Training the posterior chain - the chain of muscle groups going along the back of your body, from the upper back down to the calves - is an efficient way to build strength, increase mobility, and just get in all-around great shape.
And one of the most popular posterior chain workouts is the good morning exercise.
Good mornings can be a great exercise, either to add to your regular workout regime or to do on their own when you have a minute or so to spare. But they also get a bit of a bad rap, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there surrounding this exercise.
In this article, we’ll look to clear that up.
We’ll explain exactly which muscle groups good mornings work, and answer other commonly asked questions, such as whether or not they are safe to do.
What is the Good Morning Exercise?
Good mornings are something in between a squat and a deadlift. The movement sort of resembles a failed squat, or a deadlift, but with the bar loaded on your back (like it would be with a squat).
Here’s how it works:
- You stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squatting slightly, with your knees and hips bent a little.
- Put an unweighted barbell, or a barbell with very light weight, across your traps/upper back (you can also do it unweighted, connecting your hands behind your head).
- Engage your core and lower your upper body, hinging at the hips and pushing your butt back slightly.
- Come back to your vertical starting position.
Good mornings are also known as a “hip hinge”, which aptly describes the way the motion should work.
It’s important to keep the core engaged, and not to round your back at any point, to maintain safety and get the most out of the exercise.
What Muscles Do Good Mornings Work?
Good mornings work the posterior chain of muscle groups. These are the muscles that run all the way along the back side of your body. This includes the:
- Erector spinae
- Lower back
- Upper back
The good morning exercise hits all these muscles at some point in the motion, which is what makes it such an efficient movement.
The hamstrings, glutes, and to a degree the calves are responsible for the hip extension. The lower back muscles, erector spinae, and core are all activated to maintain your form throughout the motion.
While the upper back, and potentially your upper arms (shoulders/triceps) work to keep the barbell in place - especially with weighted good mornings.
Do Good Mornings Build Muscle?
Yes, good mornings do build muscle. The primary areas you’re likely to see gains are in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. These are the muscle groups that are activated the most, and put in the most work from start to finish of the movement.
Good mornings are, however, more of a combination of flexibility/strength exercise, compared to traditional strength lifts. Don’t expect the same gains from good mornings as you get from squats or deadlifts, for example.
You’re not going to be able to do it safely with the same level of weight as you would a squat or deadlift, and this will affect how much muscle you have the potential to gain.
However, good mornings will build strength and muscle - even when done with a very low weight.
Do Bodyweight Good Mornings Do Anything?
One of the most popular good morning variations is the bodyweight good morning. With this, instead of putting a barbell across your back, you perform the motion unweighted, with just your hands behind your head, fingers touching and elbows flared out.
Bodyweight good mornings won’t do as much for strength or muscle gain as a regular weighted good morning. However, you’re still going to see some small strength increases if you do them regularly.
Bodyweight good mornings are particularly good for increasing flexibility, however. You can get a really good stretch along with the hamstrings and glutes, muscle groups which for many people are extremely tight.
Best yet, there’s much less risk of injury from a bodyweight good morning, and less energy expended, making them great for a warmup or an early morning stretch.
Are Good Mornings Safe?
We come to the question many people have when they see good mornings performed. Is it really safe? After all, it looks like a failed squat, which must surely be terrible for the back?
Good mornings are safe, if done right. You need to maintain proper form, and avoid overloading with too much weight. There is certainly the potential for damage if implemented incorrectly.
To do a good morning safely, without danger, you need to keep the core properly engaged, and stay in control of the motion the whole way.
Don’t lean too far forward, or around the back. Keep your back straight, knees slightly bent, and keep the movement in the hips.
Good mornings become dangerous most often when done with too much weight, which causes you to bend over and lean forward too much, putting stress on the back. That’s why it’s a good idea to get started with just an unloaded barbell, or even stick to bodyweight good mornings to begin with.
When to Do Good Mornings for the Best Results
There are a number of opportunities where you can add good mornings to your workout routine, or throughout the day in general.
Good mornings are a great dynamic stretching warmup. You can do a round of unweighted good mornings at the start of your workout to work on flexibility and warm up the muscle groups you’re about to work with.
They’re also excellent as a stretch on their own. As the name suggests, they’re good in the morning. When you first wake up, get out of bed and do a set of bodyweight good mornings to loosen the body up and get your metabolism going.
Alternatively, you can mix in weighted good mornings at any time during your workout. If you do push/pull days, add good mornings to your “pull” routine. Or you might do good mornings on your back or leg days.
There’s really no bad time to do good mornings. Just be mindful of which type you’re doing - weighted or unweighted - and don’t rush into good mornings with a heavy load when you’re still not warm yet.
Compound movements are the holy grail in fitness. These are a supremely efficient way to get into shape, by activating multiple muscle groups all at once, as opposed to isolation exercises that hit only one muscle at a time.
Good mornings are a fantastic example of a versatile and efficient compound movement. They hit just about every muscle down your back, with a specific focus on the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. You can use them to build muscle, increase flexibility, or just to warm up.
Try and find the perfect place in your workout routine for a few sets of good mornings.