Goooooood mooooooorning SET FOR SET readers! Or afternoon. Or middle of the night. Or whenever you are reading this article. If the connection between the title and pun didn’t give it away, we’re going to be talking about the good morning exercise. This little exercise doesn’t get nearly enough love in the gym and when it does, it resembles a love from two completely dysfunctional individuals who have no business being with each other (that means the form is awful). The good morning is a great hamstring exercise and will definitely challenge you but you need good form! No worries, this article is going to break down everything you need to know about the good morning exercise and more:

  • How to perform the good morning correctly
  • The muscles used in the good morning exercise
  • The top 5 benefits of good morning exercise
  • What equipment you can use to perform good mornings (and variations)
  • How to program good mornings into your workout routine

Your hamstrings will never be the same after this…let’s go.

What Is The Good Morning Exercise?

The good morning exercise is a movement that focuses almost primarily on the posterior muscles, specifically the hamstrings. While there is a slight bend in the knees, the vast bulk of the movement occurs at the hip. This means that the muscles utilized in the good morning are those responsible for hip extension. Therefore, while it’s technically a compound movement as there is flexion and extension at the knees and hips, it’s treated more like an isolation movement. But that’s just semantics.

While good mornings may look similar to a stiff leg deadlift or a Romanian deadlift, the one significant difference with a good morning is that a barbell is placed on the shoulders to perform the movement. When standing up straight, the trainee will slightly bend the knees to push the hips back and bring the torso down. Again, during the movement, the knees will only bend slightly to allow you to come down and relieve pressure from the lower back.

The trainee will keep his back straight and shoulders pulled back as they lower. Once the lifter gets to a point where they are about to break form, they push the hips forward until full extension.

If you have ever seen a good morning, you will have noticed that it resembles a bowing motion, similar to what you see in some Asian countries as a greeting in the morning. And yes, this is why it’s called good morning.

How To Perform The Good Morning With Perfect Form

While form is essential in every movement, having a pristine form with a good morning is crucial. This is due for two reasons:

  • You don’t want to get injured. The good morning puts a lot of stress on your lower back which is 100% fine IF you keep good form.
  • To engage the correct muscles.

good mornings form

Here is how to perform the good morning:

  1. Rack a barbell and place the desired weight on the barbell collars. Even if the weight is light enough for you to just pick the bar up from the floor, we always want to practice good form PLUS you may run into an issue and we don’t want to just drop a bar from shoulder height.
  2. Place the bar in the same place as you would with a squat. Keep in mind that a high bar position will cause more stress on muscles than a low bar position as the weight will be father from the body.
  3. Grip the bar and step out of the rack. You may want to take a slightly wider grip as it will create less tension on the shoulders.
  4. Place your feet so they’re somewhere between hip and shoulder-width apart. Before you begin your descent, brace your core and be prepared to keep your torso straight.
  5. Begin the movement by pushing your hips back and slightly bending your knees. The knees are bent just enough to allow the torso to come down. This is primarily a hip hinge, so the knees should not have any meaningful flex.
  6. Form here, you will simply continue coming down while holding your shoulders back and keeping a rigid back (be sure to keep your shoulder blades retracted throughout). As your knees stay back, the load on your shoulders will move significantly in front of your legs. Try to keep your head in line with your spine to maintain correct positioning. 
  7. As you come down, go slow and let the tension build within your hamstrings. In fact, a lot of tension. The tension built up will be what determines how low your torso comes. Basically, you will go as low as you can (essentially just before your form would break). If you find that you can’t come low at all due to poor mobility or flexibility, you can bend your knees a bit more to allow a greater range of motion. However, you will need to work hip and hamstring mobility and flexibility in a separate session.
  8. Come down slow until you find your maximal depth (which obviously won’t ever be more than parallel with the floor). You’ll then stop and come up. As you ascend, your focus will be on pushing your hips forward and flexing your glutes. You will come up straight because your hips are being pushed forward.

Muscles Trained With The Good Morning

Even though the movement primarily happens at one joint, the good morning is a serious exercise that trains a lot of muscle mass. First, let’s look at the primary muscles involved in a good morning.

As mentioned above several times, the good morning is a hip-hinge movement that primarily trains the posterior chain muscles. This includes the hamstrings, the glutes, and the erector spinae.

Hamstrings:

Technically the good morning trains the entire posterior chain but without a doubt, the primary muscle is the hamstring. The hamstrings are composed of three different muscle groups that cross over the knee and the hips. Therefore, the hamstrings are responsible for flexion of the knees and extension of the hips; we’re interested in the extension of the hips.

And damn do good mornings work on the extension of the hips. One of the reasons you’ll feel this in the hamstrings so much more when compared to other hip hinge movements is the amount of stretch put on the hamstrings. Remember that when you bend over, knee flexion is minimal meaning your hamstrings will have a crazy (possibly slightly uncomfortable) stretch. Plus, the hamstrings get this crazy stretch during the eccentric portion of the movement, which studies show is responsible for the majority of muscle damage and the resulting strength and muscle hypertrophy.

Glutes:

Want a peach butt? Do some good mornings. While you’re getting a good stretch in your hamstrings, your glutes still play a significant role in hip extension regardless of how bent your knees are.

Erector Spinae:

The erector spinae is a set of muscles located on either side of the spine and runs from the skull to the sacral region (bottom of the spine). They narrow and widen as they travel and even reach out to the rib cages at the widest. All that being said, the erector spine is the primary muscle that controls the flexion and extension of the spine; it’s what literally holds the spine in place. 

During the good morning exercise, its main job is to work isometrically to maintain rigidness to the spine and keep it from bending. Still, it’s the top piece of the posterior chain that helps to totally lock out the hips with hip extension.

Secondary Muscles Trained With The Good Morning

While the good morning is primarily going to train the 3 muscle groups above, plenty of other muscles are still activated. 

Entire Upper Back:

While a generic description, your entire upper back will be firing to maintain a rigid upper back. While the erector spine is primarily responsible for avoiding flexion of the spine (bending forward), it can only do so much. If you allow the upper back to start curling forward, the rest of the back will follow suit eventually. Therefore, these upper back muscles will primarily perform an intense isometric contraction to keep the shoulders pulled back and the scapula correctly positioned.

Abs:

The abs…the front side of the core. Again, the erector spinae is primarily responsible to fight the flexion that wants to occur. This is true, but the rest of the core, including the abs, are needed to help maintain that rigidness, primarily through keeping intra-abdominal pressure.

what muscles do good mornings work

The Top 5 Good Morning Benefits

Good morning benefits are plentiful. Here are the top reasons you need to include these in your training session:

1. No Grip Required

Good mornings aren’t the only tough exercise to work your posterior chain. In fact, this is exactly what deadlifts do, and when looking at stiff-legged deadlifts, they are very similar to good mornings. However, there is one big difference. During stiff-legged deadlifts, the trainee will hold a barbell out in front of their body to perform the movement. It’s a great movement but it requires holding onto a barbell. While we should all aim to have a stronger grip, sometimes we are just tired, not to mention that both are accessory movements and are generally performed towards the end of a session.

However, because the good morning is performed with a barbell on your back, the grip will never be a limiting factor nor have any effect. This only means one thing…you can do good mornings until your heart’s (or better yet, hamstrings’) content.

2. Decrease Risk Of Hamstring Injury

Injuries to the hamstrings are among the most common injuries found in athletics. The good morning reduces this risk because it consists of a slow, controlled eccentric movement (going down) which is vital in optimizing the strength of the hamstrings. This is what makes exercises like Nordic curls so effective in building the hamstrings for athletes.

Still, studies have shown that your hamstrings eccentric strength is one of the most critical components in preventing hamstring injuries in sports, athletics, and life in general. This is a significant component of good morning exercise; they can play a critical role in preventing injuries.

3. Perfect You Hip Hinge

The hip hinge is the most essential movement pattern there is in weight lifting. It’s seen in all of your major lower body movements like the squat, deadlift, and hip thrust. It’s seen on the Olympic lifts. It’s even seen in some upper body movements like the push press. The point is that if you want to have big numbers for your big lifts, you need a pristine hip hinge.

This is why the good morning is so essential for everyone, as it’s a pure hip hinge movement. Nothing else is going on except pushing your hips back then extending. If you can perfect the good morning, you have, in effect, perfected the hip hinge. 

4. Prevent Injuries To The Lower Back

Good mornings really stress the erector spinae, in a good way.. Due to the minimal bend in the knee, the torso will be bent over significantly with weight on the shoulders. Together, this means that you will be placing a significant amount of stress on the lower back with a minimal load. 

To not hurt your lower back, you will need to maintain a pristine form. This means your erector spinae will be working overtime to keep good form with a straight back. Not to mention the added stress will create a lower back of steel. If you have a tendency to get minor tweaks in your lower back, the good morning will likely add strength in all the right spots to prevent this from happening.

5. Improve Your Performance On Deadlift And Squats

The good morning is generally considered an assistance exercise to support the deadlift. However, it’s also going to improve your squat and any other movement that includes a hip hinge or requires you to maintain a rigid back.

The good morning will teach a lifter to maintain a packed upper back under pressure. This is seen during squats a lot. While a squatter won’t be bent over to the same extent a good morning, they will be using a considerably heavier load which can have the same effect. Perfecting the good squat will help you maintain an upright torso and prevent collapsing. Further, many lifters tend to want to fall forward during the squat and deadlift as this is where the weight wants to go. The good morning exaggerates this tendency as the torso is bent over far in front of your center of gravity. If you can fight the tendency to fall forward during a good morning, you can fight it during the deadlift or squat.

Regardless, the good morning will produce some seriously strong hamstrings, which are crucial muscles in the deadlift and squat.

6. Improve Hip Mobility, T-Spine Mobility, And Shoulder Mobility

So, basically, the good morning will improve your mobility issues. Due to the movement pattern and “tightness” of the body, this single barbell exercise will require you to have:

  • Great hip mobility to be able to push your hips back and bend forward under a load only to have to extend again.
  • T-spine mobility as your upper back must maintain its rigidness even though you have a load in your back and your posterior muscles are building up tension. It’s actually a lot of work to keep your shoulders pulled back.
  • Shoulder mobility will begin to feel a lot of pressure as you bend over. The shoulder mobility requirements that exist with a squat are only exaggerated when you bend over.

Best Good Morning Variations

There’s more than one way to do a good morning. Here are several variations of the good morning exercise and different pieces of equipment you can use.

Traditional Barbell Good Morning

The traditional good morning simply uses a barbell, as we already went over good form above, no need to go over it twice.

barbell good mornings

Seated Barbell Good Morning

You’ll perform the first good morning variation with a barbell, but you’ll also need to grab a bench to sit on. That’s because you’re going to be doing some seated good mornings.

To perform this variation, you will first want to place a barbell on your back and then straddle a bench with one foot on either side. You’ll then slowly sit down and place your legs angled out with your feet on the ground so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keeping your shoulders pulled back, you will lean forward as far as you can go. Most people can get their chest pretty close to the bench but don’t force it if you can’t. Next, you simply bring your chest back up, being sure to keep a straight back the whole time.

Because you are sitting down, the erector spinae is responsible for a huge percentage of the work done with this good morning variation; basically 100% (with the help of the upper back and core). That being said, this is a great movement to include to completely isolate the sector spinae.

seated good mornings

Safety Squat Bar Good Morning

The second good morning variation will have you exchange the barbell for a safety squat bar. If you’re not sure what a safety squat bar is, check out this informative article. 

However, a quick explanation is a safety squat bar is a cambered bar (weights hang lower than the middle of the bar) with handles that come out in front for you to hold.

Other than the setup, the good morning with a safety squat bar is performed in the same manner as the traditional good morning with barbells.

Still, the safety squat bar solves issues that sometimes occur with good mornings: shoulder mobility and t-spine mobility. Bending over with a load on the upper back can exacerbate a minor mobility issue and make it a large one. Using a safety squat bar won’t be an issue as you can hold the handles out in front. In fact, this is the bar most commonly used for good mornings at the infamous Westside Barbell.

safety squat bar good morning

Barbell Zercher Good Morning

The last good morning variation will have you pick up the barbell again and possibly some towels (sweat!). That’s because you’re going to be performing some Zercher good mornings. Zercher good mornings are inspired by Zercher squats which are performed by holding a barbell in the nook of your elbows rather than placing it on your back. While this can be uncomfortable to the elbows, it’s killer for the core. 

Zercher good mornings are going to give your back and biceps a crazy workout too. When you unrack the barbell, you will be holding it in the nook of your elbows with your arms bent and hugged tight. Then you’re going to perform a good morning and bend over. Because you’ll basically be going parallel to the ground, it’s similar to conducting an isometric hold at the top of a row. These hurt so good!

Note: You can do Zercher good mornings from a seated position too.

zercher good morning

You can also do good mornings with resistance bands!

Other variations/equipment:

  • Staggered Stance Good Mornings
  • Single Leg Good Mornings
  • Sumo Stance Good Mornings
  • Straight Fixed Bar Good Mornings (good option for beginners, in place of an Olympic barbell)
  • Reverse Hack Squat Machine Good Mornings
  • Kettlebell Good Mornings
  • Dumbbell Good Mornings
  • Sandbag Good Mornings

How To Program The Good Morning Exercise

Generally speaking, the good morning exercise is pretty established with its role in strength and conditioning programs; as an accessory movement to help improve deadlift and squat performance or decrease hamstring injuries. If this is your purpose, the good morning will be used on your deadlift/squat day after your main lifts. Regardless of how many exercises you include in your session, the good morning generally comes somewhere in the middle of the order. For a rep scheme, you should start with a basic 3×8 @75-80% 1RM. Some strength-specific athletes (powerlifters, strongmen) will use up to 90% heavier loads. While this will definitely make you badass, it should be saved for intermediate-advanced lifters who have plenty of experience with good mornings.

Some experienced strength athletes will also use dynamic speed work with good mornings, bands, and ultra-heavy. Again, the only people who should be using these styles with good mornings are experienced lifters.

In the bodybuilding world, the good morning is used to increase the muscle mass of the hamstrings through muscle hypertrophy (strength vs hypertrophy explained!). For this, you’ll simply follow a basic hypertrophy plan of 3 set x 8-12 reps with 70-80% 1RM. You can go with a higher rep scheme, but again, this should be saved for more advanced lifters. Perfect form is critical for the good morning (form is crucial for all movements, but it’s really crucial for good morning!), and you run the risk of building up too much fatigue with higher reps. This causes your form to fall apart and hello back pain.

how to do good morning exercise

Can I Use Body Weight With Good Mornings?

One common question is if bodyweight-only will work for good mornings, and the answer is…absolutely!! In fact, if you are new to lifting, you should definitely start with body weight. This is a great way to become familiar with the movement and build tension in the hamstrings. The one technique variable for performing bodyweight good mornings is to place your hands behind your head and flare your elbows out. This will help you with the required shoulder and t-spine mobility.

Can I Do Good Mornings With Dumbbells?

One other common question people ask is; “Can I perform good mornings with dumbbells?” Well, that depends on where you hold them. If you want to hold the dumbbells with your hands down in front of you, then no, you cannot. Well, you definitely can do that, but you just won’t be performing good mornings; you’ll be performing Romanian dumbbell deadlifts or stiff-legged deadlifts. Those are also great exercises, so there’s nothing wrong with them; they’re just not good mornings.

That being said, you could hold dumbbells in the rack position with the dumbbells resting on your shoulders with your elbows up. This puts the load on top of your body, which distinguishes a good morning from other similar hip-hinge movements.

Good Morning, Good Mornings!

There you go, everything you need to know about this great little hip hinge movement. Good mornings are a proper strength movement that should be incorporated into any lifters program. Few movements can reach its effectiveness on training the hamstrings for hip extension; or training the hip extension in general. If performed regularly, good mornings are going to give you a set of hamstrings you never thought possible. These newly acquired hamstrings will provide you with a deadlift and squat you never thought possible. These new deadlifts and squats will then get you the girlfriend/boyfriend you never thought possible….well, maybe not the girlfriend/boyfriend but definitely the hamstrings and lifts. Thank you, good mornings.

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