In recent years many strength coaches and physical fitness instructors are rediscovering relatively old exercises such as kettlebell swings, muscle ups, and squat thrusters. One exercise that hasn’t been rediscovered, but one that should be, is the good morning.
The good morning was a standard exercise for weightlifters in the 60s and 70s. In recent years lifters, especially in the US, dropped it in favor of the Romanian deadlift. However, the good morning exercise has become especially important in powerlifting, especially now as many powerlifters use a style that is characterized by a considerable amount of forward lean. Although not commonly used by bodybuilders, 1959 Mr. Universe Bruce Randall performed a variation of this exercise with 685 pounds.
The good morning is considered a class 3 lever, such that the barbell is the load, the spine is the lever arm and the hips are the fulcrum. A fishing rod and a broom are examples of class 3 levers. In contrast to the deadlift, which begins from a position of disadvantageous leverage, the good morning begins from a position of advantages leverage.
Whereas the deadlift begins with a concentric contraction, the good morning begins with an eccentric contraction. However, some powerlifters, perhaps to make the lift more sport specific to the deadlift, prefer to perform good mornings in a power rack with the safety rods placed so that the lift begins from a position of disadvantageous leverage.
An Olympic barbell is commonly used for the good morning, but many lifters prefer using a safety squat bar or a yoke bar. One advantage of these two types of bars is that they place less stress on the shoulders, so those with shoulder injuries may find these bars more comfortable. Also, chains and bands can be used to increase the resistance towards the finish of the movement, where you are strongest.
One of the concerns about good morning is that it could easily injure the lower back. The key to safely performing this exercise is to keep your knees slightly bent and to pivot from the hips – in fact, the lift could best be described as a “hip hinge” exercise. Also, do not round your lower back to increase your range of motion. That is the conventional technique of the good morning, but there are many more variations. Let’s look at a few.
One interesting variation of the good morning involves having you jump upward at the finish of the movement. It is popular among weightlifters as it simulates the finish of the pull, and could be valuable for athletes who want to increase their vertical jump. This variation requires considerable skill, as you must be able to absorb the stress of the landing by flexing the knees and ankles. As such, this variation should be considered an advanced exercise that requires coaching.
Another unique good morning variation has you bending as far forward as possible, even to the point of slightly rounding your lower back at the finish. It is used with relatively light weights and is considered more of a dynamic stretch. Andrew “Bud” Charniga, Jr. wrote about this variation in an article published in the NSCA Journal in 1986.
“In many athletic activities, such as Olympic weightlifting, the back is held straight during the fundamental exercises – snatching, jerking, cleaning, etc. Consequently, the erector spinae muscles are, for the most part, working isometrically, and are in a shortened state,” says Charniga. “A possible cause of low back pain resulting from a large volume/intensity of the aforementioned activities is that the erector muscles seldom are exercised dynamically or stretched at the same intensity with which they are normally utilized.”
Charniga says performing a good morning exercise with a relatively light weight through a full range of motion, such that the back is allowed to round slightly in the stretch position, serves as a therapeutic exercise for weightlifters. Before attempting such an exercise, you should seek out an experienced weightlifting or strength coach who has experience coaching this movement.
The good morning exercise, and its many variations, can be a valuable addition to those who are serious about getting stronger, more powerful, and staying injury-free. Rediscover this great exercise and see if you can find a place for it in your workouts.