good morning exercise

Good Mornings – Breaking Down The Exercise That Injured Bruce Lee’s’ Back

Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific workout. This month we’ll be taking a look at an exercise that has gotten famous for the injury that broke Bruce Lee’s back – the Good Morning Exercise. We’ll take a look at some of the myths surrounding this exercise and whether or not it’s actually worth doing.

The Good Morning Exercise

On the morning of August 13th, 1970, the famous martial arts fighter, Bruce Lee was taking to a gym loading up plates onto a barbell to equal 135lb – his body weight at the time. Without taking time to adequately warm up he started doing sets of the Good Morning exercise. While working through his first set, Lee heard suddenly heart a loud pop immediately followed by pain in the back and was forced to drop the weight. The damage? Lee severely injured one of his sacral nerves (a nerve in the lower back). For the next six months Lee was forced to spend the majority of his time on bed rest in extreme pain.

The Good Morning exercise had a huge impact on Lee’s life. Eventually he resumed teaching and training again. It wasn’t because he was fully healed from his injury – only because he couldn’t stand from being inactive any longer. However, this injury from a set of Good Mornings caused him to have chronic back pain for the rest of his life. Lee also took up smoking marijuana to help numb the pain. Last of all, in his films from this point on, Lee used stunt doubles for some of the scenes in his movies where movements were just too restricting.

What Is The Good Morning Exercise?

Good Morning Barbell ExerciseThe Good Morning exercise is a type of movement where you rest a barbell across your shoulders and essentially lower yourself forward while keeping your back straight and your knees just slightly bend before returning to a standing position. The target muscles are the hamstrings while muscles that assist with the Good Morning movement are your glutes and hip adductors. Meanwhile, your lower back works to help stabilize your muscles through the movement and support the weight on your lower back (1,2,3).

Safety Of Good Morning Barbell Exercise

Issues With The Good Morning Exercise

The Good Morning exercise can be noteworthy for causing lower back injuries. All you need to do is a search on Google titled, “Good Morning Injury.” However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Good Mornings are a bad exercise. There’s several exercises out there that although extremely beneficial, have a risk of injury – such as the deadlift or squat. You just need to ask yourself: is the risk worth the reward?

Reasons You Might Not Want To Do A Good Morning Exercise:

1. You already have a bad back: Be smart here. Why risk making your life worse? If you already have chronic back pain/issues you don’t want to risk further injuring yourself or having to deal with even worse pain than you already have.

2. You have a weak lower back: The Good Morning exercise is a pretty advanced lift as far as understanding correct body mechanics goes. I wouldn’t suggest this exercise for the novice weight lifter and there are alternative exercises you can do to strengthen your back to get you to the point that you’re ready for the Good Morning movement (see below).

3. You have a weak core: The Good Morning exercise isn’t necessarily considered a core exercise but it does require a good deal core strength to help stabilize your spine and prevent your back from rounding. A weak core could spell disaster for your spine for this movement (1,2,3). Spend some time strengthening your core before

How To Do A Good Morning Exercise

The Good Morning exercise is quite a technical lift. As with other technical lifts, form is everything to help reduce the risk of injury.

Positioning: Position the barbell across your trapezius or real deltoids shoulders. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Stand tall with your chest out and your shoulders back.

Knee positioning: There are two knee position movements. You can either stand with your knees straight or your knees slightly bent. If your knees are straight the Good Morning exercise has more of an emphasis on stretching your hamstrings. With your knees slightly bent, the stretch will have more of an effect on your glutes (2). For those with poor hamstring flexibility, bending the knees slightly can help with full range of motion when performing the exercise.

Movement: While keeping the natural arch in your back and with your knees bent, slowly bend over bringing your torso parallel with the floor. During this time your hips should be pushing back and flexed at the thigh, creating a stretch in the hamstrings. Once parallel with the floor, raise your torso back to the starting position until your hips are extended.

Please note, full range of motion will vary from person to person based on the flexibility of your hips and hamstrings. If flexibility is an issue, don’t risk muscle or tendon tear by going past a point of feeling comfortable.

Summing Up The Good Morning Exercise

The Good Morning exercise is a great movement for stretching the back of the thighs. It’s also a decent exercise for helping to build the muscles of the lower back. When worked out regularly, it can help prevent injury when doing squats. To better feel the work of the hamstrings, avoid using heavy weights in the negative phase of the movement (3).

While I wouldn’t recommend this lift for everyone, the Good Mornings can be a useful lift when executed properly. One thing you need to do however, is ask yourself, is the risk worth the reward?

For those people wanting a more simple approach to strengthening you back without the big risk for injury, you can try these alternative exercises instead:

1. Romanian Deadlift
2. Hip Bridge
3. Superman Exercise


1. N.a. “Barbell Good Morning.” Exercise Prescription. Web. 2015 25 July 2015.
2. N.a. “Barbell Bent Knee Good Morning.” Exercise Prescription. Web. 2015. 25 July 2015.
3. Delavier, F. “Good Mornings.” Strength Training Anatomy: Third Edition. Paris: Human Kinetics. 2010. Print. 144.


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