HISTORY OF THE GOOD MORNING EXERCISE

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Depending on the gym you attend Good Mornings are either a commonplace exercise or a complete rarity. Aside from the cynical observation that far too many back squats one sees in the gym are bastardised good mornings, the reality is most like the latter. Used by numerous bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes, the Good Morning is oftentimes a neglected thing, confined to a few strange individuals no doubt wearing belts and high heeled shoes.

This, the present post argues, is a rather pitiful thing. The Good Morning has a long and rich history within the Iron Game, one that we’re going to delve into today.

What Is It?

To clear any misconceptions, today’s post is not about a friendly greeting phrase uttered to one’s neighbours but rather the posterior chain exercise that admittedly looks rather odd. Beginning with a barbell across ones trap muscles, similar to a back squat, lifters will slightly bend their knees, kick their ass out and bring their upper torso as close to parallel to the floor as possible.

Pictures paint a thousand words, so videos must be twice as good eh?

Right now that the admin is out of the way we can get onto the good stuff.

The Origins of the Exercise

Similar to the squat, it is nigh on impossible to pinpoint one man or woman and proclaim with certainty that they invented the exercise. What we can do is trace the earliest mentions of the exercise and then go from there. Now regular readers of this post will already be acquainted with Hermann Goerner, the early twentieth-century strongman know for his incredible deadlifting ability.

Pulling seemingly inhuman weights with just his pinky fingers, Goerner’s posterior chain was in layman’s terms, stacked. While this was undoubtedly the result of his tremendous affinity with the deadlift, Logan Christopher and Edgar Mueller both cited Gorner using the Good Morning exercise, or some rudimentary variant, as part of his training. Unfortunately for us, I have been unable to ascertain whether this was at the beginning of Gorner’s training career in the 1910s or later in the 1930s.

In any case, it is clear that by the 1920s and 1930s the exercise was a rather commonplace one. Plundering the excellent website that is the The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban reveals a series of fascinating articles and chapters on this point. Writing in 1924, Alan Calvert commented on a supposed strength test being undertaken in US Colleges

I UNDERSTAND THAT IN MANY COLLEGE “STRENGTH TESTS” WHEN THEY WISH TO GET A RECORD OF A STUDENT’S BACK STRENGTH, THEY POUT A LEATHER COLLAR AROUND HIS NECK, HAVE HIM STAND WITH LEGS STRAIGHT, LEAN FORWARD FROM THE HIPS, AND THEN ATTEMPT TO BRING HIS BODY TO THE UPRIGHT POSITION. THE COLLAR REFERRED TO IS A LOOP OF STRAP ATTACHED TO A CHAIN, WHICH IN TURN IS ATTACHED TO SOME SPRING REGISTERING DEVICE. AFTER THIS TEST IS COMPLETED THE STUDENT IS TOLD TO STAND WITH HIS BODY UPRIGHT, HIS LEGS SLIGHTLY BENT, AND THEN TO ENDEAVOR TO STRAIGHTEN THE LEGS SO AS TO GET A REGISTER OF HIS LEG-STRENGTH.

Similarly Mark Berry of 20 Rep Squat fame (amongst other contributions to the Iron Game – see for example his work with the US Weightlifting Team) included Good Mornings as part of his 1936 Workout Courses. More significantly however was Bob Hoffman’s promotion of the exercise from the 1940s onward.

Writing in 1945 under the title ‘How’s Your Back’, Hoffman of York Barbell, cited the Good Morning as one of the most effective exercises around. Hoffman went so far as to claim that his York lifters had been using the exercises for several years at that point

FOR SOME YEARS WE HAVE MADE USE OF A SLIGHT VARIATION OF THE GOOD MORNING AND THE TEETOTUM EXERCISE TO MORE PROPERLY SEAT THE SACROILIAC JOINTS

There is actually some truth in this comment as Hoffman’s Simplified Course of Barbell Training, published in 1943 and available for free here, cites the good morning under the less inspiring name of Barbell Bend Over. Interestingly the term bendover would still by applied to the exercise by York Star John Grimek as late as the 1960s.

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Hoffman’s Barbell Bend Over Exercise

While Hoffman et al promoted the Good Morning, one lifter pushed its capabilities to the very edge. At a time when Steve Reeves was using respectable weights with the Good Morning in the 1950s, the ever changing (at least in terms of physique) Bruce Randall was blowing everyone else out of the water. As part of his remarkable bulking programme previously discussed, Randall worked up to a somewhat lax Good Morning close to 750 pounds! Though the exercise was being promoted by both Harry Paschalland Reg Park during this period, it is unlikely either man conceived of using such weights in the move….and that is saying something!

Enter the East

From the mid-century mark onwards, it appears that the Good Morning was implicated in the battle for weightlifting supremacy between the USSR and the United States. Seen by some to be the secret for the Soviet weightlifter’s success, the move became intimately linked to Bulgarian and Russian weightlifters over the following decades. Ivan Nikolov Abadjiev, the head coach of the Bulgarian Weightlifting Team from 1968 to 1989 and again from 1997 to 2000 was said to have included it in all his athlete’s programmes.

Likewise Russian weightlifters were said to dabble under the name Bendover (it creeps up again!) or the Russian deadlift. Alexander Prilepin, the Soviet weightlifting coach for the USSR junior national team from 1975–80, and the senior national team from 1980–85 was particularly fond of it apparently. So ubiquitous did the exercise become that it was perceived as commonplace amongst Soviets. This was not without it’s benefits as it was lifters from Eastern Europe who modified the lift to its seated version. This exercise, a favourite of Charles Poliquin, instinctively forces good technique and can act as a welcome variation for the posterior chain.

It wasn’t all weightlifters though lest one forget Arnold’s first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, which included Good Mornings (bizarrely superseded with Leg Curls).

Westside Ride Tonight

Aside from revealing my somewhat nerdy obsession with 1990s hip hop music, the above subtitle reveals one last twist in the Good Morning story. The influence of Soviet lifters undoubtedly raised the exercise’s status amongst the lifting community. To push it to the upper echelons however a little bit more was needed. Enter Louie Simmons.

We’ve discussed Simmon’s role in the creation of the Reverse Hyperextension Machine, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Louie and Westside Barbell proved equally pivotal in promoting the Good Morning exercise from the early 1990s onward. Driven by Simmons’ conviction that a weak back equals a weak man, Good Morning exercises became part of his Westside arsenal. Though the exercise had been in existence for several decades, Poliquin has cited Simmons’ use as a key influence behind the powerlifting community’s affinity with it.

Before We Go…

Sadly despite several weeks trying to figure out the answer I can’t tell you why we call it the good morning exercise and not the Bendover. I know, my PhD training is a sham and I should pack it in. The only attempt I’ve found only to explain it’s origins stated

REMEMBER THAT PHYSICAL CULTURE AND WEIGHTLIFTING BECAME POPULAR DURING THE VICTORIAN AGE IN THE UNITED STATES. IN THIS DAY, EVEN THE MOST POWERFUL OF STRONGMEN SUCH AS EUGENE SANDOW [WHO DIDN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ALL OF THOSE FIGLEAF POSES] HAD PROPER MANNERS. IT WAS CONSIDERED PROPER TO WISH GOOD MORNING TO A LADY BY BOWING TO HER AND TIPPING YOUR HAT [YES, THE MEN ALWAYS WORE HATS IN THAT DAY]. THAT PROPER BOWING MOTION IS WHAT BECAME THE MODEL FOR THE GOOD MORNING EXERCISE. A LITTLE BIT OF TRIVIA BUT ONE I WANTED TO ANSWER.

 I have no idea whether or not this is true but for the sake of convenience, my free time and my sanity – I’ll go with close enough.

As always… Happy Lifting!

Appendix

The good folks at Reddit Weightroom and Powerlifting have astutely noted that I forgot to mention Bruce Lee within this tale, a poor oversight on my part given we looked at the martial artist’s own workout routine earlier in the week. In 1970 Lee severely damaged a 4th sacral nerve in his back performing Good Mornings with 60kg / 135lb – his bodyweight at the time. This, most likely was the result of his decision to jump straight into the set without warming up but in any case the unfortunate injury severely hampered what was left of his life. Laid up in bed for several months, Bruce resorted to pain medication to get through the day. Similarly he now incorporated a stunt double in some of his movies.

The injury was, in the eyes of many, a sign that the Good Morning was a dangerous exercise and perhaps explains the reluctance of some to use it.

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