How To Do Good Mornings

Chances are you don’t train your hamstrings and lower back as much as other muscle groups. Partly because they’re on the back of your body (out of sight, out of mind). And also because there just aren’t that many good exercises.

But there’s one exercise that has “good” right in the name! Good mornings are an underrated exercise for building your posterior and strengthening your back.

In this article, I show you how to do good mornings safely with proper form. As well as some variations you can do as a beginner and without weights or gym equipment.

How To Do Good Mornings

What Are Good Mornings?

Good mornings are an exercise in which you bend your torso forward at the hips while keeping your back straight. During the movement, your knees bend only slightly.

Oftentimes, a barbell is held across the upper back to provide resistance and make the exercise more challenging. Although there are other ways to add resistance, as I’ll discuss in more detail below.

The purpose of this exercise is to develop and strengthen the posterior chain in a way that is not achieved through other movements like squats or deadlifts.

Are Good Mornings Safe?

You’ve probably heard the advice that you should lift with your knees, not your back. Yet, in the case of good mornings, you’re lifting primarily with your hips. And that might seem bad for your back.

It’s true that if you throw something heavy on your shoulders and bend over willy nilly, you could hurt your back. However, good mornings are perfectly safe as long as you use proper form and start with a light weight.

In fact, this exercise will strengthen your back over time and help prevent injury!

Good Mornings Muscles Worked

As mentioned, good mornings are a posterior chain exercise, which means they work multiple muscles on the backside of your body. The primary muscle group involved in this movement is the hamstrings.

Although the hinging movement of the hips also involves the gluteus maximus and the erector spinae muscles of the lower back.

Good Mornings Muscles Worked

Benefits Of Good Mornings

Pros

  • Strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back
  • Reduce the risk of lower back injury
  • Improve performance at the bottom of squats and deadlifts
  • Increase hamstring and hip mobility
  • Overload muscles with relatively light weights

Cons

  • Not the best for working hamstrings in the contracted range of motion (compared to leg curls)

How To Do Good Mornings

  1. Place the barbell low on your shoulders to prevent it from rolling up your neck
  2. Get in a stable stance with feet roughly shoulder-width apart
  3. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and bending forward at the waist
  4. Keep your back straight and bend slightly at the knees
  5. Bend forward until your back is 45-90o from vertical
  6. On the way up, drive your hips forward by squeezing your hamstrings and glutes

Good Mornings Video

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Good Mornings Exercise Form

Here are some additional tips to perform this exercise safely and get maximum muscle activation.

  • Practice the movement with just your bodyweight or a PVC pipe before using a barbell
  • Use a power rack or safety bars until you’re comfortable with the weight
  • Keep your eyes forward
  • Your weight should be evenly distributed on your feet, not forward on your toes
  • Don’t roll your back or bend your knees excessively
  • Only go as low as your body comfortably allows
  • Your flexibility and strength will improve over time
Good Mornings Form

Good Mornings vs RDLs

If you’re familiar with Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), you may have noticed that the good morning movement is very similar. In fact, the body position and range of motion are almost identical.

However, good mornings and RDLs have a key distinction. The main difference is the location of the barbell relative to your body and the resultant loading.

With the RDL, you hold the barbell in your hands and lower it down your thighs just in front of your knees. If you measure the distance between the pivot point (your hip joint) and the bar, it’s approximately 12″.

On the other hand, the barbell is roughly 18″ away from your hip joint when it’s on your shoulders – or 1.5 times further away. That means your hamstrings and glutes have to exert 50% more force to balance the bar during good mornings!

Good Mornings vs RDLs

In the illustration above, my muscles are actually exerting more force to lift 95 lbs on good mornings than 135 lbs on RDLs. All because the weight is further from my hips.

Good Mornings Variations & Alternatives

When you’re just starting out, you might not be able to balance the bar on your back and perform the exercise with proper form. So I’ve included some exercise alternatives to help you progress from beginner to advanced.

In addition, I’ve included different exercise variations you can do with whatever equipment you have available. Including resistance bands, cables, and the Smith machine.

Bodyweight Good Mornings

If you’ve never done this exercise before, it may be a good idea to start with bodyweight good mornings. This is where you perform the movement with little or no added resistance.

Practice pushing your hips back and bending at the waist while keeping your back straight. This will help improve your balance and flexibility. Also, you can use a lightweight bar or PCV pipe to simulate the barbell.

Banded Good Mornings

Once you are comfortable with the movement, you can move up to resistance bands.

To do banded good mornings, hold the tube band handles up by your shoulders or wrap a power band around your back. Then perform the movement as shown below.

Seated Good Mornings

When you do this exercise seated on a bench or chair, you eliminate your hamstrings from the movement and focus the load on the lower back.

Seated good mornings should only be used if you’re specifically targeting just your spinal erector muscles. And you will need to use significantly less weight than you would for standing good mornings.

Kneeling Good Mornings

Another alternative to standing good mornings is performed from the kneeling position. This version has a little less hamstring activation than when performed standing.

To do this exercise, start by kneeling on a pad and hooking your feet under a sturdy object. Next, bend at the hips while keeping your thighs relatively vertical. Then extend back up to the top by contracting your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes.

Cable Good Mornings

Cable good mornings look sort of like an RDL because you hold the weight in your hands. But you allow your arms to extend out in front of your body, which lengthens the lever making it more similar to a good morning movement.

To do this cable version, set the pulley at the lowest height. Grab any cable attachment handle with both hands and take a few steps back away from the pulley.

Now push your hips back, bend at the waist, and allow your arms to travel forward towards the weight. Then extend back up to the starting position by squeezing your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes.

Smith Machine Good Mornings

The Smith machine good morning is identical to the regular good morning exercise except that the barbell moves on rails. With a fixed movement path, this variation requires less balance and coordination.

In addition, you don’t have to use as many stabilizer muscles. So it places more load on the target muscles of the hamstrings and glutes.

Hyperextensions

Hyperextensions are an exercise performed on a piece of equipment called a glute-ham developer or GHD. Start by hooking your feet into the machine and placing your upper thighs on the pad so you’re facing towards the floor.

From this starting position, bend at the hips while keeping your back straight. Then pull your torso back up by squeezing your hamstrings, low back, and glutes.

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Hypertrophy Training Program

Good mornings are more than just good for building hamstrings and glutes. They will also increase your strength on squats and deadlifts as well.

But to reach your overall fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain. To maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust ten specific training variables.

Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

Hypertrophy Training
Build More Muscle

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better lower body. And if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

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