Variety is a key concept in designing weight training programs. I’ve found that after about six sessions of the same workout, most individuals reach a point of diminishing returns and progress stops. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a wide variety of exercises in your training toolbox.
To introduce variety, you don’t have to go to the extreme, such as by replacing upright rows with snatches, or a deadlift with a leg press; you can simply vary how a basic exercise is performed. For example, back squats can be replaced with front squats, or close-stance squats with wide-stance squats, or perhaps power snatches with deadlifts. Even a relatively simple exercise such as the good morning has several variations.
In the history of bodybuilding, Bruce Randall had no equal when it came to performing this exercise. Between January 3, 1953, and August 2, 1955, the 6'2" Randall increased his bodyweight from 203 pounds (92 kg) to 401 pounds (181.8 kg) with a combination of heavy weight training and consuming quantities of food that exceeded the circumference of his head. And in 1959 he won the NABBA Mr. Universe title at a bodyweight of 222 pounds (100.6 kg). At his peak strength Randall deadlifted 770 pounds (331.8 kg), achieved a 228-pound (103.4 kg) biceps curl and did a rounded-back (yes, rounded-back) good morning with 685 pounds (310.7 kg).
A rounded-back good morning is one variation I do not recommend, as it subjects the lumbar vertebrae to high levels of harmful shear force. For a detailed discussion of the peer-reviewed research on this subject, I highly recommend Stuart McGill’s exceptional textbook, Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation (Human Kinetics, 2007). But there are other variations of the good morning I do recommend.
Olympic-style weightlifters have traditionally embraced the good morning as a key exercise in their training. One typical approach has been to start the exercise with the back arched and knees slightly flexed, and then lean forward (shifting the hips backward) until the bodyweight shifts towards the balls of the feet. But this was not the only variation of the good morning that weightlifters have performed.
Bud Charniga is a weightlifter who in 1974 snatched 352 pounds (160 kg), 2.5 kg off the American record in the heavyweight 242-pound (110 kg) bodyweight division. In 1979 Charniga visited Russia and observed weightlifters performing several variations of good mornings, including one in which the legs were straight and the head was touching the knees (ouch!) and also seated good mornings. He wrote about his observations in an article entitled “Exercise Techniques: Variations and Rational Use of the Good Morning Exercise,” which was published in the February 1986 issue of the NSCA Journal.
I’ve often prescribed seated good mornings in my workout programs, as they allow the trainee to build up the erector spinae without compromising the spinal structure. But I perform these with the barbell resting on the back of the shoulders – not the front of the shoulders. Let me explain.
Several years ago a colleague of mine designed a lower back rehab program. This trainer is a former Mr. Universe winner, PICP level 3, with over 20 years of experience. The workout includes the seated good morning exercise.
Because this trainer had to leave his gym for a week to attend one of my seminars, he asked one of his employees to show the lower back program to a client. This dimwit employee decided that it would be better to have the client perform this exercise by holding the barbell on the clavicles, as it would be safer on the shoulders. There are several problems with this idea, one involving gravity.
The trainer failed to consider the effects of gravity when the torso comes to be parallel to the floor. Trying to hold the bar on the clavicles in this position places tremendous strain on the rhomboids and rotator cuff muscle.
My colleague’s blood pressure was going through the roof as he related the story to me and several of my colleagues over dinner. I was laughing so hard that I had to put manual pressure on my spleen in order not to rupture it. All of us present at dinner emphatically recommended sacking this guy right away, before he got it into his head to recommend lean-away squats on a Bosu ball.
Strength coaches and even weightlifting coaches seldom prescribe good morning exercises, generally preferring instead to focus on other posterior chain exercises such as the Romanian deadlift. It doesn’t mean that the good morning is not a good exercise but, more likely, that a coach simply doesn’t understand the purpose of the exercise or how to teach it.
Don’t be that coach. To learn how to most effectively perform and teach exercises such as the good morning and its variations, enroll in the PICP certification program. It’s a smart choice!
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