The GOOD MORNING Exercise –
“Wake up With a Smile”
by Roy J. Ebner
Have you been struggling with your deadlift and getting little or no improvement? How about your squat? Well, let me tell you about one movement that has the potential to send both those big lifts through the roof – THE GOOD MORNING.
The Good Morning exercise has unfortunately become somewhat of a relic and I believe that the major reason for this is that the movement is poorly understood and often seen as unnecessarily dangerous. When done correctly, the Good Morning exercise is safe and extremely effective at overloading the spinal erectors, hamstrings and glutes. The tremendous stimulation of the spinal erectors in particular makes this movement uniquely beneficial to the powerlifter.
For those who need a refresher or for those not familiar with the Good Morning, I’d like to review its basic execution. Then I’ll recommend how to incorporate this movement into your overall strength program.
The Good Morning exercise begins with the lifter standing upright with the bar positioned across the shoulders much like the squat. Experimentation will determine the best bar and foot placement, but I suggest at least starting from your basic squat stance. From the upright start position, the lifter descends into a ¼ to ½ squat position. From this point on, the legs are locked as the lifter flexes forward at the waist while keeping the head up. Descend until you reach near horizontal or 90 degrees. From the bottom position, keep the head up. lead with the back extending up and finish with the natural straightening of the legs. Remember to take a deep breath before the initial descent and hold it until you reach the last half of the ascent. This is extremely important to maintain stability. I have also found it very helpful to apply a downward force on the bar throughout the movement to keep the bar “locked in.” Don’t get too hung up if you can’t reach 90 degrees because this is most likely due to tight hamstrings or lower back muscles. Post workout stretching for these areas and practice will allow you to eventually attain a fuller range of motion.
It is important to note that this is not a Good Morning as is commonly performed by many bodybuilders and Olympic lifters. Their version is one in which the only movement is at the waist with the knees in a fixed, often hyperextended position. This may sound more effective because the lower back is isolated better, but in reality, the “power style” Good Morning is more effective and safer for working the glutes, hamstrings and the spinal erectors as they work together throughout the motion. This “power style” Good Morning in many ways looks like a poorly done squat, but don’t be misled into thinking that the movement involves too much of the legs and too little of the lower back. I can guarantee that after performing a properly executed set you won’t worry about the lower back getting enough work!
As a competitive powerlifter for the past fourteen years, I – as many others, have tried just about every movement there is to improve my lifts. The reason I recommend the Good Morning is that I have yet to use a motion that so completely works the spinal erectors through the whole length of the vertebral column as well as overloading the hips. After deadlifting, or back extensions, the stress is generally very concentrated in the lowermost area of the spinal erectors. However, after performing Good Mornings, you feel the spinal erectors stimulated through the entire length of the back.
Realize that the many layers that make up the spinal erectors run from the lower back region all the way up to the skull! the area we are all most familiar with is the broad, thick lumbar or low-back region, but this is only one segment. The bottom line is that for great the whole muscle must be worked! Top to Bottom.
Give the Good Morning a try as an alternate to the other low back motions you do, or in conjunction with them. Start very light and perform 3 sets of 6 reps once a week. I suggest they be performed after squats or on your deadlift day. But they should only be done once per week. I have found that pyramiding the weight for the three sets is the best way to warm the lower back and handle the heavier sets. An example might e 135x5, 165x3, followed by 185 for 3 sets of 6. NEVER take this exercise to failure. Specifically, choose a weight that you can complete knowing that you have a few more in you. This is a movement where we want excellent form at all times. Always use spotters positioned at each side of the bar or work within a power rack.
Be patient. I started two years ago with about 95 lbs. and recently completed 500x3 to a 90 degree position. In the beginning, the motion will feel very unusual, but like all new motions this will get better with time. I truly believe that anyone who puts some time in with this movement will make outstanding overall gains. Lastly, remember these key points:
1.) Perform this movement slowly – not explosively. Descend only as far as you feel comfortable (the range will come) and keep your head up as much as possible.
2.) Don’t ever go to failure. Pyramid up to your work sets and always finish knowing you could do a few more. I prefer sets of 6.
3.) Work on flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings after your workout.
4.) Always use spotters or work within the rack.
5.) Take a deep breath before your descend and hold it until you are out of the hole.