Good morning exercise works your hamstrings, back, and abs. This exercise works best with barbells unlike other weights, such as dumbbells.
What Is Good Morning Exercise?
Basically, the movement is a hinge-hinge.
To visualize, imagine the first part of the deadlift when you break your hips and bend forward – that is a hip hinge. (Here is a full guide on how to do a deadlift).
Benefits of the Good Morning Exercise
The good morning exercise is good for learning all the most important hip-hinge movements. The proper hip-hinge pattern is essential for performing many lower body exercises safely and effectively, including squat and deadlift.
Plus, a good morning exercise activates many of the major muscles of your body, including your glutes and hams, making it a good “bang-for-your-buck” exercise. Also, it strengthens your erector spinae, which can help reduce the risk of back pain.
What Muscles do the good morning exercise work?
When you do a good morning exercise, you engage the muscles of the posterior chain, which runs along the backside your body and include your hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae and abs. Here’s how each of these muscles or muscle groups contributes to helping perform this exercise.
The hamstrings actually refer to a group of three muscles in the back of each leg: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris. These muscles work to flex the knees and stretch the hips.
Your glutes are a set of three muscles in each that include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three responsible for extending your hips while the medius and minimus are for abduction of the thighs.
When performing the good morning exercise, the core muscles engage to stabilize the spine. The key players are the rectus abdominis (i.e., your “abs”), the traverse abdominis — which wraps around the abdomen, and often referred to as the inner “weight belt” the obliques that run down your sides, and the erector spinae located near your spine.
The erector spinae plays a central role in this movement. This muscle group has nine different muscles that runs along the sides of your spine from the base of your skull to your pelvis. It is the key to extending and stabilizing the spine.
While you want to improve your stamina and gradually challenge yourself, don’t over-train on this exercise.
Your Form Is Poor
Before you add the weights and start lifting, make sure you are using proper form for this exercise. This will ensure that you do the lift safely and effectively at all times.
You Aren’t Warmed Up
One of the worst mistakes you can make with weight training happens before you touch the weight. If you do not warm up properly, you are in risk of straining your muscles, if causing a serious injury.
Good morning exercise variations
All variations of good morning exercise include the same pattern of movement. But when you load the movement, where you hold or position the weight and whether you remain standing still it affects the difficulty of the movement and the level at which the movement targets your core or your hamstrings.
Classic Good Morning
A good morning exercise is a great exercise. But if done incorrectly, it carries a high risk of injury – especially if loaded.
- Stand with feet wide apart, toes pointing forward, knees slightly bent. Hands should be straight down or cross over the chest.
- Brace midline and hinge simultaneously at the hips and push the butt directly back, keeping the lower legs perpendicular with the floor.
- Keep your back flat, keep lowering your torso toward the floor until noticing a stretch in your hamstring or the back begins to round.
- Press into the feet and drive the hips to reverse the movement, using the hamstrings muscles and the core stand upright. Squeeze the glutes at the top.
Back-Loaded Good Morning
Have you ever done a barbell back squat? When you do the barbell squat in a back-loaded position. For a back loaded good morning, the barbell is in the same position.
First of all, it is worth mentioning that you can practice using a PVC pipe to mimic the feeling of doing a good morning exercise with a barbell. (Or, when you are at home, a broom handle.) When you are ready to go for a barbell, you have two options for inserting a bar on your back.
You can set up a squat rack and load the bar the way you would with a barbell back squat. Or, if it is light enough, you can clean the barbell vigorously in the front position (when you hold it in front of your body so that it slides across your chest, and rests on your shoulders). After that, press the bar overhead, then lower it behind your head so that it rests along your upper back.
Note: Because taking a barbell from the rack is easy and allows you to lift more weight, that is the option we will explain below in steps A to B. The remaining steps are the good morning exercise itself.
How to do it:
- If you use a squat rack, walk up to the bar and dip beneath it so that the bar stays in your traps or deltoids in the back. Straighten the legs to unrack the bar.
- Step back away from the rack so you can have space to hinge forward. Position your feet hip width apart with your toes as straight as possible.
- Brace your core and bend at the waist, press the butt back while lowering the torso down toward the floor.
- Keep lowering until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings, or until the chest is level with the ground – whichever comes first.
- Keep the abs engaged, then activate the glutes and hamstrings to return to standing position.
Front-loaded good morning
If you don’t have a barbell, but you have a light dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball, you can still do a light weighted good morning.
When you load weight in front of your body, your core has to be engaged to help you maintain a neutral spine throughout the rep. “If your spine is not strong enough for the weight you are using, it could cause your back to round.
Start light. Like a 5-pound plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell. Or, use a hard cover book when training from home. As you gain strength you can work up to a good morning workout with dumbbells at a moderate weight.
How to do it:
- Stand with hip-wide feet, holding a weight goblet-style (vertically) in both hands in front of the chest, elbows tucked in toward the ribcage.
- Tighten the core and slightly bend your knees, then push the hips back while leaning against the chest forward, keeping the back straight.
- Reverse the movement as soon as you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or when your core begins to feel fatigue by pressing your feet down and driving through the hips back to standing position.
Seated good morning exercise
Performing good morning in a seated position emphasizes your hamstring muscles less than a standing position. But it prioritizes your glutes and lower back a lot more. It’s also a great way to warm up the body for heavy squats.
How to do it:
- Find a firm surface such as a box or table short enough for you to be able to plant your feet on the floor while seated. Sit, feet planted shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core. Squeeze your glutes into a bench and drive your feet into the floor. Then keep your tight torso low until the chest is as close to the floor as you can get without rounding the back.
- Press through the floor and activate hamstrings and midline to return to the start.
Banded Good Morning
This version puts a minimal stress on your spine and is a great way to target your glutes and hamstrings at the end of a workout.
Dumbbell good morning
This is a beginner version of the good morning exercise holding a dumbbell in front of your chest. This is a great way to learn the movement or perform with high reps.
Zercher Good Morning
Holding the barbell in front of your body in a ‘Zercher’ position takes the stress off your spine and puts it on the front part of your body while strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
Eccentric / Isometric Good Morning
Slowly lower the weight, pause at the bottom for 2-7 seconds and then explode up. Eccentric / Isometrics is one of the best ways to build strength quickly.
Single-Leg Good Morning
This is a challenging version of Good Morning where you use only a single leg. If you have muscle imbalances or weakness, it will expose it and improve it.
You can also do Good Morning with chains, bands attached to the barbell and different bars, such as a safety bar.
If you are not comfortable with Good Morning or its variations, you can still get the benefits from other exercises, such as Back Squats, Front Squats, RDLs and Deadlifts.
Safety and Precautions
Good morning exercise require strict attention to proper form to protect your lower back. Proper posture and execution are important to weight training safety in any exercise, but since your lower back is key focus of a good morning exercise, doing it improperly or with too much weight can put you at some risk of injury.
Be very careful about your goals but, at the same time, be realistic about your individual physical capabilities. As you train yourself, resist the urge to overtrain.
For safety, it is also important to have the right equipment and gear. Whether you exercise in the gym or at home, make sure you have appropriate shoes.
As always, consult with your doctor before starting or increasing a weight training program. Good morning are an advanced weight training, so you’ll also want to work closely with a trainer or coach to get started.
It’s always best to push yourself more by either increasing weights or reps, but lifting heavy weights should be avoided if:
- You are pregnant or recovering from childbirth
- Injured or recovering from injuries to the spine, back, neck, arms, knees or feet
- You have recently had surgery on your abdomen, pelvis, knees, arms, neck or back.