A good morning is not just when you wake up, the sun is shining, and it’s your day off.
Good mornings are also a powerful exercise for your posterior chain, great for adding strength to your glutes, hamstrings, back, and core.
Good mornings are not a staple part of many peoples’ workout routine, because the exercise has developed itself a reputation as being dangerous. At first glance, this exercise does not look good for your lower back.
And if your form is off, that’s absolutely true.
But, done right, good mornings are a phenomenal way to work a range of different muscle groups, as well as strengthening the posterior chain, which is great for functional strength and injury prevention.
In this article, we’ll expand on why the good morning exercise is so beneficial, and how to do it without risking injury.
What is the Good Morning Exercise?
The good morning exercise is also known as a hip-hinge, which gives you a good idea of how it works.
This exercise is a mix between a squat and a deadlift. Like a squat, you have a barbell or light weight loaded on your back.
But the movement is similar to a deadlift, where you keep your spine straight, contract the hips and bend forward.
You can also imagine it as the movement you do when you get out of bed in the morning, putting your feet on the floor, bending at the waist, before straightening out and standing up.
Hence where the “good morning” name comes from.
Why Should You Do the Good Morning Exercise?
Compound movements like squats and deadlifts are so valuable for the full-body workout they give you, as well as strengthening the oft-neglected posterior chain.
Good mornings are no different.
The good morning exercise hits a number of muscle groups all at once. Glutes and hamstrings get the most work. You’ll also activate the calves, upper back, lats, and core.
And that’s not the end of it.
Depending on the weight you use, you can also work the shoulders, biceps, and triceps. All this from one exercise.
Aside from the sheer number of muscles that get work from the good morning exercise, the biggest benefit is how it targets and strengthens the posterior chain, which is a weak point for so many people.
A stronger posterior chain gives you more functional strength and mobility. This helps you avoid injuries, both from working out and regular day-to-day activities.
It also provides huge benefits for other physical activities, such as sports or martial arts, or simply helping you lift heavier in other exercises with a lower risk of hurting yourself.
Are Good Mornings Bad for Your Back?
Good mornings look like they’re bad for your back, and have developed a bad reputation. The truth is, they’re actually hugely beneficial for your back, assuming your form is correct.
The muscles worked when you do good mornings actually strengthen your back, as well as supporting muscles in the posterior chain.
Building strength in the posterior chain, such as the glutes and hamstrings, will help you avoid lower back injuries from other exercises or movements.
When you lack strength in these areas, your back, particularly the lower back, often has to compensate and take on more weight, which is where injuries occur.
A strong posterior chain and core give you a stable base, which will make movements like deadlifts and squats easier.
Are Good Mornings Dangerous?
Now we get to the biggest concern around the good morning exercise. Isn’t it dangerous?
Bending over at the waist with a heavy weight on your back looks like a failed squat, and it looks like an injury waiting to happen.
To be fair, the good morning is dangerous, if done incorrectly. There is a fairly small margin for error with this exercise - get it wrong, and you can do some damage.
However, learning to do good mornings correctly is not too difficult. And when done right, good mornings are not only safe, they’ll help you better avoid injuries, as we talked about earlier.
How to Do Good Mornings Safely
Learning to do safe, form-perfect good mornings is essential. Here are a few tips to help you do them with correct form, and without risk of injury.
Maintain perfect form
Imperfect form is how good mornings become dangerous. Bending over too much, keeping the knees too straight and over-balancing can be quite harmful.
We’ll go over how to do this exercise right in the next section. But it bears repeating how important form is for the good morning exercise.
Go easy on the weight
Stick to light weights with good mornings. Overloading weight is a great way to get injured.
When you’re first learning the form, start with an absolute minimum in weight. Begin with just an unloaded barbell, or even nothing at all. Work at getting correct and consistent form, and only when you’re absolutely confident, start adding weight.
Work with a trainer if possible
Since form is so crucial with good mornings, it’s best to work with a trainer if you can. A trainer will show you the correct form, and observe you help keep your form perfect.
How to Do the Good Morning Exercise
You’ll start off similar to a squat. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. You can do the exercise with a barbell, as you would a squat, or unweighted.
If you don’t use any weight, put your hands gently behind your head. If you’re doing it with a barbell, load the bar on your back, resting across your rear delts, just behind the shoulders.
Bend your knees slightly, and fix them in place - they shouldn’t bend further during the movement.
Now, you’ll lean forward, while pushing your hips back. Stick out your chest and butt to help keep your spine in a good position.
Don’t lean too far forward. A common mistake is simply to bend at the hips, keeping your hips in place and ending in an unbalanced position and a rounded back.
Instead, sit into the movement, and keep your chest in line with your knees.
After descending to around a 15-degree angle, come back up to the starting position.
Check out this video to see the perfect good morning form in action:
What if I Don't Have Enough Mobility to Perform Good Mornings?
Mobility - or lack of it - may feel like a hurdle for some people when it comes to first adding good mornings to your routine. It’s true that you might have trouble with this exercise if you have poor mobility, but that’s just more of a reason to start doing good mornings regularly.
Good mornings will improve your mobility, which will do wonders for many areas of your life, whether it’s improving athletic performance, how well you execute other lifts, or just feeling better in everyday life.
If you’re starting from a point of poor mobility, begin with unweighted good mornings. You won’t have as much risk of damaging your lower back, and you’ll gradually work your way up to a full range of motion.
Supplementary mobility routines can also help here, such as daily stretching, and yoga.
You can also use a stick to help with mobility and learning proper form for good mornings. This video shows how to do this:
What are the Different Good Morning Variations?
There are a number of variations to the good morning exercise you can do, to change the level of difficulty and/or the primary muscles worked.
Basic unweighted good mornings, with zero weight and your hands behind your head or crossed over the chest, are great for mobility, and carry a lower risk of injury. This is a great place to start when you’re new to this exercise.
Back-loaded good mornings are an excellent strength workout, which you can move on to when you’ve mastered your form. You’ll perform the movement with a barbell on your back, similar to a squat. Even an unloaded barbell will give you a real pump in the hamstrings and glutes.
Front-loaded good mornings are quite a bit trickier. You’ll perform the same movement, but with a light weight, such as a plate or kettlebell, held in front of you. This works the core more intensely, as it needs to work overtime to keep your spine straight and form correct. With this variation it’s even more crucial to keep the weight to a minimum, as the risk of rounding your back is even greater.
A seated good morning works the glutes and lower back more, while being easier on the hamstrings. As the name suggests, you’ll be seated, feet planted and barbell loaded on the back. Then perform the exercise as normal, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight.
When you’ve nailed down your form, you can also try a single-legged good morning, balancing on one leg and performing the same hip-hinge movement. You’ll want to keep the load extremely low for this, which is a great challenge for stability and balance.
How to Include Good Mornings in Your Workout Routine
Good mornings are not suitable for HIIT or metabolic conditioning routines, where intensity and speed are the goals. Good mornings must be precise, and smooth, with each rep done perfectly. So you don’t want to be racing to complete the movement..
There are two ways to think of good mornings as part of your routine.
They can be great as a warm-up at the start of your workout. Do a set of light or unweighted good mornings to work on your mobility and stretch out muscles that you’re going to put into use later.
Alternatively, good mornings make a fine addition to your strength routine. It’s still essential to keep the weight low until you’ve got your form nailed down, however, even a low weight will give you a deep burn in the hamstrings, making them perfect for a grueling leg day.
Good mornings are a powerful exercise for a number of reasons, including the efficiency with which you can work many different muscle groups and the benefits this exercise offers your core and posterior chain. It’s unfortunate that many people see the movement as dangerous, and thus don’t add it to their regular routine.
Take the time to learn the perfect form for good mornings, and start utilizing them now. You’ll see massive benefits that carry over into other lifts, athletic performance, and feeling great in daily life.