Using the Heavy Bag Get-up to Boost Core Strength

By Arlo Gagestein, CSCS, LMT
Photos by Rob Norbutt

Core Strength exercisesRegardless of where you stand on the issue of strength vs. technique in martial arts, there is no debate that a fighter should have a strong core both to avoid injury and to improve performance. When it comes to developing core strength, few exercises challenge an athlete more than the Turkish Get-up (TGU). The TGU is a fantastic exercise for many reasons. It is a full body exercise (like fighting), it requires good hip mobility (also like fighting), and also requires tremendous lumbar stability while the legs are moving (kinda like, you guessed it, fighting!).

There are several varieties of TGU, but to more closely simulate the demands of the ground game, my athletes will often substitute a heavy bag over the shoulder for the more traditional kettlebell.

Heavy Bag Get Up is beneficial for several reasons…

  1. The exercise becomes more specific to grappling due to the pressure of the bag on the chest and slight compression of the lungs (similar to a good side control or North South position).
  2.  Many people are limited by poor shoulder mobility and/or stability. While true that the arm overhead increases core activation, a limited athlete is able to use significantly more weight with a bag over the shoulder. More weight also equates to more core activation. Comparing a 20 lb. weight overhead to a 80 lb. bag on the shoulder, you should be able to guess who is working harder. Our goal is definitely to improve shoulder mobility and stability as quick as possible in limited athletes, but if a limited athlete comes to me 8 weeks before a fight, I need to include exercises we can implement immediately.
  3. The heavy bag TGU is less technical. This benefits us again by substantially reducing the learning curve, allowing us to use heavier weight, and allowing us to incorporate the movement into conditioning drills without the increased risk of injury due to fatigue caused technical failure.

Depending on what size of heavy bag you use, the TGU is a fantastic exercise to train both core endurance and core strength. While it is extremely important to use a bag only as heavy as you can control, I’m convinced the heavier the bag, the more realistic the drill. Below are 4 drills to work the heavy bag TGU into your workouts based on the time you have available. Enjoy your new core strength!


Performing the Heavy Bag Get-up

The Lair

Begin lying on back with heavy bag across right shoulder and chest. With arm wrapped around bag, shift hips to the right under the bag as if hip escaping.

With weight on left hip, use left forearm and hand to sit up at an angle, leading with right shoulder and heavy bag.

Core Strength exercises

With heavy bag directly over hips, plant right foot and roll up onto left knee.

Core Strength exercises

While keeping core engaged, use right leg to rise to standing position. Reverse movement to return to starting position on the mat.
(Heavy Bag Get-Up demonstrated by WSOF fighter, Lucus Montoya)

4 Ways to Implement TGUs in Your Workouts

TGU Round – 5 minutes
For this drill, you will simply do non-stop TGUs with a heavy bag for 5 minutes to simulate a jiu-jitsu or MMA round. To get more repetitions in, switch shoulders every 5 reps rather than every rep. For multi-round athletes, rest 1 minute, then perform 5 minutes of another exercise for 3-5 rounds.

Turkish Death – 10+ minutes:
Set a timer to beep on the minute. Do one TGU and rest until the timer beeps. Switch shoulders and do 2 TGUs, then rest until the timer beeps. Continue switching shoulders and adding one repetition per minute until you can no longer keep up.

Roll and Lift – 16 minutes
For this drill you will roll with a training partner for 3 minutes, then immediately transition into 1 minute of heavy bag TGUs. Following your get-ups, return immediately to sparring. Continue non-stop for 4 total rounds.

Dirty Dozen – 20+ minutes
Do one TGU on one shoulder then perform one pull-up. Return to the TGU for two reps on the opposite shoulder followed by two pull-ups. Continue switching shoulders and adding one repetition to work up to 12 reps of each. To make this more metabolically demanding, add a 50 yd sprint between exercises.


arloArlo Gagestein has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Performance, is a Sports Massage Therapist, an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, an MMA Conditioning Specialist, a BJJ purple belt, a gym owner. Arlo is also the author of Warrior Core: Core Training Secrets for the Modern Combat Athlete and Battle Tested: How to Train Like Your Life Depends on It, to be released on Veterans Day 2016.

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