I’ve always liked the good morning exercise. As a powerlifter, bodybuilder, and strength training coach with over 30 years of experience, I’ve found them effective for building strength and muscle mass.
And they’re not just good for improving aesthetics or performance. A meta-analysis Published on PubMed reveals that posterior chain exercises like good mornings are also an excellent way to treat and avoid lower back pain (1).
That said, regular good mornings have a downside – they work both sides of your body at the same time. This can result in muscle imbalances.
Staggered stance good mornings are the ideal solution to this problem. They let you work one side of your body at a time, without compromising your balance. And as for the name? They’re so-called because, when you do them, you look like you are bowing to greet an acquaintance, possibly saying, “good morning” as you do it.
In this article, I explain how and why to do staggered stance good mornings, and share some pro-tips and the best variations.
Staggered Stance Good Mornings: Correct Form and Execution
There are two ways to do most exercises – the right way and the wrong way. The right way is safe and effective, keeping the tension on your muscles and away from your joints. The wrong way is usually worse for your joints and less effective. With that in mind, this is the right way to do staggered stance good mornings.
- Rack and hold a barbell across your upper back. Make sure it rests on your trapezius muscle and not your neck.
- Standing with your feet together, step one leg back and bend your knees slightly. Your rear leg is for balance only.
- Brace your core and pull the barbell securely down onto your traps. Lift your chest.
- Hinging from the hips, lean forward as far as your flexibility allows. Do not round your lower back. Push your hips backward to intensify the stretch in your hamstrings. More stretch equals more muscle growth (2).
- Drive your hips forward, stand up, reset your core, and repeat.
- Continue for the desired number of reps, and then rest.
- Switch legs and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.
Staggered Stance Good Mornings: Muscles Worked
Staggered stance good mornings are a compound exercise, meaning they involve multiple joints and muscles working together. The main muscles trained by this exercise are:
- Gluteus maximus
- Erector spinae
Get more from staggered stance good mornings with these tried-and-tested pro-trainer tips.
- Place a folded towel or cushion under the bar for comfort. Alternatively, you can use a squat bar pad.
- Actively pull the bar down onto your back to stop it from moving. Otherwise, it might roll up onto your neck as you lean forward.
- Keep your neck neutral. In other words, do not lift your head as you lean forward. Doing so puts unnecessary stress on your neck.
- Keep your shoulders back and chest up throughout. This increases upper back stiffness and stability, which makes the exercise safer and more effective.
- This exercise works best with light to moderate weights and medium to high reps, e.g., 8-20. I do not recommend lower reps or heavier weights.
Staggered Stance Good Morning Mistakes to Avoid
Make staggered stance good mornings as safe and effective as possible by avoiding these common mistakes.
- Never round your lower back. A rounded lumbar spine puts huge amounts of stress on your intervertebral disks and ligaments, which could cause serious back injury.
- Avoid resting the barbell on the bony part of your neck. This is not only uncomfortable but could cause neck injury. Instead, rest it on your upper traps.
- Do not descend too quickly. Rather, lean forward smoothly, slowly, and with control. This is both safer and more effective.
- Avoid locking your front knee. Keep your leg slightly bent to take stress off your knee joint and increase glute and hamstring engagement.
- Don’t look at yourself in the mirror. Doing so puts unwanted stress on your neck. Instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine.
Staggered Stance Good Morning Benefits
Not sure if staggered stance good mornings deserve a place in your workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide.
Fix left-to-right strength imbalances
Most people have one leg stronger than the other. This is natural and normal. However, large strength discrepancies can cause postural and movement imbalances, possibly resulting in injury.
Staggered stance good mornings allow you to identify and fix such imbalances. Simply do more reps or an extra set or two on your weak side to increase strength/mass where needed.
Working one side of your body at a time means you won’t need to put as much weight on your barbell. Subsequently, you can work your hamstrings and glutes without overloading your lower back. This is good news for back pain sufferers and anyone who wants to avoid overloading their lower back muscles.
Many of life’s strenuous activities happen one leg at a time. For example, walking, running, and kicking. Staggered stance good mornings work each leg independently, more closely replicating the demands of everyday living. As such, this exercise is more functional than regular good mornings.
Balance is your ability to keep your center of mass over your base of support. It’s critical for everyday and sports function and performance. However, while balance is highly trainable, it’s easily lost if you don’t use it. Unilateral exercises like staggered stance good mornings teach you how to balance better.
While regular good mornings are a great exercise, they’ll lose their effectiveness if you do them too often. Adding staggered stance good mornings to your workouts provides the variation you need to make sure your workouts stay productive.
Despite being a semi-bilateral exercise, staggered stance good mornings work best when you do them with light to moderate weights and medium to high reps. 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps works well for most. However, you can push your reps as high as 20-30 if you prefer to use light weights.
Do this exercise 1-3 times per week on non-consecutive days to avoid overworking your lower back.
Finally, remember you are only as strong as your last workout, so try to increase your reps or weights to maintain your progress. That said, never sacrifice good form for more weight, as that can lead to injuries.
Staggered Stance Good Morning Variations
There are several additional ways to do staggered stance good mornings. Three of the best include:
1. Safety bar staggered stance good mornings
A safety bar has built-in pads and a sort of yoke shape, which makes it more comfortable for squats and good mornings. Not all gyms have them, but if you have access to a safety bar, you’ll find it’s ideal for staggered stance good mornings.
2. Dumbbell staggered stance good mornings
Barbells are long and can be unwieldy, making them difficult to control. That’s especially true for beginners and with unilateral exercises like staggered stance good mornings. The good news is that you can use a dumbbell instead, getting a great workout without all that unwanted wobbling. This is also a good option for home exercisers.
3. Resistance band staggered stance good mornings
No weights? No problem! Work your posterior chain using a loop-type resistance band. This variation is even more lower back-friendly because there is less tension at the mid-point of each rep. This is when the load is usually higher on your spine. Portable and easy on your back? This exercise is a winner!
I’m a big fan of staggered stance good mornings. It’s not just me that likes them, either – my personal training clients do, too. It’s a very effective posterior chain exercise, yet it’s relatively easy on the lower back. I also like using this movement to identify and fix left-to-right strength imbalances.
In short, staggered stance good mornings deserve a starring role in your posterior chain workouts. Give them a try; I think you’re going to like them!
- Tataryn N, Simas V, Catterall T, Furness J, Keogh JWL. Posterior-Chain Resistance Training Compared to General Exercise and Walking Programmes for the Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain in the General Population: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med Open. 2021 Mar 8;7(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s40798-021-00306-w. PMID: 33683497; PMCID: PMC7940464.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE Open Med. 2020 Jan 21;8:2050312120901559. doi: 10.1177/2050312120901559. PMID: 32030125; PMCID: PMC6977096.
Featured image: @ErikBlekeberg on YouTube