Have you heard of the Turkish uprising? Kick it up a notch with the kettlebell gladiator lift—it promises even more fire for your shoulders, arms, chest, back, core, and legs. Intrigued, I tried the muscle-burning kettlebell exercise every day for seven days to see what I would notice on my body.
If you’ve never heard of the kettlebell gladiator lift, it’s very similar to the standard Turkish get-up, but you’ll rotate your body and leg to face the opposite direction as you move into a lunge. If you’re currently trying to imagine the logistics, don’t worry. Fitness trainer Oscar Smith demonstrates below in collaboration with Living.Fit.
In the meantime, grab one of the best kettlebells for weightlifting and join me on the mat to see how I did doing this spicy full-body kettlebell workout every day for a week.
How to do gladiator kettlebell lifts
You will follow the basic steps of the Turkish Lift with a little twist at the end. Here’s what happened when I did 70 push-ups every day for a week to strengthen my core if you want to go deeper into the technique.
- Start on your back and grab the kettlebell with your right hand using an underhand grip
- Engage your core and punch your right arm overhead, in line with your shoulder
- Bend your right knee and plant your foot down. Extend your left leg and rest your left arm close to your body
- Tighten your upper body muscles, then sit down and place your left elbow on the floor behind you
- Keep your right arm securely overhead and your arm locked out. Look at your weight
- Push up again and transition from left elbow to left hand on ground, arm now straight
- Push through your right heel and press your hips up
- Keeping your core tight, sweep your right leg around, face the back of the room, and place your right foot down in a low lunge. Place your left knee down, holding the bell overhead and your toes up
- Raise your left arm and straighten your torso
- Push through front foot to stand, left foot meeting right hip-width apart
- Pause, then bring your left leg back into a reverse lunge, knee resting on the ground
- Return each step back to the starting position and switch sides.
I did the kettlebell gladiator exercise every day for a week – here’s what happened
Here’s how it went.
My core was working hard
Your core may be doing a crunch, but it also hits every major muscle group—and so does this variation. During the compound exercise, you’ll transition from lying down to standing while supporting the kettlebell overhead. At no point should it go sideways or move away from alignment with the shoulder. It requires a lot of core and shoulder stability and full body muscle engagement.
I had never tried the gladiator lift before this challenge, and the added rotation fired up my core, activating my obliques and working my shoulders and torso harder than I expected.
I reduced the weight of the kettlebell
Sometimes, less is more. I found myself swinging my leg to change the direction of the lift, testing my balance, coordination and stability. Dropping a few pounds helped me maintain control over each phase of the exercise and execute it correctly without lifting my ego. It’s not easy for me, I must admit.
I dropped the weight several times
As I lifted my leg to swing to the forward flying position, I lost control of the bell more than a few times. Luckily I had one of the best yoga mats under me and was able to bend my elbow to break the fall. It took me a while to properly master the exercise and keep the bell struck overhead in a secure, locked position. I didn’t expect it to be this difficult.
My technique has improved
Over the course of the week, I became much more confident with technique, and my arms finally stopped traveling wide as I transitioned to jumping jacks. I felt significantly more confident on my dominant right side than my left, so I lifted a weight (10kg) that worked for my weaker side and focused less on reps and more on nailing the movement pattern.
When training clients, I always encourage lifting for your weakest muscles during a weightlifting workout. There’s no point in using a weight that your underperforming muscles can’t handle, and you can create muscle imbalances and lack of coordination further down the line. In turn, this increases your chances of overuse and injury.
My shoulders had the biggest impact
Gladiator lifts recruit a whole bunch of muscles, including your shoulders, back, triceps, hip flexors, core, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Stabilization muscles like the rotator cuffs (the muscles that support your shoulders) and the erector spinae (the muscles that hug your spine) also work hard to keep you upright and in control.
I have a weak left shoulder and at times struggled to keep the kettlebell overhead. Over the years, I’ve developed a quick shoulder mobility routine that works best to prepare my upper body for exercise. This move still burned my shoulders every day, but my left shoulder felt better prepared for when I would go up on the gladiator.
I did the kettlebell Gladiator Get-up every day for a week, and here’s my verdict
If you’re new to gladiator lifting, you won’t have to nail it the first time – it’s all about practice, practice, practice. I recommend warming up with body weight and gradually increasing the weight. A dumbbell is often easier to hold than a kettlebell; Kettlebells require a firm grip and forearm strength. Otherwise, your wrist sits in flexion. Here’s how to properly hold a kettlebell and some grip techniques worth brushing up on.
Watch the weight; doing so should keep you balanced during tricky transitions. Of course, the hardest part of the move involves sweeping the leg around, so keep your hips lifted high to give you the best possible range of motion and squeeze as many muscles as possible to control the transition.
By the seventh day, I felt ready and willing to leave the gladiator pose – that is until I found the first opportunity to introduce it to my clients. You get a little bit of everything with this kettlebell exercise—rotation, extension, and flexion. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps per side and don’t go too hard too soon.
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