Strong to the Core
Bill StarrSupercharge Your Power Center Part 2
To recap: The center of your body—hips, legs, glutes, abs and lumbars—makes up the core of strength. You must give specific attention to those muscle groups if you’re seeking consistent and long-term gains. Front and back squats will take care of the hips, glutes and legs if you go low—not just below parallel, but extremely deep. One of the reasons I insert the front squat into athletes’ routines is that it forces them to hit rock bottom. After doing front squats for a few months, they can go just as low on the back squat.
The lower back is often referred to as the keystone of strength. I’ve stated that good mornings were my exercise of choice for the lumbars. You can do them with a rounded back, a flat back or while sitting on a bench. In this installment we’ll go into form points for the good mornings, as well as an alternative and a few other exercises that can strengthen the core.
Do good mornings on your light day, right after squats. Since the squat session isn’t nearly as demanding as on the heavy or medium days, you should have plenty of strength left in your lower back for the specific exercises. Doing them right after squatting is beneficial in a couple of ways. Squats flush blood into the lumbars, glutes and hamstrings, and because those groups are all directly involved in the execution of a good morning, they’re better prepared for the work to follow. Besides, after handling relatively heavier weights for front or back squats, you’ll feel that the poundages selected for the good mornings are light in comparison, at least for the first few sets.
Many avoid doing good mornings because they’re so demanding, a test of your grit. Yet it’s a truism of strength training that the tougher the exercise, the greater the result, and they bear fruit rather quickly. Once you get into the habit of doing them regularly, they never get any harder. Of course, they never get any easier either, but if you can do an exercise one time, you can do it again. Also keep in mind that you aren’t expected to handle 50 percent of your best squat weight for eight to 10 reps on the good mornings right away. That may take a couple of months; you must first learn correct form because technique is critical on them.
There are several things you can do to make good mornings less intense, however, such as locking the bar into your upper back. Invariably, beginners rest the bar across their backs passively and grip it lightly. That lets the bar move during the lift, and it’s quite irritating and distracting. Typically, they attempt to pull their necks away from the discomfort, which only makes matters worse because it sets the bar closer to the spine, causing even more pain. Sometimes the bar hurts more than the exercise itself and prevents the athlete from being able to concentrate on form.
Regardless of the size of your traps, you need to elevate them and create a cushion of muscle on which to place the bar. It works equally well for petite ladies and hulks. Extend your traps up and hold them there while you lock the bar against them, and maintain that position throughout the exercise.
Place your feet a bit closer than shoulder width. You may want to try turning your toes in slightly. Once you have the bar locked firmly on your back, bend your knees and lower your upper body until your back is below parallel. Try to place your chest on your thighs. Several of my athletes have been so flexible that they could look back between their legs at the bottom of a good morning.
After you bend your knees, don’t bend them any further or straighten them at all. They stay in exactly the same position from start to finish. The up-and-down motion must be smooth and controlled, not fast and herky-jerky. Also, don’t fall into the lower position. Rather, pull your upper body down into it, then recover with the bar under control. On the light and moderate sets you can knock out reps without ever coming fully erect. Once the weights get heavy, though, it’s better to stand up, lock your knees, reset, bend them again and proceed with the next rep.