Good Mornings are one of the best ways to build leg, hip and back strength. However, this exercise is often ignored out of fear of suffering a back injury,
The Good Morning exercise got its name because it resembles bowing at the waist as if to say, “good morning.” You begin with a barbell across your upper back and bend your hips similar to a Back Squat, but finish with your torso nearly parallel to the ground.
This is why the exercise gets a bad rap. Some think it’s just a Squat gone wrong. Others cringe at the thought of what holding a heavy bar with your torso nearly parallel to the ground is doing to your spine.
No doubt, these are legitimate concerns. The move does resemble a Squat with brutal form and it can cause injury if you’re not careful. However, it could be the missing link to busting through a strength plateau in Squats and Deadlifts if you find yourself failing to get stronger.
But before we learn how to perform this exercise, let’s look at the benefits of the Good Morning and whether or not you should give it a try.
Benefits of the Good Morning
The Good Morning is a hip hinge exercise, meaning the movement comes from hinging your hips, or bending at your waist. This puts it into the same category as a Deadlift and Squat. If you look closely, it’s almost identical to a Romanian Deadlift except for the position of the bar.
The exercise primarily strengthens the muscles on the backside of your body, or what’s referred to as your posterior chain. Your glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings (backs of your thighs) drive the movement. These muscles are involved in the vast majority of sports skills, such as sprinting, jumping, throwing a ball and others, so strengthening them is essential.
However, Good Mornings are so valuable because of the way it challenges your back. Even though your back is only supporting a barbell, it’s incredibly demanding on your entire back and core.
“It really creates strong engagement of the entire posterior chain, all the muscles of the back, all the spinal stabilizers that prevent spinal flexion,” explains Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of AdvancedHumanPerformance.com.
Better yet, strengthening these muscles can help you overcome a weakness that might be holding you back in your Squat and Deadlift.
“When most people are squatting and deadlifting, it should be their legs that get you first, but it rarely is,” Seedman says. “It’s usually their low back, upper back or spinal stabilizers. If your back has a tendency to give out, Good Mornings are one of the best exercises to address that.”
But Isn’t It Dangerous?
With all of the benefits of Good Mornings comes a big risk.
“In my opinion, Good Mornings done properly are one of the best posterior chain exercises,” says Seedman. “But when they’re performed improperly, they’re probably the single most dangerous exercise you can do.”
You’re most at risk for an injury at the bottom of a rep when your torso is closest to parallel. In this position, the weight of the barbell places significant stress on your back. If you know how to properly stabilize your back, then it’s not much of a concern. If your technique or strength is lacking, then it’s a sure-fire way to injure your spine.
That’s why Seedman advises against performing Good Mornings if you’re a beginner. It’s important to master exercises like the RDL and Back Squat before even considering performing them.
“If you can’t do a simple RDL, there’s no way a Good Morning will happen safely,” he adds.
This is not an exercise to experiment with or use ridiculously heavy weights to show off. Proper form is absolutely critical. No exceptions.
How to Perform the Good Morning
Before we get into the nitty-gritty on how to perform the exercise, let’s cover a few pointers from Seedman.
First and foremost, you must learn how to set up for a Squat, engage your back and tighten your core. You can find detailed instructions on how to do that here.
Use a low-bar position across your rear delts because it makes the exercise a bit safer. That said, the high-bar position across your traps is also fine—it works the hamstrings and lower-back muscles a bit more.
One of the worst mistakes is trying to go to parallel or even lower. Instead, stop at about 15 degrees above parallel.
Start with a weight that’s about 25 percent of your Back Squat and work to lift 50 percent of your Back Squat.
Do not try the straight-leg version of the Good Morning. The bar travels too far forward and places a ton of stress on your lower back.
Performing a Barbell Good Morning (the most common variation) is a lot like the Back Squat with a few minor differences. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Set up similar to a Back Squat with a stance between hip- and shoulder-width. Place the bar across your back in the high- or low-bar position. Grip the bar tightly, pull the bar into your body, take a deep breath in and tighten your core.
Step 2: Break at your hips to initiate the movement. Continue pushing your hips back until your torso is at about 15 degrees above parallel. Your shins should remain vertical and your knees should be slightly bent at the bottom of the movement.
Step 3: Push your hips forward to drive up to the starting position. Exhale at the top of the movement.
Good Morning Variations
There are several variations of the Good Morning that have slightly different benefits than the traditional Barbell Good Morning shown above. They are listed below in order of increasing difficulty.
Banded Good Morning
This version places minimal stress on your spine and is a great way to fry your glutes and hamstrings at the end of a workout with sets of 20 reps.
Dumbbell Good Morning
A beginner version of the Good Morning that has you hold a dumbbell in front of your chest. This is a good option to learn the movement or again perform with high reps.
Zercher Good Morning
Holding a barbell in front of your body in the ‘Zercher’ position takes stress of your spine and places it on the frontside of your body (think abs) while still strengthening your glutes and hamstrings. Here’s Tony Gentilcore, strength coach and owner or CORE (Boston), demonstrating the Zercher Good Morning.
Eccentric/Isometric Good Morning
Slowly lower the weight, pause at the bottom for 2-7 seconds and explode up. According to Seedman, Eccentric/Isometrics are one of the best methods to quickly building strength.
Single-Leg Good Morning
This is an incredibly challenging version of the Good Morning where you’re only on a single leg. If you have a weakness or imbalance, it will expose it and hopefully improve it. Here’s Seedman demonstrating the exercise.
You can also perform Good Mornings with chains, bands attached to the barbell and different bars, such as a safety bar.
If you’re uncomfortable with Good Mornings or these variations, you can still get many of the benefits with other exercises, such as Back Squats, Front Squats, RDLs and Deadlifts.
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