Good mornings are a somewhat forgotten gym exercise and a controversial one at that. What used to be a popular bodybuilding exercise is now something you rarely see performed in commercial gyms.
That’s a shame because, when done correctly, the good morning exercise is a safe and effective way to work your entire posterior chain.
Good mornings get their name because, when you do them, it looks like you are performing a polite bow. But, don’t let this genteel-sounding name fool you; good mornings can still be brutal.
Bodybuilders and recreational exercisers might have turned their back on the good morning, but many powerlifters and strength athletes still perform this exercise.
In this guide, we’re going to show you why and how to do this classic barbell exercise and provide you with some useful variations to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.
Good mornings are a posterior chain exercise, but what does that actually mean? The posterior chain is the collective term for the muscles on the back of your body. In essence, it’s every muscle from the base of your skull down to your heels. However, as some of those muscles are more important than others, it’ll be useful to list the major movers and shakers that you’ll be using during the good morning exercise.
Hamstrings – located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings are made up of three muscles: biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. These muscles work together to extend your hips and flex your knee.
Gluteus maximum – also known as your glutes, this large muscle is located on the back of your hip. Its principal function is hip extension, and it’s also involved in the external rotation of your hip.
Erector spinae – the collective name for muscles of your lower back. Your spinal erectors extend your spine and, during good mornings, stop your back from rounding. This means their role is mainly eccentric, meaning they generate force but don’t actually produce any movement.
Core – core is the term used to describe the muscles that make up your midsection. The core compresses your abdominal cavity to increase intra-abdominal pressure, or IAP for short.
IAP helps stabilize and support your spine from within. The muscles of the core include rectus abdominis, obliques, pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, and your diaphragm. Purposely contracting these muscles for increased core stability is called bracing, something you’ll need to do during good mornings.
While good mornings are predominately a posterior chain and lower body exercise, many of your upper body muscles are involved too. For example, you’ll need to use your upper back and arms to hold the bar in place so that it doesn’t roll off your shoulders mid-rep. However, after you’ve done a few reps, you’ll soon realize that it’s your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back that are working hardest during this exercise.
How to Perform Good Mornings
One of the reasons that good mornings are such a controversial and often ignored exercise is that they place your spine in a mechanically disadvantaged position.
If you allow your lower back to become rounded, the weight that should be supported by your muscles ends up on your spinous ligaments and intervertebral discs. These structures, if injured, can take a very long time to heal.
Keep your injury risks to a minimum while getting the most from this exercise by performing it with perfect technique.
- Place a barbell in a squat or power rack set to just below shoulder-height. Duck under the bar and rest it on your upper traps. Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Pull the bar down into your back to make sure it won’t move.
- Unrack the barbell and take 1-2 steps back, so you have room to lean forward. Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and brace your core.
- Hinging from your hips, push your butt back and lean forward as far as your hamstring flexibility allows. Do NOT let your lower back round. Your range of motion will depend on your hamstring flexibility. Do not lower the bar below the level of your hips.
- Drive your hips forward and stand back up.
The Benefits of Good Mornings
Done correctly, good mornings are a very beneficial and effective exercise. Reasons to add this movement to your workouts include:
Learn how to hip hinge correctly – a proper hip hinge is crucial for the safe performance of many important exercises, including deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, cleans and snatches, kettlebell swings, and bent over and Pendlay rows. Good mornings will teach you how to hip hinge correctly and strengthen this vital movement pattern.
Increased posterior chain strength – a strong posterior chain is essential in sports and for many everyday activities, such as when you run, jump, or lift. A strong posterior chain can also protect your lower back from injury. While good mornings aren’t the only way to train your posterior chain, they are a useful exercise for this critical muscle group.
Increased flexibility – the good morning exercise provides your hamstrings with a deep stretch. In fact, if you have tight hamstrings, you’ll soon find that you are unable to lean very far forward. Regular good mornings, even with a light weight, will stretch your hammies and increase your functional flexibility.
Build bigger glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors – good mornings are a useful hypertrophy or muscle-building exercise. If you want not only stronger but bigger muscles, this exercise can help.
Boost your squat and deadlift performance – good mornings are often used as an accessory exercise for squats and deadlifts. That means they target many of the weak links that could otherwise limit your performance of these main lifts. If you want to squat or pull bigger weights, adding good mornings to your list of accessory exercises will help.
Better posture – the good morning exercise works many of the muscles responsible for correct posture. If you tend to sit or stand with a rounded back, doing good mornings could help straighten you out.
Important Good Morning Exercise Tips
Get the most from this exercise with these handy tips!
1 – Brace your core before each and every rep – you must use your core to stabilize your spine and stop it from rounding. To brace, pull up your pelvic floor like you are trying to stop the flow of urine, contract your abs like you are expecting to get punched in the gut, and then inhale. You should feel your entire midsection tense and stiffen. Inhale and brace at the start of each rep, and only exhale as you return to the upright position. Reset your core between reps.
2 – Get the bar low on your traps – if you rest the bar on your neck, the good morning exercise will be more uncomfortable and harder to perform. Instead, pull the bar down onto your upper traps, if not a little lower. That way, the bar will sit on a thick pad of muscle and not on your boney, unprotected cervical spine.
3 – Experiment with different stances – move your feet in or out to affect your muscles differently. A wide stance tends to be more glute and lower-back centric while standing with your feet closer together hits your hamstrings harder. Not sure which option to use? Why not do one set wide, one set regular, and one set with a narrow stance?
4 – Stretch your hamstrings before doing good mornings – tight hammies will reduce your range of motion, making this exercise less effective. Avoid this problem by stretching your hamstrings before and even between your sets. Avoids static stretches, as they tend to relax your muscles and reduce your strength. Instead, do dynamic flexibility exercises like forward leg swings.
5 – Have someone monitor your lower back – it’s not always easy to feel your lower back rounding. You could do good mornings next to a mirror and turn your head to look at your lower back, but this can affect your balance and posture. It’s better to keep your head straight when doing the good morning exercise.
Instead, have your training partner watch your lower back and tell you the moment you start to lose your lumbar curve. That denotes the end of your range of movement, and you should stand up before your back starts to round.
Best Good Morning Variations and Alternatives
As much as we LOVE the conventional good morning exercise, there is more than one way to do this movement. Plus, there are equally effective exercises you can do instead. Here are our favorite good morning variations and alternatives.
1. Dead stop good mornings
Dead stop good mornings are almost identical to regular good mornings, but you do them in a power rack and rest the bar on the pins midway through each rep.
This breaks the eccentric/concentric stretch cycle, making each rep more demanding. This is a good variation for building explosive strength and power because you’ll need to work extra hard to get the weight moving off the pins.
2. Good mornings with bands or chains
Using bands or chains increases the resistance as you stand up. Known as accommodating resistance, this training method teaches you to lift more explosively and develops your ability to use speed to get you past your sticking points.
Bands and chains have a similar effect. Many gyms have chains, but bands are cheaper, lighter, and more portable. If your gym doesn’t have chains, buy a set of bands and keep them in your locker. Bands can also be used for deadlifts, bench presses, squats, and several other exercises, so they’re a good investment.
3. Single leg good mornings
Single-leg good mornings are a challenging exercise. Not only do they test your balance, but you’ll also need to work extra hard to stabilize your hip and knee, increasing glute, abductor, and adductor activation.
Extend your non-working leg out behind you for balance, and don’t be surprised if you can’t use anywhere near half your normal training weight. This is a VERY tough good morning variation.
4. Safety squat bar good mornings
Doing good mornings with a conventional barbell works, but it’s not exactly comfortable! Using a padded safety squat bar is much easier on your upper back and neck. Also, with your hands in front of you, safety squat bar good mornings put considerably less stress on your shoulders.
5. Zercher good mornings
Zercher good mornings are done with the barbell resting in the crook of your elbows. Bend your arms and keep your hands high to stop the bar from rolling down.
This variation shortens the distance between the weight and your hips, taking stress off your lower back, and also gives your biceps an extra workout.
On the downside, holding a heavy bar in this position is far from comfortable. If you find this exercise too painful to bear, cushion the bar with a squat pad, or wrap it in a towel. You can also do a version with a weight plate, dumbbell, or kettlebell held tightly to your chest.
6. Banded good mornings
No barbell? No problem! You can do good mornings using a loop-type resistance band. Simply put the band over your head and then stand on it. Cross your arms in front of your chest or hold the bands as preferred.
This is a good variation for home and garage exercisers.
7. Seated good mornings
This variation decreases hamstring activation, so you can focus more on your erector spinae and glutes.
To do it, sit on a bench with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your chest, brace your core, and pull your barbell down and onto your upper traps. Without rounding your lower back, hinge forward at the hips and lean over as far as you can without rounding your lower back. Return to the upright position and repeat.
8. Romanian deadlifts
With seven different variations of good mornings to try, you should have more than enough options to keep your training varied and fun. But, if you want a break from good mornings, Romanian deadlifts are probably the best alternative you can use.
The movement is very similar but, with RDLs, you hold the bar in your hands instead of resting it on your upper back. This makes Romanian deadlifts a little easier on the lower back, but they’re still an effective posterior chain exercise.
Read more about Romanian deadlifts in this article.
Get the most from good mornings by avoiding these common mistakes.
Using too much weight – while some lifters can use huge weights for the good morning exercise, that doesn’t mean heavy loads are the best option for all exercisers. In fact, going too heavy too soon is a great way to get hurt.
Instead of trying to see how much weight you can lift, use light to moderate loads and do high to medium reps – 8 to 15 is a good choice. You can go heavier and use lower reps, such as 4-6, but your risk of injury increases with the weight.
Do not round your lower back – we’ve said this before, but it’s such an important point that it’s worth repeating. A rounded back is a weak back, and your risk of injury is much higher if you do not maintain a neutral (slightly arched) lumbar spine.
If your lower back keeps rounding, you are leaning too far forward, your core is weak, or you lack positional awareness. Take whatever steps are necessary to prevent this from happening.
Hyperextending your neck – neutral spine does not refer only to your lower back but also your neck. Your head should remain in a neutral position while doing the good morning exercise. Do not lift your head to look at yourself in the mirror. Instead, imagine your neck is in a surgical collar so that it stays in position. Lifting your head puts stress on the cervical spine and could lead to neck pain.
Not using a controlled movement – you’ll get better results from good mornings if you do them with a slow and deliberate tempo. Lean forward in 3-5 seconds, pause briefly, and then stand up forcefully. A slow descent makes the most of your eccentric strength while standing up powerfully increases muscle activation. If you descend too fast and then “bounce” back up, you won’t get all the benefits this exercise has to offer.
Good Morning – Wrapping Up
Despite being a controversial exercise, the good morning is not inherently evil, and doing it doesn’t mean you’re on a one-way trip to snap city. In fact, done correctly, it’s a very effective and beneficial exercise. If you want to increase your squat or deadlift performance, the good morning should definitely be one of your accessory exercises.
That said, there is a reason that a lot of trainers think the good morning is risky; done incorrectly, it puts a lot of strain on your lower back, and rounding your lumbar spine while you are lifting weights is rarely a good idea!
So, if you want to try good mornings, exercise your common sense as well as your posterior chain. Start off with light weights, even just an empty barbell or a broomstick, and make sure you brace your core and maintain a neutral spine. Increase your weights gradually, and never at the expense of your form.