October 29, 2021 9 min read
The good morning exercise is a highly effective back exercise that also puts the glutes and hamstrings to work. With its variations and unique muscle activation patterns, it’s a great addition to any posterior chain workout routine.
The hip hinge plays a huge role in the good morning.
Most commonly, a barbell is held across the shoulders to incorporate the upper back muscles, although resistance bands and dumbbells might also be used. In many ways, good mornings are a more particular exercise than most, which means the potential for injury in the lower back is high if you use too much weight or improper form.
Fortunately, mastering good mornings just takes a bit of practice.
Read on to find out how to perform the good morning exercise and how it can fit into an existing fitness routine.
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a close relative to good mornings.The main difference between a good morning and the RDL is that the RDL is performed holding the barbell or dumbbells at your waist and bending forward whereas the good morning is performed with barbell across your shoulders like a squat.
Rather than picking a barbell up off the floor from a deadlift position in an RDL, in a good morning, you start from a standing position with the barbell across your shoulders as you would a squat, and hinge forward at the hips until you’re as close to 90° as you can comfortably manage.
You perform the lifting action as you press your back into the bar and squeezing your glutes to reverse back into the starting position.
The principle muscles worked in good mornings are the spinal erectors, glutes, core, and hamstrings.Your spinal erectors, or erector spinae, are responsible for rotating the spine from side to side and maintaining a straight and upright posture.
Studies show that the size of your spinal erectors is a good indicator of back strength overall. They’re also important muscles for preventing back injuries.
Good mornings also work your glutes.
Although squats and deadlifts might hit the glutes harder, using all three exercises as part of your workout routine will help build a toned posterior and increase the functional strength in your lower body.
Hamstrings are loaded isometrically during good mornings rather than being actively loaded like they are in squats.
The more you bend your knees, the shorter your hamstrings become and the less of a workout they receive. Good mornings typically only have a slight knee bend at the end of the exercise. That being said, some weightlifters prefer a good morning - squat hybrid that includes the full knee flexion of a squat.
Next, we have the core muscles.
Holding your body in position as your torso gets closer to being parallel with the floor recruits the rectus abdominis and obliques while lifting the weight as you get back into the starting position activates your abs.
To some extent, upper back muscles like the traps and lats are activated during good mornings as well.
They certainly aren’t the stars of the show, but if you’re using a well-loaded barbell then they will get a workout just from supporting that weight.
Let’s talk about how to do a classic good morning exercise. We’ll fill in some potential learning gaps with additional form notes in the next section, so make sure to read past these basic steps.
To get the most out of the good morning exercise, you have to master doing them with perfect form.
Here are some great tips to fix the most common good morning mistakes:
The way the barbell is held in the good morning exercise is fairly unusual. Taking hold of it with the wrong grip makes it more difficult to pass the bar over your head and hold it in place during the exercise. You need to use an overhand grip without trying to support the bar with your palms. If you do, too much pressure will be on your wrists and the risk of injury will increase for very little payoff.
Another common mistake is holding too wide or too narrow a grip. Your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders. A smaller distance makes it hard to get the bar into the right position and move through the entire range of motion while a wide grip makes the bar harder to keep hold of and potentially puts your shoulder at risk of injury.
People tend to try and hold the barbell either too close to their shoulders or too low on the shoulder blade. In the first case, that bar could roll forward and make contact with your head or neck. In the second, you could lose hold of it altogether. In both scenarios, your body isn’t supporting the weight properly and you’re much more likely to drop the weight.
Good mornings aren’t the exercise to attempt lifting as much as you can. The optimal level is about half of your one-rep max squat weight. Some lifters use even less, often around 40% of their one-rep max. Beginners can start with bodyweight good mornings or by using just the bar until they master the proper form.
Added weight does make good mornings more challenging, but if you take on too much weight you could rob yourself of some of the benefits. For instance, more weight causes the knees to bend more which will reduce the workout for your hamstrings.
The goal is to build mass and improve strength in your upper and lower back muscles. Spinal stability is a must-have for many exercises and good mornings are a great way to build the posterior chain strength that will give your back that stability. But when you’re first starting to build strength in your back, your spine will be at risk of injury if you use too much weight.
A good way to make sure your wrists aren’t stacked with weight during your good mornings is to keep your forearms at an angle and your elbows behind the barbell rather than straight underneath it. This also keeps the weight well-balanced so your good mornings build strength properly.
This is just a trick to make sure you don’t break at the knees too early in the exercise. While you would start bending your knees right away in similar exercises like squats, you don’t want to do that same thing with good mornings. A slight bend in the knees is ok at the end of the exercise, but it shouldn’t happen earlier than for the sake of your hamstrings.
It’s easy to get carried away in the middle of a workout but that could ruin the rest of your gym session. Good mornings are a 16-rep, 2-3 set exercise, particularly because they work on the back muscles so much. Take the time to use the proper form for each rep rather than focusing on how many you can do.
For those times when you don’t have a squat rack or barbell available, it’s helpful to know a few different ways you can get your good mornings done.The easiest way and the one we recommend for absolute beginners to the exercise or fitness, in general, is the bodyweight good morning.
Rather than holding a bar or barbell, you simply place both hands on the back of your neck. The rest of the exercise is the same.If you have a large loop resistance band, you can step on one end and pass the other end over your neck and perform a good morning that way. The tension of the band provides the resistance you need to build strength.
Single-leg good mornings are much more challenging and work the muscle groups in your lower body and core much more because their stabilizing ability is required for your body to stay balanced.
But be warned: these variations are expert-level.
Keeping one leg off the ground and extending it behind you during the hip hinge is much more difficult than it sounds but it is a great goal to train toward.
Dumbbells are popular weights for people who do good mornings as part of a home workout routine.
It takes a bit of getting used to to hold the dumbbells in the right position for a good morning, but it becomes second nature after a while. You could also widen your stance if you want your good mornings to target your glutes more or switch to a hip-width stance to build strength in your hamstrings.
If you’re using a really wide stance, lighten the load on the bar, especially if you’re trying out a wider stance for the first time as there’s a risk you’ll lose balance.
Now that we know good mornings are a great back exercise that also targets muscle groups in your core and lower body, you might be wondering how they fit in with other exercises. Should you do them on leg day, back day, or arm day?
It depends on which kind of good morning you’re doing.
If you’re using a loaded-up barbell and intend to build some serious body strength and sculpted muscles, then you can put good mornings near the beginning of your routine to prime your back for the rest of the workout. Many people who do bodyweight good mornings do them as part of a warm-up routine.
One of the nicest things about the good morning exercise is that it fits into multiple routines.
You can start with good mornings and move on to lunges, squats, or deadlifts if you want to focus on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Or you could move onto rows or lat pulldowns if you’re focusing on your back.
As mentioned above, good mornings are very similar to the Romanian deadlift.
The RDL activates the biceps femoris more than good mornings which work the semitendinosus. So if you want total hamstring activation, both should be in your weekly routine.
Other posterior chain exercises fit in well with good mornings.
Kettlebell swings make a nice follow-up, as do RDLs, lunges, bridges, and supermans. Squats and glute-ham raises are particularly well-suited to workout routines that include good mornings because they continue to work the hamstrings and also work all of your glutes, unlike good mornings which principally work the gluteus maximus.
If you’re in the earliest stages of your fitness journey, start doing a few sets of a few good mornings with just the bar.
Organize the rest of your routine with exercises like the kettlebell swing and RDLs that you can also do a few of and keep at it until you have the strength to do more good mornings.
After that, you can start to add weight to the barbell. Invest in a resistance band so you can practice at home and consider trying some bodyweight good mornings whenever you have some free time.
Remember that if you want to build strength and achieve the full range of possible motion in your hips, multiple hip extension exercises like good mornings need to be in your routine.
No matter how often you exercise, good mornings should be included on half of your workout days. Because they work your core, back, and muscle groups in your lower body, you can use them as warm-ups or as part of the main program on leg day, core day, or back day.
Make sure you take time to learn the proper form for good mornings and begin with the bodyweight variation or without weight on the bar to reduce the risk of injury while you’re learning. Once you’ve perfected your good mornings, you’ll have a powerful new back exercise in your workout arsenal.