility and full-body, multiplanar strength at the same time.”

I guess summed up: the OHS makes you more badass once you are already decently awesome, until then it may be a poor choice to include due to limitations of the trainee.  The TGU is great for just about everyone to include, and will actually help you get to the point of being able to OHS.


9 responses to TGU>OHS


    Over the course of my years as a trainer, I have successfully taught the TGU to a wide range of clients, from geriatric populations, to neurologically impaired individuals, athletes, and recovering couch potatoes. While most of them hate it, once they have learned the sequence of movements, they automatically become more proficient at numerous functional patterns of muscle activation and coordination. However, I have only seen a small handful of people successfully learn how to perform an OHS. Restrictions in shoulder, ankle, and hip mobility are often compensated by excessive motion in the lumbar spike and knee, making heavy loads unwise and even light loads ineffective for training purposes. In a “best of” list of exercises, I strongly agree that the TGU wins hands down (or would that be hands up?)



    What are your thoughts on the TGU variation where, instead of bringing the opposite leg all the way back into the lunge position, you bring the knee up and perform a deep OHS into the standing TGU position? I personally find it more taxing and can’t go as heavy as with a normal TGU. I can also tell I’m not doing a perfect OHS, but I’m careful to move slowly and keep my shoulder in the correct position, as I would do with an TGU.

    Anyway, your thoughts on that variation and others are much appreciated. I loved the video you posted doing a shoulder press at each ‘stop’ along the TGU as well.


    Quick question. How important is proper form when doing TGUs? I’ve seen all kind of variations, mainly how people kick their legs back (or not).


    so do OHS with KB’s. Many problems solved in this debate.


      This isn’t a serious response, right? Have you tried overhead kb squats? Double overhead requires the same amount of thoracic extension as barbell but doesn’t offer the bar to rely on for stability. Single kb OH is better because you can use extension and rotation as you descend, but it still lacks all the additional benefits of the TGU

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Week in Workouts - February 18, 2015

    […] here’s a great post in reference to the TGU (Turkish Get Up) from Paleo f(x) veteran (and PFX13 speaker […]

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