Hamstrings, Erectors: Can You Say Good Morning?

I’m feeling slightly creative.

I squat a lot. Other people? Not a lot.
A barbell on my back, legs on squeeze, I got em hot.
Back squat, front squat, rep it light or shake heavy
Forcing pressure through the core enough to break through a levee
Addicted much? I think so. Use a Smith crutch? Nah-ah, no.
Cause that’s like Double Dutchin for your knees in the snow.
Squats versus quads and glutes are sniper squads versus fruit
But aiming them at hamstrings is a lame way to shoot.

Ok, I’ll stop now. But my point is that while I think that front and back barbell squats are two of the most effective strength exercises hands-down, they don’t stress the hamstrings effectively. I’m sure some people might argue with that statement, as I would have until a couple of weeks ago. Why a couple of weeks ago? It was the first time I’d ever performed a heavy good morning. Until that time, I’d performed lots of good mornings over the years with a body bar or a broomstick, but I used them for stretching and warmups, not specifically to make strength gains. I decided to give heavy good mornings a try because I’d read in a few places that many power athletes favored them over Romanian and/ or stiff-legged deadlifts for hamstring engagement. And forget about traditional deadlifts; although I love them for more general posterior chain engagement, they don’t hit the hamstrings anywhere near the extent to which even Romanian and stiff-legged do. Needless to say that I was astonished by how obliterated my hamstrings were (in a good way) for three full days after performing a few sets of heavy good mornings for the first time. The fact that my hamstrings were in such distress after only three sets of ten reps at 110 lbs indicated to me that all my squatting had not been terribly effective at engaging my hams despite always squatting at least to parallel and generally with very good form.  So from here on my lifting routine will include heavy good mornings because it’s so clear how much I was depriving my hams the chance to reach their full potential without them. They’re also phenomenal for the erectors, glutes and internal and external obliques.

I’ve read conflicting opinions on the safety of heavy good mornings because they can generate high shearing forces across the spine, which can lead to a bulged disc. While this might be true, I don’t believe they are more or less dangerous than any other weight-bearing exercise. If performed with poor form and with a load beyond one’s reasonable capacity, any heavy lift can do serious damage. In the 17 years during which I have been lifting I have never seriously injured myself. I see absolutely no danger in performing heavy good mornings with good form and inside a power rack with safety pins set at a reasonable height to allow for a proper bailout if necessary. I should also note that I plan to continue to use good mornings as an assistance exercise a modality that favors a reduced load and higher rep range, so I don’t expect to ever have to bail on one.

Great video on why good mornings are so awesome and how to properly (safely) perform them:

I used to think that walking was only for obese people…

…because ripped people did crazy cardio and metabolic training. P90X. CrossFit. Boutique bootcamps. I was one of them. An 18-mile run on a Saturday morning was just the way I woke myself up. Jump squats. Fifty burpees. Repping out on TRX bands. Heavy ropes and jump ropes and more running. Sprinting! A half hour of sprints! No, make it 35 minutes! Walking was exercise for grandparents, the sick, the recovering, the fat and the lazy. I scoffed at the Surgeon General’s recommendation that every capable individual walk at least 10,000 steps per day. How pointless. My view was that walking only counted as exercise for the overweight. Except for the minor detail that I had it all wrong.

My first several days of not performing any structured cardio required an act of brute force will that I was seriously unaccustomed to. I was addicted to brutally difficult, gut-busting metabolic work and grueling endurance activities. I literally ran 20 miles for fun on some days. I was going hard seven days a week. Weekends were “awesome” because I got to spend more time burning myself. I’d complete a workout (i.e. a body mutilation session) on a Saturday, get home, shower, and be totally blown for the rest of the day. Playing with my son took every last ounce of energy I had. I felt like my body temperature was perpetually elevated. On weekdays, I’d blast my body early in the morning to the extent that I’d be dripping sweat for the next several hours. Let me tell you, if there’s something more unprofessional in a business meeting than huffing out a big, flappy fart, it’s having to wipe your upper lip and brow every 90 seconds because your body is doing all it can muster not to spontaneously combust as a result of a stupid-ass workout.

On the first day that I didn’t go to the gym in the morning in favor of taking a walk outside, I felt like an alien in a strange new world. There was fresh air. The sun was rising. I was one of the first people out on the street (6am); the city had a different feeling at that time. I didn’t need music to walk. I listened to NPR (National Public Radio) instead. Education while exercising? Wow. But was it actually exercise? My heart wasn’t pounding. I was barely breathing. No burning in my muscles. Just… just… easiness. The walking motion felt simultaneously so familiar, yet so foreign. Until that time, I’d been doing this walking thing out of necessity. Since my family and I live in the city and don’t own cars, walking is just a mode of transportation (along with biking/ longboarding/ subway). But now I was doing it without a place to go.

And I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to present day. I can, without reservation and with a clear mind say that I not only enjoy walking for pleasure and exercise, but I have actually come to love it. Yes, I used the L word. Now, it’s the only form of cardio I perform. I do it on both lifting and rest days, and my FitBit One has become such an instrumental piece of fitness equipment for that reason. Because it tracks steps and integrates with MyFitnessPal, it motivates me like nothing else.

There are so many reasons why I love walking

1) It helped me get ripped

I am religious about walking at least 10,000 steps (about five miles) on a lifting day and 12,000-13,000 (about six miles) on a rest day. That might sound like a lot, but spread out over the course of a day, it’s really not at all. All those steps add up to 400-600 calories daily, which, in addition to intermittent fasting enables me to easily maintain a daily caloric deficit that has been and continues to be conducive to my ripped goals. For me, learning how to get ripped meant learning how to walk.

2) I have lots more energy

I find the act of walking itself to be energizing, but what’s even more beneficial for me is how it doesn’t leave me feeling wasted and hungry like traditional cardio and metabolic training.

It’s low impact and very low stress

Call me nuts, but I believe that humans are built to walk before anything else. I don’t think that running for long distances is natural to us. Sprinting occasionally, yes. I am an experienced endurance runner. The reasons I enjoyed running were less physical than they were mental. I enjoyed the feeling that I had completed a mini-odyssey after a 25 mile run, in addition to the mental challenge. But physically, that endurance stuff wreaked havoc on my body. Tightness everywhere, aching joints, lots of sweating, dehydration. What I was doing was so unhealthy. Walking is the opposite. When I dropped hard cardio, I also noted a marked improvement in my immunity. I’ve read that too much intense cardio can impair immune function by reducing white blood cell count as well as chronically increasing stress hormone levels. A big part of learning how to get ripped entailed learning how to stay healthy so that I could maintain my productive gym work.

Walking lets me spend less time inside gym

The gym is a petri dish rife with who knows what strains of freakish Franken-microbes. This goes to the point about immunity above.

Walking has improved my mobility

Since I have a daily step goal and I don’t take all 10,000 or 12,000 steps in a single bout, I get up and walk a few times per day. This is powerful for two reasons. In the olden days, I performed hard cardio and/ or CrossFit style stuff early in the morning, biked to work, then sat at my desk for seven or eight hours. So basically I was saying a big “screw you” to my muscles, muscle facia and tendons. The repetitive fast contractions of the muscles associated with all that cardio and plyometric/ CrossFit/ metabolic work caused tightness throughout my body, and then I sat frozen in a position that’s conducive to generating tightness all on its own. Does that sound smart? Walking fixes all that. First, it’s low-impact and doesn’t cause the tightness endemic to high-impact stuff. Second, it’s spread over the day, meaning that I can’t stay seated for all that time. A win-win if you ask me.

Walking lets me spend more time with my family

Here’s what a Saturday or Sunday used to look like for me: destroy body at gym. Make little progress. Get home. Shower. Muster every last drip of energy interacting with family. Drag myself around outside with them. Collapse at end the of the day.

Now, it looks like this: if it’s a gym day, lift according to the RF Strength Method, spending no more than an hour in the gym. Get home. Shower. Energetically engage with family. Walk to park. Play with son in park. Walk around the neighborhood with family. Walk home with family. That’s all my “cardio” now.

Walking can be done virtually any time with no equipment

I don’t really have to explain this one. A couple of days per week, I don’t achieve my step goals by the time I get home. OMG!! What to do?! Walk back and forth in the apartment for a while, while pondering how to create a cohesive meal out of fish heads, lard and oatmeal. Literally. Jog lightly in place for a few minutes here and there until my FitBit tells me I’m good. It all counts. It’s all energy out. No sweat.