A stronger posterior chain — which is made up of your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings — is imperative for most exercises. These muscles drive your hips forward for kettlebell swings, help you lockout a heavy deadlift, and are key players in squats. Even when you perform high-rep bodyweight exercises, chances are your posterior chain muscles are helping you stay stable. To build up your behind, we like the good morning — a hip hinge exercise that has you rest a barbell across your upper traps, lean forward until your torso is parallel to the floor, and then drive your hips forward to stand up. It’s one of the best moves you can do to strengthen your posterior chain.
[Related: 5 Tips to Fix Your Funky “Good Morning Squats” From Home]
While the good morning is a great movement, admittedly, it may also be too advanced for some folks. Mainly, those who don’t know how to properly hinge but try to do so with a loaded barbell on your back. The best-case scenario is the target muscles aren’t worked properly and the worst-case scenario is a back injury.
6 Good Morning Exercise Alternatives
Not everyone feels comfortable with barbell good mornings. People who also lack lower back or shoulder mobility may find the move difficult to execute. The good news is that there are other alternatives that target the posterior chain as well. Here are six alternatives to the good morning that we like.
1. Back Extension Variations
Back extensions performed from either a 45- or 90-degree angles train the same muscles as the good morning. They are likewise an effective alternative to build hip and lower back strength which can translate to more effective lockouts in the deadlift.
Additionally, back extensions and variations of them are great for building the necessary strength for more complex athletic and training movements.
2. Reverse Hyperextensions
Reverse hyperextensions are excellent for building strength in your hips and hamstrings while simultaneously building lower back strength and stability. This variation isolates the glutes and hamstrings for more targeted muscle development and is generally safer as you don’t need to load the muscles with weight to elicit growth.
This is a fantastic variation for anyone who suffers from lack of mobility in the knees, hips, shoulders, or anything else that might restrict you from doing barbell good mornings. Also, because this move is purely hip extension, you’ll become more proficient at, well, hip extension. And better hip extension will help you jump further, run faster, and lift heavier, ultimately.
3. Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts, no matter the variation, are an excellent way to bolster hip extension strength, increase glute mass, and reinforce good hip flexion and extension mechanics.
Hip thrusts, however, limit hamstring and lower back involvement as your knees are bent at 90 degrees. This isn’t necessarily bad, just something to be mindful of so that you don’t neglect other movements that focus on the hamstrings and lower back.
4. Glute-Ham Raises
Glute-ham raises are a tremendous exercise that can be performed for higher reps to increase glute, hamstring, and lower back hypertrophy. If you have not performed this exercise before, it would benefit you to watch the following demonstration video from Rogue’s YouTube channel.
Once you can perform bodyweight-only reps of this exercise with ease you should add some additional weight or resistance (plates, bands, or chains). This will help increase your posterior gains, but be mindful to increase the weight by minimal amounts.
5. Resistance Band Good Morning
Doing a good morning with a resistance band in place of the barbell has all the benefits of the movement without the compressive force of the barbell on your back. Although the band may feel uncomfortable on your neck (a pad might help alleviate that), it’s easier on your upper back and shoulders.
This move is best done for higher reps for a hamstring finisher or as a warmup exercise for more complex or heavier hip hinge movements.
6. Reverse Chinese Plank
This exercise is no joke. It’s an advanced isometric exercise that targets the entire posterior chain. The exercise involves using either two benches, boxes, or a combination of both. A bench is positioned under your shoulders and the other under your heels while lay elevated face-up. With only your upper back and heels receiving support, it’s entirely on the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings to prevent you from hitting the floor.
The amount of tension required to hold this move helps build lockout strength also. When performing this move, think about rolling your hips forward and keeping your core engaged similar to a normal plank. This will prevent your butt from sagging.
The Benefits of Good Mornings
If you’re up for trying the good morning, then go for it. To see if you’re form is solid enough to do a good morning safely, try testing it with a PVC pipe. Stand tall and place a PVC pipe (or stick or broomstick) vertically down your back by reaching one arm behind your head and the other behind your back to secure it. The goal is to hinge forward while the stick is still touching your head, upper back, and butt. If you can do few reps like that, then you can graduate to an empty barbell, draped across your traps, and then a loaded barbell.
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Spinal Erector Strength and Hypertrophy
The spinal erectors run vertically from the posterior pelvis up the entire spine. They play a vital role in giving the spine integrity under load and help resist spinal flexion which can occur with squat and deadlift variations. Good mornings add muscle and strength to this important muscle group so you can protect the lower back under heavier loads. Strengthening the lower back is an essential factor for preventing spinal injuries.
When a tree gets too top-heavy it leans to one side. To fix this, you need to tie a rope and stake it to the ground on the opposite side to give the tree more stability to stay upright. The spinal erectors play a similar role to maintain stability in the spine during loaded and unloaded movements.
When lifting heavy, the spinal erectors play a vital role in keeping the spine in proper alignment (neither flexing nor hyperextending). This reduces compensations, helps promote better force outputs, and reduces the risk for lower back injuries.
Build A Posterior Of Steel
Good mornings, when done correctly, better stretch the glutes and hamstrings, which offers greater muscle-building potential and even further rationale for why it, or the alternatives above, should become a part of your training routine.
You should consider the good morning exercise and its alternatives a requirement to build and strengthen your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Hopefully, once you’ve done these correctly for a long enough period of time, you’ll be happy to have to buy larger pants.
Feature image from BarBend’s YouTube channel.