Build a Seriously Strong Posterior Chain With the Good Morning

The good morning builds hamstring and glute size, helps to protect the lower back, and increases strength. Here's how to do it.

The name tells you absolutely nothing about the exercise, but lifters laud the good morning for its ability to increase hamstring and glute strength, teach proper hip hinge mechanics, and help you to add pounds to compound movements like the back squat and deadlift. If you’re an athlete that plays a more dynamic sport (football, basketball, or soccer, for example), the good morning’s hip-strengthening properties will allow you to run faster and jump higher. 

There is one downside to the good morning: a higher risk of back injury. Loading weight onto your back and then leaning forward is risky and, when done incorrectly or hurriedly, puts the spine at risk. But below is everything you need to know to perform good mornings correctly to ensure gains without the pain that’ll last you a lifetime. 

How to Do the Good Morning

The good morning can be done standing or sitting — both of which are solid variations — but the description below is for the more common standing variation. 

Step 1 — Establish Your Stance and Back

Good Morning Step - 1

Set a barbell in a squat rack to the height you normally squat from. Set your hands so the pinky is on either the first or second knurling ring (similar to your back squat setup). Position the barbell across your traps and then take a few steps back, away from the rack. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and turn your toes slightly outward. Bend your knees just a little bit. 

Form Tip: Play around with your foot position, but a hip-width stance is generally a great starting point for most people. 

Step 2 — Push the Back Pockets Backward

Good Morning Step - 2

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, brace your core, and and bring your elbows down and in so the bar fells tight against your body. Drive your butt straight back so your torso hinges forward toward the floor. Keep driving your butt backwards, maintaining a soft bend in your knees, until your chest is nearly parallel with the floor and your hamstrings feel engaged. 

Form Tip: Ensure your shin angle is vertical, and do not allow the knees to bend too much.

Step 3 — Drive the Back Pockets Forward

Good Morning Step - 3

Maintain a rigid back and begin to slowly thrust your hips forward. Keep driving your hips until you’re standing again. Flex the glutes hard at the top, and repeat.

Form Tip: At the top of the good morning, keep the glutes and back contracted.

Good Morning Benefits

This back-loaded hip hinge is unique, and offers a few notable benefits for lifters looking to get stronger, bigger, and protect their lower backs. 

Lower Back Health

Hinging forward recruits mainly the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors, which are located in the lower back. These muscles are all involved in exercises like the back squat, deadlift, clean & jerk, and snatch, but the good morning allows you to better isolate and therefore strengthen them. Also, the spinal erectors are a key component of your core — which, yes, comprises more than just your abs.

Think of your core as a weightlifting belt that tightens around your entire torso. The spinal erectors make up the backside of your core, and stronger spinal erectors mean a better ability to brace your core to help protect your spine. Without a strong core, your spine is susceptible to injury during the good morning (and other exercises). 

Glute and Hamstring Development

The hamstrings and glutes are the other main moves in the good morning. These two posterior muscles are the driving force behind such exercises as the hip thrust, any squat and deadlift variation, and play a role in upper body exercises like overhead presses and bench presses, too. If you’re an athlete, the hamstrings and glutes are the driving force behind sprints and jumps. 

Aesthetically speaking, you’ll add size to the two muscles, so bodybuilders can benefit from adding high-rep, low-weight sets. 

Upper Back Strength for Deadlifts and Squats

The good morning can increase a lifter’s strength and awareness of the lower and upper back. Enhancing upper back tension and lower back stability can help lifters who lack the strength to pack the barbell tightly in the back rack and/or tend to fall forward in the squat and cannot recover from poor positioning. Note: the good morning can aid proper technique and patterning in deadlifts and squats. However, it should not be the only solution in the event squat/deadlift/pulling technique and mobility are insufficient.

Muscles Worked by Good Morning

The good morning isolates three main muscles. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Hamstrings and Glutes

The hamstrings and glutes are both targeted during the good morning. We’re popping these two together as they’re both responsible for hip extension during the hinging motion. When done properly, the hamstrings and glutes are eccentrically loaded and then contract to bring the lifter to the upright position.

Erector Spinae (Lower Back)

The lower back muscles stabilize the trunk and allow the hips to flex so that the hamstrings and glutes can be eccentrically loaded and concentrically contract. The seated good morning variation places more emphasis on spinal flexion and extension, making it much more targeted to the lower back.

Who Should Do the Good Morning

Below are some reasons why strength, power, and fitness athletes may benefit from performing the good morning.

Strength and Power Athletes

  • Strongman athletes can use the good morning to increase their lower back, hamstring, and glute strength specific to the squat and deadlift. This is also a great way to increase hamstring hypertrophy and reinforce proper pulling mechanics.
  • Powerlifters will benefit from adding the good morning into their program as it builds back and posterior chain strength for squats and deadlifts. This movement must be with proper positions. The emphasis is on hypertrophy and strength building without sacrificing a flat back and loading the hips and hamstrings properly.
  • Olympic weightlifters can use good morning similarly to how strongmen and powerlifters use it as the emphasis is on building stronger hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. This can be done using a high bar and really emphasizing keeping the back extended.

Fitness Athletes and General Fitness

The good morning is a great way to build hamstrings, glute, and back strength, which is necessary for fitness athletes looking to get stronger in the barbell lifts and improve positional strength necessary for Olympic weightlifting. It can also be a good way to increase hamstrings growth without pulling from the floor with individuals who may have issues doing so.

Good Morning Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Below are two primary training goals and programming recommendations when utilizing the good morning into specific programs. Note that these are general guidelines and by no means should be used as the only way to program the good morning. 

To Build Muscle

For increased muscular size, try performing three to five sets of five to 12 repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between, with heavy to moderate loads (60-80% of your one-rep max). It is important to note that muscle hypertrophy can still occur (and often does, even with more advanced lifters) with higher load, lower repetition training. 

To Improve Strength 

For general strength building sets, athletes can use the good morning in the five to 10 rep range and do this with moderate to heavy loads if the loading is placed on the hamstrings and glutes. This is generally a strength accessory exercise and should not be trained for max strength like the deadlift and squat are.

Good Morning Variations

Below are two good morning variations that can help improve technique, strength, and performance.

Safety Bar Good Morning

Doing the good morning with a safety bar alleviates pressure on the shoulders that otherwise would take place using a straight bar on the back. This is a great way also to force lifters to keep a flat back and brace the core more effectively. The ability to secure the load safer on the back (safer for the shoulders) makes this a great go-to variation for all levels.

Seated Good Morning

The good morning can be done from a seated position to isolate the spinal erectors and minimize hamstring tension. This decreases the amount of weight someone can lift compared to the standing good morning. However, it takes the hamstrings and glutes out of the movement and makes it a purely lower back (erector) exercise.

Good Morning Alternatives

Below are three good morning alternatives coaches and athletes can use to improve strength and performance similarly as when the good morning is performed. 

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is an alternative to the good morning that can build bigger, stronger hamstring and glutes, and have broad application to many of the same movements the good morning affects (squat, deadlift, etc.). This is a great alternative if lifters are looking for a more pulling-specific accessory exercise or someone who cannot properly load a barbell onto their backs.

Hyperextension

The hyperextension loads the same muscle groups as the good morning, but also helps to isolate the lower back muscles. This is closely related to the seated good morning variation and may be a good option for lifters who fail to keep a flat back during good mornings, squats, and deadlifts.

Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift

The snatch grip Romanian deadlift can be used to reinforce lat strength and proper back position during the Romanian deadlift. Often, lifters will allow their backs to round out during RDLs, which can lead to injury and minimize the stretch and loading placed upon the hamstrings. By taking a wider grip, you can force better positions and help promote muscle hypertrophy.

FAQS

Can I do good mornings with dumbbells?

Yes, but you’re better off doing a Romanian deadlift with dumbbells. You’ll target the same muscles but in a less awkward way. As a bonus, holding the dumbbells will take your grip strength up a notch.

Can I do good mornings without weight?

Yes. bodyweight good mornings are a great exercise to warm up your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes before weighted good mornings, or any hip-based or lower body exercise.

What are common good morning mistakes?

Two of the biggest mistakes are: 1) Not maintaining a flat lower back and upright chest position as you hinge downwards, and 2) not loading the stretch on the hamstrings on the eccentric phase.