The good morning barbell is a controversial exercise. Dangerous according to one, while the other thinks that you prevent injuries with the exercise. Another point of contention is the weight to use. Partly because of all this controversy, the exercise has fallen into discord. Because when was the last time you saw someone do good mornings at the gym?
No, he did not invent the exercise. But Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell can give you credit for popularizing the exercise in powerlifting circles. We don’t know if he came up with the name.
Why are good mornings called good mornings? According to Wikipedia because the (downward phase of the) exercise is similar to the movement when you sit up in bed in the morning (only from a different perspective). But the online encyclopedia doesn’t refer to a source, so one of the authors of the article may have pulled that off their thumbs.
Rather, we see similarities with the way people greet each other in certain Eastern cultures. But that too is guesswork. The ‘good morning’ may have been coined by a sarcastic trainer.
Some of the best (auxiliary) exercises are rarely if ever performed in gyms. The barbell good morning is one of them. If you do, you run the risk of some newbie telling you you’re squatting wrong.
The reason the exercise is so unpopular? It is primarily an exercise for your lower back. More precisely your back stretcher (erector spinae). And that’s not exactly a muscle that is at the top of the priority list of the average gym goer. What they don’t know, or conveniently ‘forget’, is that the lower back is the weak link in many exercises. Strengthen your lower back, and you can do lots of other exercises heavier or do more reps. That doesn’t just apply to squats and deadlifts, but also for practically every (rowing) exercise for your upper back: bent-over barbell and dumbbell rows, cable rows, T-bar rows et cetera.
Another reason good mornings are unpopular is the exercise’s bad reputation, as we mentioned in the introduction. But good mornings are intrinsically as (harmless) dangerous as any other exercise. On the other hand, a wrong or too heavy performance can make any exercise a cause of injury.
VARIANTS AND DIFFERENCES
We see the barbell good-morning first and foremost as an exercise for the lower back. That is why we prefer the version with (slightly) bent knees.
If you do good mornings with your legs straight, then you shift the emphasis to your hamstrings. Those hamstrings are still an important auxiliary muscle in the variant with bent knees.
Finally, you can also perform barbell good mornings seated, on a plyo box, with which you shift the accent to your gluteal muscle.
MUSCLES AT WORK
As mentioned, barbell good mornings (with bent knees) primarily focus on your lower back. It will receive help from your large gluteal muscle, hamstrings and large thigh adductors. Your quadriceps counterbalance and stabilize things. In your upper body, your abs do more or less the same.
Note that barbell good mornings are considered isolation exercises, even though there is minimal movement in the knee joint during the performance. Also note that the target muscle is trained isometrically, ie not shortened/lengthened during the run.
EXECUTION AND EXECUTION TIPS
Like any exercise you first venture into, start your barbell good-mornings with a conservative, i.e. relatively light weight. A standard 20 kilogram barbell will offer most beginners a sufficient challenge.
Position the bar on your upper back (on your traps or, if you prefer, slightly lower, on your back shoulders). Start the move by first bending your hips (butt back) and tilting your torso forward. Your knees will bend more or less by themselves. The degree of knee bend depends on your hamstring flexibility, or rather, the lack of it. Once your torso is nearly horizontal, or parallel to the floor, come back up by straightening your hips. Keep your (lower) back straight throughout the exercise. Are your good mornings very similar to a squat? Then you really have to work on your hamstring (in)flexibility.
Are you unable to get out of the bottom position of the good-morning? Then bend your knees and make the transition to the squat. With the help of your quadriceps, you can get out of this awkward position.
Preferably you perform the exercise in a power rack, so that you can always put the weight on the safety bars in the event of a failed repetition.
BARBELL GOOD MORNINGS DANGEROUS?
Intensity is a point of contention with barbell good mornings. According to some coaches and trainers, for your safety, keep the weight down and focus on reps. Another reason for this is the relatively high proportion of type I muscle fibers in your erector spinae. That’s the muscle fiber type associated with endurance rather than strength.
Barbell good-mornings owe their dangerous reputation to the fact that they have a long load arm. That is, the load is relatively far from the pivot point. The longer the load arm, the heavier it becomes to lift the load. This means that you can also make the exercise heavy with relatively light weights. The risk of injury increases if you perform the exercise too hard, because it becomes more difficult to maintain correct technique. And incorrect technique increases the risk of injury. But that basically applies to any exercise. Only with barbell good-morning it is true that if you injure yourself, your lower back is the guilty one. And injuries to your lower back are always very annoying and not the type of injury you can train ‘around’.
However, all this in itself is not an argument against performing barbell good-mornings relatively hard, just like other exercises, if an increase in muscle strength is your training goal. If you’re purely strengthening a muscle, focus on weights that are fairly close to your one-rep max (1RM), the weight you can’t do more than one rep with. This is no different for the erector spinae. As long as there is no flexion in your lower back (lumbar vertebrae), the barbell good-morning is a low-risk exercise.
Personal note: I usually train the good morning in the limited range of 4-6 reps. Nothing more nothing less. Note that I always stay one or two reps away from failure. My personal experience is that relatively high numbers of repetitions are actually disastrous for my lower back. Then again, there aren’t many reasons to do heavy singles, doubles, or triples for a relief and isolation exercise like this.
PLACE IN YOUR TRAINING PROGRAM
Good mornings are more mechanically related to deadlifts than squats. That could be an argument for doing them after deadlifts, as an auxiliary exercise. However, your lower back is usually so worn out after a heavy deadlift session that you may want to do them on your squat day, after your squat work that is.