Exercises You Should Be Doing: Zercher Goodmornings

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Normally with this segment I gravitate towards exercises that fall under one of the three categories:

1.  Those exercises I see most people perform poorly (seated rows, push-up variations, single leg variations, etc).

2.  Those that are new to me, and thus, new to the reader, but can be performed by most everyone without running the risk of poking their eye out (band overhead shrugs, innovative pallof press variations, etc).

3. Those that, you know, activate or mobilize “stuff.”  As an example, HERE.

Today, however, we’re going to kick it up a notch or two (or ten thousand) and enter beast mode territory.  Because, well, why not?

I heart goodmornings.  But I also understand that they’re a fairly advanced exercise (okay, uber advanced exercise) that I feel only those with a solid 1-2 years of “real” strength training should utilize.

With that said, here’s some criteria before moving on:

  • As noted above:  it’s preferred that one has at least 1-2 years of solid training experience under his or her belt before attempting this exercise.
  • This isn’t an exercise that I’m just going to haphazardly throw into the mix unless I feel completely confident that someone knows what they’re doing.
  • You must have a SOLID foundation of squatting and deadlifting technique.  If at any point someone makes the this face (——>) while you’re performing either of the two, you definitely should not be performing goodmornings.
  • Why?  It’s pretty well known that the spine can handle compressive loading like a G6, and as such, we can sometimes get away with less than stellar technique. When it comes to shear loading, though, the water gets a little murkier and having a client perform goodmornings (which is shear loading central) when they’re not prepared for it, is a recipe for disaster.

Still, I do find that goodmornings are an excellent strength training exercise that, when performed correctly, has it’s advantages.

For starters, it’s an awesome movement that hammers the posterior chain and serves as a key accessory movement to the deadlift (which is probably why I like them so much).

Secondly, and pigging back on the point above, due to the anterior bar placement and subsequent control of shear loading, it forces people to get into more t-spine extension.

Note: This is, of course, assuming that they’re able to do it in the first place. If one has questionable t-spine mobility (particularly in extension), I’d probably pass on this exercise and opt for safer, more manageable alternatives.

And lastly, speaking from a personal perspective, goodmornings serve as an  “indicator movement,” which helps me better gauge my progress with the deadlift (and squat for that matter).  Because the goodmorning so closely strengthens the same muscle groups, whenever I see improvements in its performance, I can almost guarantee my deadlift and squat numbers improve as well.

There is a caveat.  Outside of someone’s preparedness to do them, goodmornings can be problematic for those with a history of cranky shoulders.  Due to the bar placement, which places the shoulders in the “at risk” position for impingement (abduction and external rotation), unless one has access to specialty bars such as a Giant Cambered Bar or Safety Squat Bar, traditional goodmornings probably are not the best option.

…which is where Zerchers come in.

Key Coaching Cues:  set the bar at or around chest height so that it’s easier to place it in the crook of your elbows.  It’s going to take some experimentation, and yes it’s about as comfortable as washing your face with broken glass, but deal with it.  Worse case, if you find it’s excruciating, you CAN place a towel between the bar and your elbows.  Don’t worry, I won’t judge.

“Hug” the bar close to your chest and keep the chin tucked throughout the set. Un-rack the weight, take two steps back and get your air.  I like to tell people to make themselves look fat and fill their belly with air – doing so increases intra-abdominal pressure and improves spinal stability.

Too, you need to make sure to arch like a bastard – particularly when pushing your hips back.  When doing so, you feel a significant “stretch” in the hamstrings.

If you can visualize it:  the bottom position of the goodmorning (in terms of feet/hip/back placement) should be about the same as your starting position for the deadlift.  The back should not be rounded in any way.

From there, you’ll reverse the direction making sure to finish “tall.”  Both your hips and knees should lock out and you should squeeze your glutes hard at the top.

I prefer not to go crazy with the reps here, and tend to keep these in the 4-6 rep range. Since it’s such a technique heavy movement, and requires Jedi-like precision, using high(er) rep schemes which induce more fatigue isn’t wise.

Like I said, this is a little bit of a break from the norm in terms of exercises I normally cover in this series, but if you’re looking to kick it up a notch and add a certain level of badassesery to your training, these may fit the bill.

Let me know what you think!

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Comments for This Entry

  • Barath

    Since the good mornings are an assistance lift and you presumably care more about form than weight (at least initally), and since currently I have a dodgy left shoulder, can one perform this (*sucks air in, increases inter-abdominal pressure, braces himself for assault*) in the Smith machine?

    April 4, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply to this comment

    • Barath

      I should mention the question was about good-mornings, not the Zercher variety of course :)

      April 4, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply to this comment

    • Solis365

      I am by no means an expert but it seems like a good morning is a bad idea for a smith machine. the smith machine will force the bar path, and if your body isn't lined up exactly right (or if your body type just doesn't work well with that bar path), it could start loading the spine in ways that freeweight-goodmorning-ers have never even thought of. When the spine & shear stress is involved I wouldn't want to mess around. There are other exercises you can do for lower back strength if you can't do good mornings right now.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply to this comment

  • J.B.

     Great stuff Tony. I am a big believer in zercher box squats to teach people to stablize the squat pattern, and zercher good mornings to teach people the movement (and force them to use a lighter load). Barath, perhaps I'm being obtuse, but what benefit would the smith machine give your bum shoulder? I don't see how locking the load into a fixed plane would help. also zercher anything in the smith machine is neigh on impossible.. unless you somehow can use the crooks of your elbows to rotate the bar.. which I'd imagine is pretty much impossible.

    April 4, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply to this comment

    • Barath

      J.B, Thanks for your words. I guess I didn't clarify properly. I was not talking about Zercher on a Smith machine, but ordinary good-mornings. My problem is my left shoulder - can't get it "back" enough to hold the bar without discomfort (the "pain" phase has gone now, thankfully). I have not been doing back squats for the same reason. Since 135 ain't too heavy, I thought I could get by with doing the good mornings on the Smith machine holding the bar with my right, and leaving the rest to the machine. Far be it from me to question the experts here, but I'd much rather do ordinary goo-mornings on the Smith than the Zercher variety. Somehow the idea of a loaded barbell sitting on your arms like that just doesn't look right :)

      April 4, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jeroen

    Tony, what weight (say as a % of your max deadlift) would you aim for?

    April 4, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steve Bergeron

    Dan John does something similar he taught at Perform Better last year with a Kettlebell he calls Bulgarian Goat Belly Swings.  I've had a lot of success with my clients with them, this would be a ballin'  progression for the more advanced.  Thanks man.

    April 4, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mosley Von Mozelstein

    1) Why would these bother your shoulder? 2) If they bother your shoulder how would doing them on the Smith change that? 3) Why are you required to have 3 items for a list?

    April 4, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Pj

    A Hampton bar pad-ala Bret Contreras-works well with these and other zercher moves in terms of the comfort factor. I love zerchers, but grew tired of hearing clients complain about the bar digging into the crooks of their elbows so I gave in.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tim

    I like the idea of loading the hip hinge anteriorly, but a zercher style always seemed like a silly way to hold the bar, and the loading parameters seem to be limited by the strength of the elbow flexors. Although, when Pavel does a zercher dead with 315 in Mcgill's performance DVD, that's just badass. I guess it works for some individuals. I like a single leg plate weighted bow as an option as well.

    April 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Bret Contreras

    Good stuff Tony. PJ, I concur! 

    April 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    Okay, I am just back from the gym. Tried the Zercher gm out, and it wasn't bad at all. In a shocking turn of events, Tony was right and I was wrong :)

    April 5, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brett

    Great stuff Tony, this is my favourite exercise at the moment. I like to do them from a dead start at the bottom position, it helps me load the hamstrings and work on getting my allignment spot on.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply to this comment

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