Why A Good Morning Exercise Can Lead To A Bad Day

There are some exercises that you just shouldn’t do but you may not know it.

Health and fitness sites, magazines, trainers, maybe friends, may suggest certain things to do. And after all, it’s just exercise.

So how bad could it be?

If people actually do this drill in the morning, it’s one of the worst things you could do according to Stuart McGill, PhD author of numerous articles on the spine and exercise. Here’s what Dr. McGill had to say on the subject:“As you know, you’re taller when you wake up in the morning than when you go to bed at night. This is because the discs are hydrophilic, that means they suck up water while you sleep and when there are no stresses present.After rising, hydrostatic stresses of just walking around and using the muscles during the day compress your spine and the fluid is squeezed out, decreasing the annular tensions in the disc. So, when you wake up the extra height in the discs are analogous to a full water balloon ready to burst and if you bend, you build up much higher stresses in the disc. In fact, the stresses are three times higher than when you perform the same bend two or three hours later.Now I’m not talking about getting up and going for a walk or perhaps a boxer going for a jog first thing in the morning. I’m talking about heavy bending exercises, like for example the good-morning exercise or doing sit-ups. Somehow people thought that this would be a good thing to do in the morning. It’s the worst possible thing you could do for the back first thing in the morning. I personally have a more favorite morning exercise, it’s what I like to call a “great-morning,” but I don’t think my wife would appreciate me talking about it! Full spine bending first thing in the morning is a great way to damage your back—an unwise thing to do.”

The drill in questions is called a “Good Morning”.

This is what it looks like: The purpose of the drill is to strengthen the back muscles.

Unfortunately, it may also ruin your spine from exceptionally high shear and compression forces.

What To Do Instead?

You have lots of options and when you start thinking about your spine, think of endurance more than strength since the muscle fiber is mostly slow twitch muscle fiber (endurance fiber).

I have occasionally used a version of the “Good Morning” drill which carries with it much lower spinal compression loads and teaches you how to hinge at the hip (and you have to be able to hip hinge to do a lot of things in life safely like pick stuff up off the floor).

Here’s what it looks like:

You place your hips up against a counter, cross your hands on your chest, brace, and lean forward while maintaining a still spine and then return to upright. The movement occurs only at the hips. Most people with lower back pain really have a hard time with this drill at first. Not because it hurts but because they have lost the ability to separate the movement from the hip and the spine.

You perform up to ten repetitions. If you’re not fatigued, do another set. Keep doing sets of ten until your fatigue rating reaches 5-6 out of 10.

Then take two or three days off from the drill and try it again.

When you can do five sets of ten repetitions, you’re ready to move on.

Before long, usually in a couple of weeks, you’ll have it down. Then you can think about moving on to more demanding drills that involve this type of movement pattern (like a Kettlebell Swing or Dumb Bell Swing).

One of the really great things about the Fusion Elements is that, for example, Carbon, has low spinal compression loads and the movements are relatively easy to control yet deliver significant demand (scaled according to your capacity).

A couple of other options that we include in the Elements are the Plank Transfer and Plank Walk Up (video below). Both are great drills for Core endurance yet are spine friendly.

Plank Transfer

Plank Walk Up

For an even more comprehensive solution with spine friendly yet challenging exercises, check out my book, “Build a Rock Solid Core: Stop the Sit Ups and Save Your Spine“.

To get your day off to a great start, skip the “Good Morning” exercise.

What exercises do you do in the morning? What works well for you?


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About Doug Kelsey

DK_bball_post Doug Kelsey is a physical therapist and healthy lifestyle “guru”. Doug is formerly an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Oklahoma Health Science and is the owner of Sports Center Physical Therapy in Austin, Tx. He writes on how to “actively age” – how to get healthy and fit over your lifetime and take charge of your health. He and his brother Joshua created the ActiveAge Blueprint.

Photo: SVTHERLAND


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