As a personal trainer with over 30 years of experience, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read or heard that using a Smith machine is a waste of time. Because the weight moves vertically on rods, many believe that Smith machine training is non-functional and can be dangerous.
However, I don’t entirely agree.
Exercises performed on a Smith machine require very little balance or stabilization (1). This frees you to focus on pushing your muscles to their limit in relative safety. From this perspective, Smith machine exercises are no different from any other resistance machine.
That’s not to say that exercises like Smith machine squats and bench presses are the best choice for everyone. However, if you are training for hypertrophy, they’re one of the tools you can use to maximize muscle growth.
One exercise that works particularly well on the Smith machine is good mornings. So, in this article, I’m going to explain why and how to do Smith machine good mornings and provide you with a few variations to try.
Smith Machine Good Morning Correct Form
How you perform an exercise is as important as the number of reps you do or the weight you lift. Good form reduces your risk of injury while making your workout more effective. So, follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure you’re doing Smith machine good mornings as effectively and safely as possible.
- Set the bar on the Smith machine to about shoulder height. Adjust the safety catches to about waist height.
- Duck under the bar so it rests across your upper trapezius. Hold it with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
- Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart, brace your core, and unrack the bar. Unlatch the bar hooks.
- Keeping your knees slightly bent, push your butt back and hinge at your hips, leaning forward as far as your flexibility allows.
- Drive your hips forward and stand back up.
- Reset your core and repeat.
Smith Machine Good Morning: Muscles Worked
The Smith machine good morning uses a lot of muscles, both big and small. That said, the agonists or prime movers during this exercise are:
- Gluteus maximus
- Erector spinae
Get more from Smith machine good mornings with these tried-and-tested pro-trainer tips.
- Keep your chest up and lower back slightly arched to maximize muscle engagement.
- Imagine you are trying to touch the wall behind you with your butt. This increases hamstring engagement.
- Experiment with a slightly wider or narrower stance to see what feels most comfortable and effective.
- Place a folded towel beneath the bar for comfort.
Smith Machine Good Morning Mistakes to Avoid
Make Smith machine good mornings as safe as possible by avoiding these common mistakes.
- Rounding your lower back. This is a cardinal sin for any exercise where you lean forward. A rounded back is easy to injure, so keep yours tightly arched.
- Hyperextending your neck. Do not lift your head to look at yourself in the mirror. Doing so puts unnecessary stress on your neck and could cause injury.
- Not controlling the negative. Make your reps more effective by lowering the weight faster than you lift it. This makes for a safer workout, too.
- Resting the bar too high. The bar should sit below your C7 vertebrae, which is the prominent bone at the top of your spine. Resting it above is uncomfortable and can even be dangerous.
Smith machine Good Morning Benefits
Not sure if Smith machine good mornings deserve a place in your workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide.
Train to failure in relative safety
According to a meta-analysis published on PubMed, training close to failure is critical for triggering muscle growth. It doesn’t really matter if you do 10, 20, or even 30 reps. Get within 1-3 reps of failure, and your muscles will grow (2).
Training to failure with freeweights can be dangerous, especially if you get pinned under a heavy weight. Smith machine exercises are generally safer because you can just lock the bar in position and extricate yourself from under the weight.
Less stabilizer involvement
Fixed path exercises are generally better for hypertrophy than those requiring more coordination and balance. With unstable exercises, small stabilizer muscles often fail before the body part you are training. For example, your rotator cuff will probably fail before your pecs when doing bench presses on a stability ball.
Posterior chain exercises don’t come much more stable than Smith machine good mornings. As such, as your muscles begin to tire, you can be sure you’re training the agonists (glutes, hamstrings, lower back) to their limit.
An easier exercise to learn and master
I’ve taught barbell good mornings to hundreds to hundreds of people. And while I’m an effective instructor, a few people simply cannot grasp the movement. However, the Smith machine version is generally easier to master because the weight follows a fixed path. Consequently, less coordination and balance are needed, making learning the movement easier.
While I consider barbell good mornings to be an advanced exercise, the Smith machine version is much better suited to late beginners and early intermediates.
An efficient posterior chain exercise
Like all good morning variations, this exercise is an effective way to work your posterior chain. With one exercise, you can train all of the muscles on the back of your lower body, as well as your core.
Consequently, this is a much better use of your time than training these muscles separately, e.g., with leg curls, hip extensions, and back extensions. Smith machine good mornings are your one-stop-shop for a more powerful posterior chain.
The smith machine good morning works best with light to moderate weights and medium to high reps. 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps work well for most. However, if you prefer to use lighter loads, you can go as high as 20-30 reps per set.
That said, in my experience, this is not the best exercise for very heavy weights and low (1-5) reps. The freeweight version is much better for this purpose.
You can do Smith machine good mornings 1-3 times per week, but you should avoid doing them on consecutive days, as this will probably be too much for your lower back.
There is no denying the effectiveness of the Smith machine good morning. However, if you do them too often, they may start to lose some of their potency. So, keep your workouts fresh and productive with these Smith machine good morning variations.
Sumo Smith machine good morning
Suma stance exercises involve a very wide stance. This increases outer hip and inner thigh engagement. You may also find it easier to bend over, as your hamstrings are slightly lengthened. This is a good exercise for anyone who wants an even more complete lower body workout or has tight hammies.
B-stance Smith machine good morning
Most people have one leg that’s stronger than the other. While minor strength differences are no problem, larger left-to-right imbalances often are. B-stance or staggered stance Smith machine good mornings are semi-unilateral, meaning they emphasize one leg at a time. As such, they’re a practical way to identify and fix left-to-right strength imbalances.
Single-leg Smith machine good morning
B-stance Smith machine good mornings still use both legs, although one is working far harder than the other. In contrast, single-leg Smith machine good mornings train one leg at a time.
This makes them much more challenging and means you can get a great workout with less weight, taking stress off your back. Using a Smith machine makes this unilateral exercise far less balance-intensive than doing it with freeweights.
Smith Machine Good Morning Closing Thoughts
Contrary to what many fitness experts and exercisers believe, the Smith machine is not inherently dangerous or useless. In contrast, it’s just another tool you can use to build muscle and gain strength.
Smith machine good mornings offer several benefits, including increased safety and being easier to learn. However, they aren’t the best option for athletes, as they require very little balance and stability. These are two critical components of most sports.
So, don’t be a hater – the Smith machine has its uses. That said, if you prefer not to include Smith machine exercises in your workouts, that’s okay, too!
- Anderson K, Behm DG. Trunk muscle activity increases with unstable squat movements. Can J Appl Physiol. 2005 Feb;30(1):33-45. doi: 10.1139/h05-103. PMID: 15855681.
- Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Orazem J, Sabol F. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sport Health Sci. 2022 Mar;11(2):202-211. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2021.01.007. Epub 2021 Jan 23. PMID: 33497853; PMCID: PMC9068575.