Greg doucette's bad take on good mornings!
(And ATG Squats, and Behind The Neck Presses, and Sit-ups...)
by Alec Enkiri | 3/5/21
Today we're going to review a recent video by Coach Greg Doucette where he discusses his list of the top 10 exercises to AVOID FOREVER! And I have to say I'm a little bit concerned here as our beloved Coach Greg is starting to sound eerily similar to Jeff Cavaliere of ATHLEAN X DOT COM and his famed "iron graveyard."
"10 exercises that you should never do again. They're overrated, they're dangerous, they're stupid, they don't build muscle. They're kind of useless. Just forget about them."
I have said this before and I'll say it again: there are NO contraindicated exercises, there are only contraindicated people. The problem here, both with Jeff before and with Greg now, making these sort of hot button, blanket assertions is that you are demonizing an entire pattern of human movement and scaring people into thinking that certain positions are inherently dangerous to occupy simply by virtue of their existence. But that is simply not true. Nearly any position that can be occupied during the course of weight training can be safely occupied by someone out there somewhere. YOU may not be that person, but then we can't blame the exercise itself for that. We cannot blanketly say that absolutely no one anywhere should do this, or that no one anywhere can benefit from this because that is simply an unequivocally false statement.
The points in this article rebut this video. So you should watch it first for context!
A Better Way For Greg To Frame His Argument
I understand that Greg has a very large audience and he is tailoring his content these days to the masses, but in spite of that I think videos like Greg's here are kind of unnecessary in general, and there were a few very iffy inclusions here as well where people would be potentially shortchanging their results and their progress in the long run if they're a newbie right now and they take Greg's advice here and never do any of these exercises and simply never think about it again.
And I want to touch on those exercises in more detail in just a moment because I don't agree with Greg's assertions there, but before I get to that part, I want to point something else out. As an overarching theme here, rather than Greg frame his argument in this video as, essentially, "these exercises are dangerous and you're going to get hurt if you do them,"- rather than blanketly demonizing or "canceling" entire exercises - I would prefer something more along the lines of:
"from the perspective of building strength and building muscle these exercises are suboptimal in terms of their risk to reward ratio, especially for newer lifters. So here are some alternatives that I think get the job done in a more optimal fashion for the greater majority of people."
Here you're taking the argument, which is essentially an argument of "negative reinforcement" (do this and something BAD will happen), and instead you're flipping that on its head and using an argument of positive reinforcement (use these BETTER alternatives and something BETTER will happen instead). That's just a better way of framing it that will appeal to people in a positive way rather than a negative one, and encourage them into making "good" decisions rather than trying to scare them away from making, what you've deemed to be "bad" ones. It simply allows people to keep their options open down the line while also keeping a more open mind overall, two things which are never bad.
The Human Body is More Adaptable Than We Give it Credit For
I just wrapped up a review of the KneesOverToesGuy last week. Think about what he's advocating. If he had come out onto the scene even just as recently as 5 years ago he would have gotten EVISCERATED by the industry. Athlean-X and everyone else of his ilk would jumped onto the highest horse they could find and fucking ripped him a new one.
But that didn't happen because the tides have shifted. Even if certain individuals are still stuck in their old ways, the industry as a whole is more amenable to the fact that the human body is actually a durable, resilient, and malleable piece of machinery. We actually have a lot of agency in dictating what positions or movements will potentially hurt us vs. make us stronger and more resilient IF we go about implementing them properly and progressing into them properly.
We hurt ourselves by doing too much too much soon or by not managing cumulative fatigue properly, not because any position is INHERENTLY dangerous to occupy. And in an ironic, almost hair of the dog sort of sentiment, what ails you can also potentially be what will cure you. You just need to adjust to the correct dosage: find the right volume and the right intensity level that the body can adapt to, that can stimulate adaptation without causing excessive break down, and then build up slowly from there as the tissues and the system acclimates and grows. That is how somebody like KneesOverToesGuy can burst out onto the scene and have people be receptive to his message rather than just shut it down immediately without even hearing him out.
And so of the list of 10 exercises that Greg presented to AVOID FOREVER, I'd like to take a closer look at just a few of them and point out some of the shortcomings in Greg's arguments here. And my intention is not to bash Greg. This isn't an attack piece. He's been around the block and he's incredibly knowledgeable and I would never try to take that way, but he does at times have a narrow scope that he views things through, one that has been highly biased by the bodybuilding world that he's immersed in, and I think analyzing things from outside of that scope and opening up the perspective a little bit could potentially be helpful for some of his viewers, so that's what I'm hoping to accomplish today. So let's take a closer look at some of the exercises!
1. ATG Squats and Behind The Neck Presses
Both of these exercises have been around for a long time, but these days you really only see them performed by Olympic weightlifters. They both require large degrees of mobility to be performed successfully and you can also argue that they both require you to be born with a specific anatomical structure to utilize them with optimal success. Greg's argument here essentially boils down "most people lack the requisite mobility to perform these correctly and most people do these exercises wrong."
But is that really enough to write them off altogether? is that really enough to say that these exercises are "useless" and that they "don't build muscle?" Because I really don't think we can take it that far. They obviously build muscle, and they obviously build strength, you only need to look at Clarence Kennedy or Dimitri Klokov or really just any Chinese weightlifter to figure that part out. But here's the thing, as Greg says, these exercises require a large degree of mobility. That means that by performing them you are also maintaining that mobility. It means that you are also strengthening the knees and the shoulders and the hips in those end range positions, positions which are often neglected. And as such, the training effect is going to be somewhat different as well. Personally, I went from being able to bottom out ass to grass with 450lbs on the squat to being able to squat 530lbs roughly to parallel for powerlifting.
And I could feel the difference that the different training had my body. My legs are bigger and stronger now than they were before, BUT my hips were much more mobile and supple while training through the full range of motion. My overall mobility was better and I had the strength and stability in those end range positions to back it up. In terms of sports like football or combat sports or really anything where you can potentially end up in an unpredictable or extreme position, having trained yourself to be able to handle that position adequately and to be strong and stable throughout it is probably a good idea.
Does this mean that these exercises are for everybody? No, of course not. But just because most people can't do them right does not mean that we can call them "useless" or that we should throw them out altogether as Greg has suggested - that'd be like suggesting the jump shot in basketball is worthless because most casual players have a shitty jump shot. But that is not sound logic. There are obvious benefits to be had here for certain populations, but because the positions involved are a little bit more extreme it becomes that much more important to ensure proper movement execution, proper loading, and proper training volume when performing these exercises, which are aspects that most casual trainees ignore. But that is not the fault of the exercise! That's the fault of the trainee. So let's try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, ok?
2. Good Morning
You're going to have to define "safe and effective" here because this exercise is perfectly fine for anyone who knows how to hinge their hips properly. It's only unsafe if you don't how to perform the exercise correctly, in which case the fault doesn't really lie with the exercise because you're not actually doing the exercise. Or it's potentially unsafe if you go too heavy on it, in which case, again, the fault doesn't really lie with the exercise it lies with your inability to control your ego. An improperly performed good morning is not a good morning, it's typically just a bastardized squat. And most people absolutely cannot good morning as much weight as they think they can.
At it's core though, the movement pattern, when it's executed correctly, is basically identical to a Romanian deadlift, and quite similar to a hyperextension as well. It's basically a pure hip hinge with minimal knee action. The primary difference is that during an RDL the bar is in the hands whereas during a good morning it's on the back, so with an RDL the lever arm acting on the lower back is a lot shorter, meaning the emphasis ends up being more so on the hips and hamstrings. Whereas with a good morning, due to the orientation of the weight, the lever arm acting on the lower back is much longer, meaning that the lower back, and even the middle and upper back, end up playing a much larger role in the movement.
But that's not a bad thing! If your goal is to get a stronger back or a bigger squat and you know how to hinge properly at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine then you would be silly not to include this exercise in your program at least some of the time. If it's conducive to your goals then it's conducive to your goals! The movement pattern itself is no more dangerous than any other hinge movement and it has earned it's place in the strength and performance training world because it is highly effective at accomplishing these aforementioned things when it's programmed and performed correctly. Changing the orientation of the load doesn't inherently make the movement pattern any more or less dangerous than it was before, it simply the shifts the muscular emphasis that the exercise has.
But when you claim that the exercise is dangerous because it has the potential to stress the spine when done incorrectly you are straw manning the actual exercise because what YOU are referring to is NOT the actual exercise anymore. Loading up too much weight and using your sternum as a catapult during the bench press is also dangerous, and plenty of people do that! But that's not actually bench pressing, and you wouldn't suggest throwing out the bench press altogether because of it. So why suggest throwing out the good morning? Someone performing an exercise wrong does not dictate the efficacy of the actual exercise. The good morning is a useful tool for strengthening the back and hypertrophying the hamstrings. There's no reason to throw out your hammer just because you happen to be out of nails.
Okay, so he says...
"We'd see how many we could do in a minute it was a sprint competition."
I mean, yeah, obviously that's not a very good idea. Stuart McGill has warned us of the potential for spinal disc injury via repeated spinal flexion, so to do so under competitive conditions, for time, with fatigue accumulating, and while trying to crank out as many reps as fast as possible....is highly suboptimal and is going to lead to a lot of really sloppy reps, a lot of pressure on the spinal discs, and not much actual work for the abdominal muscles. BUT, and I hate to sound like a broken record at this point, that's not really the fault of the exercise. The fault lies with the silly constraints that you chose to perform it under. In a healthy spine, there is nothing wrong with a well controlled, well executed sit-up. After all, the function of the rectus abdominis, the six pack muscle, is to flex the spine.
And Greg provides us with an alternative, the crunch, which is a perfectly fine exercise in its own right. However, the difference is that the crunch isolates the abs by focusing solely on curling up the spine, whereas the classic sit-up involves the abdominal muscles along with the assistance of the hip flexors to help pull the torso all the way up to a seated position. Where performance training is concerned, as opposed to just aesthetics training, this is actually an important distinction because in real life the hip flexors are actually an important group of muscles that work in conjunction with "the core." Any time you pull up your thigh to run or sprint the hip flexors are engaging, and the stronger they are the better off you'll be. But the fact is, they're often weak in a lot of people because not only do we not train them directly like we do with most other muscle groups, but we also often attempt to outright ignore them and remove them from the equation altogether, like with the crunch, I can only imagine due to a cultural overemphasis on the idea of the "six pack."
In real life though, these muscle groups work together. Your hip flexors have a functional purpose. They're not just there for fun and they should be trained like any other muscle group, and the sit-up is one way of at least getting some engagement going on there that most people would otherwise never get. But the point is that this exercise has its value, it's certainly not "useless," and it has its place in the training program. Discarding it altogether because it has historically been performed under stupid conditions is simply an overreaction to the problem.
That pretty much wraps up what I wanted to cover today. As I mentioned before, this is not an "attack" on Greg so no one needs to get offended about it. It is simply an alternative perspective. Greg and I have different training histories and that has afforded us different vantage points on many things when it comes to weight training and general fitness, and that's a good thing! And we're all still learning! And the more information we can put out there, and the more different perspectives that you guys have available to pull from, the better! So hopefully if you're a Coach Greg fan you were able to take something helpful away from this article that you'll be able to use in your own training in the future, or at the very least hopefully you'll analyze each exercise that he discussed in his video a little bit deeper in regards to your own training goals before you decide to discard them all for the long term just because Greg said you should.
This article in video format on my YouTube channel!