The Zercher Good Morning

The good morning is one of the best accessory movements you can do to develop your posterior chain size and strength, building up your hamstrings, glutes, trunk, and lower and upper back. If you’re serious about bringing up your deadlift and/or squat numbers, or simply in creating and maintaining good posture, they are well worth consideration for inclusion into your regular routine.

However, there are some common issues with the conventional good morning that can greatly mitigate their advantages, with plenty of people either performing them with poor barbell positioning, with it rolling either up or down the back, poor hinge pattern, and/or non-neutral spine positioning.

Performing a Zercher variation, in which the barbell is held in front of the chest, in the crooks of the arms, is a safe, efficient way to mitigate these common errors (though, of course, the development of good form through all exercises, including the standard good morning, should be any lifter’s priority).

A Zercher good morning variation will give the same benefits to the posterior chain as the standard version. In addition, it will elicit greater activation through the upper back due to the barbell’s loading position. This position will also engender greater full body tension: you will likely find yourself almost uncomfortably tight through the movement which, unpleasant as it may feel, will keep you safe and bring about greater global gains.

It will also be easier to maintain a neutral spine in a Zercher good morning. A barbell will be easier to control and manipulate when held in front of the chest. If you find yourself rounding forwards too much, you will be able to simply release it, as well, rather than having to come out of position and lift it over the head as you would for a standard good morning.

There is also a quite comfortable counterbalance to the barbell position in a Zercher good morning.

How to Perform the Zercher Good Morning

Let’s begin by looking at standard good morning technique. Once this is better understood, it will be far easier to convert our technique over to a Zercher variation.

To perform a good morning:

  • Unrack a lightly loaded barbell onto your back and take two steps backwards. The barbell should be rested across your lower traps/deltoids, roughly where it would be for a low-bar squat.
  • Stand tall with your feet just outside of shoulder width. You may find it more comfortable to bring them in slightly, to hip width, which is absolutely fine. Essentially, you want them in your conventional deadlift stance.
  • Keep your core tight and braced.
  • From here, break at the hips, bringing them backwards as you bend forwards. Come down until you feel a stretch through the hamstrings, or until your back is parallel with the ground- whichever comes first.
  • Pushing your heels into the ground, and pushing your hips forwards, rise up to the start position. This is one rep. Repeat for 10-12 reps.

The Zercher variation

The Zercher variation uses very similar mechanics to the conventional good morning, activating pretty much the same muscles in very similar ways. However, there are of course a few key differences.

To perform a Zercher good morning variation:

  • Place a lightly loaded barbell into the crooks of your elbows. It’s worth starting with just a bare bar as you get used to the mechanics and feel of the movement.
  • From here, take the same stance as you would for a conventional good morning.
  • Again, break at your hips, pushing them backwards to begin the movement, then lean your torso forwards. Keep the barbell steady and locked into the same position throughout the movement.
  • Come down until you feel that stretch in your hamstrings, or until your back is parallel with the ground- once more, as you would with the conventional.
  • Push your heels into the ground, push your hips forwards, and rise up to the start position. This is one rep. Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Zercher good morning: staggered

It’s always a good idea to bring some unilateral work into your training. It teaches your body more intricate movement patterns and helps to get rid of any muscular imbalances between the two sides of your body. Good mornings are no different. Performing a staggered version of the Zercher good morning will help you to isolate each side of the posterior chain from the other, building them solo.

To perform the staggered Zercher good morning:

  • Place a lightly loaded barbell into the crooks of your elbows.
  • Get into a staggered stance, with both legs straight and one foot in front of the other, with square hips.
  • From here, you will want to break at your hips, pushing them backwards to begin the movement, then lean your torso forwards, as you would for our previous two variations. As with the above Zercher good morning, keep the barbell steady and locked into the same position throughout the movement. The only difference is that you will be predominantly your front leg each time.
  • Come down until you feel that stretch in your front hamstring, or until your back is parallel with the ground.
  • Pause and hold here, then return to the top as you would for both of the above variations.
  • This is one rep. Repeat for 10-12 reps on one side, then work the other leg.

The Zercher good morning may not work for you, or it may work incredibly well. You may even find that you prefer it to the conventional version- plenty of people favour movements like the Zercher squat over front squats, for example.

It will give you all the benefits of a traditional good morning, with slightly more discomfort but a lot less risk.

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James Dixon
James Dixon is a fully qualified personal trainer and award winning writer, with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of people to meet their dietary and fitness goals, writing exercise and nutrition plans to suit any and every requirement.

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