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Good Mornings For Strong Glutes & Posterior Chain

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Good Mornings for Strong Glutes & Posterior Chain - 20 Unique Variations

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


The good morning is not just a “good” exercise, it’s a great exercise provided it’s performed correctly. Unfortunately it often gets a bad rap as many folks have injured themselves on this old-school bodybuilding classic exercise. Essentially it comes down to proper execution and optimal body mechanics just as it does for any other movement. In fact with proper form the good morning is one of the most therapeutic posterior chain movements in existence. However, with improper mechanics it’s also one of the most dangerous. The difference lies in the execution.


Quick Breakdown

The good morning exercise is nothing more than a traditional hip hinge movement except the weight is loaded above the center of mass typically on the upper traps and back like a barbell squat. Rather than squatting down by bending the knees and hips at the same rate, the lifter will simply hinge over at the hips while maintaining a soft knee position throughout. When it doubt it’s better to have a bit more knee bend than not enough.

Focus on finding the natural stopping position which will be at approximately 90 degrees (slightly above parallel). In reality, the movement pattern is identical to an RDL (Romanian deadlift) or any other hip hinge movement for that matter.

With that said, as long as your technique is locked in, going heavy on good mornings isn’t an issue as I'm showing here with 315 pounds. In fact you're at a greater risk for injuring your back with light weight and poor form than you are with heavy weight and strict technique. It's all about the mechanics.

Lastly, focus on using the eccentric isometric protocol to optimize your body mechanics as shown in the 20 variations below.


Benefits

Before we get into my 20 favorite good morning variations, let’s highlight 4 benefits of this oftentimes undervalued exercise.

1. Increases glute and hamstring strength. Good mornings are one of the most effective posterior chain exercises when performed correctly as the amount of activation and tension throughout the glutes and hamstrings is unusually high. In fact, most folks will feel a greater stretch in their posterior chain on the good morning exercise than any other hip hinge variation.


2. Improves posture via increased upper back and lat activation. Because the barbell is loaded above the center of mass and the torso is bent over as a result of hinging at the hips this creates a very biomechanically disadvantageous position. However it's also a position that really engages not only the entire posterior chain of the lower body but creates extreme activation of all the spinal and shoulder extensors. In fact the entire back from the lower back muscles all the way to the lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and neck have to work overtime to keep the spine and shoulders in a neutral position while resisting flexion forces. With that said the good morning is one of the best posture exercises in existence.


3. Increases squat and deadlift strength. For decades many powerlifters have claimed that the good morning exercise has improved their squat and deadlift strength more than any other movement. This is also something I’ve noticed with my athletes as it not only increases posterior chain strength but also teaches the athlete how to stay tight and maintain spinal rigidity during heavy axial loaded movements.


4. Bulletproofs the low back. The good morning can be a double edged sword. When performed properly it builds phenomenal back strength, improves postural alignment, and teaches the individual how to engage their hips all of which can improve low back health tremendously. However, if it’s performed incorrectly it can also be quite injurious to the spine. The key is to start off light and perform the good morning with proper mechanics particularly while using eccentric isometrics as this helps the athlete dial in their form. Read more about eccentric isometrics in my book MOVEMENT REDEFINED.


20 Good Morning Variations

Barbell Variations


Accommodating Resistance with Bands

Due to the nature of free weight loading, the bottom position of the good morning is exponentially more difficult than any other portion of the movement as there is a reverse strength curve involved. With this in mind using accommodating resistance such as bands and chains is an excellent method for producing constant tension throughout the motion while also de-loading the bottom position as demonstrated here by MLB athlete Austin Meadows.

This creates a strength curve that more closely resembles that of your muscles particularly in axial loaded movements such as good-mornings. It also helps reduce stress to the spine and low back.


Single Leg Good Mornings

The single leg morning is one of the most brutal hip hinge movements in existence as the level of tension to the glutes, hamstrings, and lower body stabilizers is difficult to replicate with any other movement. It also tends to be easier on the low back not only because you’re handling lighter loads but also because the back leg acts a counterweight helping reduce anterior shearing forces and torque on the spine. Read more about the single leg hip hinge here.


Zercher Good Mornings

The Zercher good morning is another variation that happens to be more low back friendly than the traditional back loaded variation since the weight is positioned closer to the center of mass.

When performed in a single leg fashion as shown here by my awesome client Leslie Petch the glutes and hamstrings as well as the core get absolutely torched. Read more about Zercher squats and variations here.


Draping Chain Method

The draping chain technique adds an additional instability component forcing the lifter to control the load and stabilize to a greater degree, essentially making them perform the movement in a more controlled fashion as shown here by my awesome athlete Ben Lai.

You’ll also notice how Ben is bending his knees slightly more than what is optimal (as it deloads the posterior chain) which is something we’ve recently corrected.


Hanging Band Technique

If you’re looking for a protocol that forces the lifter to clean up their form and master the good morning exercise with high levels of motor control, the Hanging Band Technique as shown by football athlete Ike Onike can’t be beat.

The unpredictable oscillations and perturbations produce increased muscle activation, motor unit recruitment, proprioception, and intramuscular tension all of which help the lifter take their mechanics and muscular development to the next level. Read more about the hanging band technique here.


Safety Bar Good Mornings

Similar to barbell back squats, many lifters struggle with shoulder mobility as the back loaded position can place significant strain on the glenohumeral joint.

The safety bar or makeshift safety bar protocol (using straps) demonstrated by NFL athlete Lawrence Virgil is a great remedy for that. Read more about the makeshift safety bar setup here.


Cambered Trap Bar Good Mornings

The cambered trap bar protocol is very conducive for applying to good mornings as the hanging nature of the trap bar makes the movement feel more natural than traditional good mornings. In fact it’s significantly less stressful on the spine while still being just as effective for torching the glutes and hamstrings. As an added bonus it’s also quite shoulder friendly.

The unilateral variation as shown here by NFL quarterback Taylor Heinicke is another brutal glute exercise that feels quite natural and safe on the spine.


No Hands Barbell Good Morning

This might be the single most challenging good morning variation there is. One of the most common mistakes I see people make when performing good mornings is they allow their shoulders to roll over at the bottom either because they don’t keep their upper back tight or they collapse and go too deep in the bottom position.

In either case, the no-hands good morning will expose and correct these issues along with any other form aberration as the level of precision required to nail these is through the roof. Read more about the no-hands barbell squat here.


Toes Elevated Dorsiflexion Good Morning

A simple yet effective modification for increasing the stretch and stress to the posterior chain while also helping reinforce the idea of sitting back into the hips is simply elevating the toes on small plates as shown here by NFL athlete Jarius Wynn. This creates a more dorsiflexed ankle position which produces greater stretch to the glutes and hamstrings. If you have trouble feeling your posterior chain work, this one will do the trick.


Single Leg Good Morning With Jump

The single leg good morning jump is a fantastic drill not only for crushing the entire posterior but also for simultaneously working on unilateral power output, hip extension, knee drive, stability, balance, mobility, force absorption, and posture. Here I have several NFL athletes Julian Williams, Marquell Beckwith, and Joe Horn demonstrating it. Learn more about mastering your jumping mechanics here.

To learn more about implementing unique movements such as these and all the hundreds of other exercises I post into your training routine, check out my daily workouts TRAINING REDEFINED.

Goblet, Front Curled, & Front Loaded Good Mornings

Goblet Good Morning

If you’re looking for a good morning variation that reduces stress to the low back and spine while still pummels the entire posterior chain look no further than the front loaded variations such as this goblet version.

Here I have NFL athletes Julian Williams and Marquell Beckwith demonstrating it with and eccentric isometric protocol to help dial in their technique and reinforce proper hip hinge mechanics. The front loading position targets the core, abs, and spinal stabilizers quite intensely. These are also surprisingly brutal on the upper back, shoulders, and arms as you’ll be working overtime to keep the weight held tightly against the chest.


Front Curled Dumbbell Good Mornings

Similar to the goblet version, the front curled variation shown here by NFL athletes Marquell Beckwith and Marcelis Branch provides a similar benefit. However, these provide an added bonus of crushing the biceps as you’ll be using every bit of strength to keep the arms from extending towards the ground.

These also place the shoulders in a more neutral and less crowded position than the goblet variation making it easier to lock the shoulders and upper back into their appropriate position. Just be warned, it doesn’t take a significant amount of weight to feel these as even 20 pound dumbbells will provide an intense stimulus for most athletes. Read more about the front curled squat and variations here.


Bulgarian Goblet Good Morning

The Bulgarian goblet good morning as shown here by my awesome client Leslie Petch is one of the more deceptively challenging yet effective posterior chain exercises that simultaneously improves hip mobility and lower body stability.

The split stance position combined with the anterior loading also makes it quite low back friendly. Just be prepared for a serious burn in your glutes and hamstrings not to mention your core and abs.


Single Leg Goblet Good Morning

Once you’ve mastered the bilateral goblet good-mornings, try progressing to single leg versions as shown here by CFL athlete Brandyn Bartlett. Combining these with contralateral knee drive also makes them quite conducive for improving sprint performance and stride mechanics.

The elevated back leg also acts as a counterweight helping reduce anterior shearing forces and torque on the spine. In fact, once you master your stability and balance you may find you end up using similar weights with the unilateral version as you would the bilateral due to the counterbalancing effect of the back leg. As a result the glutes and hamstrings get absolutely torched.


Bottoms Up Good Morning

Learning to keep your whole body as tight as possible is critical on all movements particularly ones that involve axial loading such as the good morning. The bottoms up kettlebell good morning as demonstrated here by NFL athlete Marcelis Branch is one of the most effective variations there is for teaching the athlete to maintain maximal intramuscular tension, spinal rigidity, and full body tension throughout the good morning exercise. That’s because bottoms up movements help increase core stabilization and grip activation which has been shown to produce concurrent activation potentiation and irradiation. In other words it teaches you to stay tight from head to toe thereby increasing neural drive and recruitment to the working extremities.

Be ready to brace every muscle fiber in your being on these as the level of intensity is through the roof. Read more about bottoms up kettlebell exercises here. As an added bonus these are a brutal grip, forearm, and shoulder stabilizer exercise as the upper body will be working overtime to keep the kettlebells from collapsing.


Bottoms Up Single Leg Good Morning

The bottoms up good-morning is an incredible hip hinge variation. Unfortunately grip and arm strength is oftentimes the limiting factor as the upper body can fatigue before the glutes and hamstrings. By performing these in a single leg fashion as shown here by Ben Lai you reap the benefits associated with bottoms up loading while also ensuring substantial unilateral overload to each hip.


Band Resisted and Front Curled Combo

The front curled good-morning is an incredibly effective hip hinge exercise as it reinforces keeping the core tight while minimizing stress to the low back. Unfortunately it can be difficult to overload with heavy weights due to the biomechanically disadvantageous position. By combining the single arm band resisted kettlebell RDL with a single arm front curled good morning provides the best of both worlds as shown here by my awesome client Eric McIntyre.

Essentially it allows you to overload the body with intense axial loading while also using the front curled protocol to ensure the core is tight and braced throughout. Be prepared for one of the most brutally difficult hip hinge exercises you’ve ever performed. Read more about making kettlebells more effective here.


Landmine Good Morning

The landmine is one of the most versatile training tools in existence. Over the past several years it’s gained quite a bit of popularity particularly for exercises such as deadlifts, squats, presses, and hip hinge variations. That’s because the variations tend to be very user friendly with angular force vectors that not only match the body’s natural movement mechanics but also take stress of the joints and low back. This same concept can just as easily be applied to goblet or front loaded good mornings as shown here by NFL athletes Vantrel McMillan and Marquell Beckwith. The degree of core activation is unusually high with these so be prepared to brace your abs and whole body throughout the set. Read more about unique landmine exercises here.

On a side note make sure you’re not overextending and shifting excessive weight to your toes as Marquell shows here as that can place undue strain on the low back. This is something we corrected in subsequent sets.


Single Leg Landmine Good Morning

Similar to many front loaded good mornings the landmine variation is also likely to tax the upper body and core to the point that these muscles may fatigue before the posterior chain. By performing these in a unilateral or single arm fashion as my awesome client Leslie Petch shows here we receive the benefits associated with the landmine station yet also ensure the glutes and hamstrings receive adequate growth-inducing stimulus.

On a side note, the balance and stability required for these is unusually high as the rotary instability produced from the rotational nature of the landmine station requires the lifter to dial in every component of their form and alignment to keep from losing balance. In fact the balance and stability required on these is substantially greater than other free weight good morning variations.


Front Curled Barbell Good Morning with Jump

If you’re looking to increase both the difficulty of front loaded good mornings as well as the functional carryover to athletic performance and sports, try adding a unilateral jump or hop to your single leg variations. The combination of knee drive, hip extension, front loading, and unilateral weight distribution, does wonders not only for improving jumping mechanics but also for improving running form and sprint technique as it teaches the lifter how to maintain proper alignment during contralateral knee drive and hip extension patterns.

It also has tremendous benefits for teaching proper force absorption and deceleration mechanics as the lifter must brace every muscle in their body when landing in order to maintain balance and control of their body.


Additional Tips:

  • The good morning exercise can be performed with a variety of stances. Recommend keeping the feet relatively straight to maintain proper hip and lower limb alignment. Wider stances can used to slightly emphasize the inner glutes and hamstrings while a narrower stance will target the outer regions slightly more.

  • Similar to a barbell squat, the barbell good morning can also be performed with a low bar or high bar placement. Low bar position tends to tax the glutes a bit more while also allowing 10-20% heavier loads since the weight is closer to the center of mass. In contrast the high bar position involves a position where the load is farther from the center of mass. However it tends to isolate the hamstrings and erector muscles of the back more so.

  • Regardless of the variation you perform, your upper back and lats will need to be working overtime to maintain a neutral flat back position. This is particularly true of the barbell variations in which case the lifter will need to squeeze the daylights out of the upper back and lats while also bracing the core.

  • I recommend starting off very light with good mornings such a 20% of your squat weight then gradually progressing. Once you master your form and build a strong posterior chain you should be able to handle at least 50% of the same weight on good mornings that you use on squats.

To learn more about implementing unique movements such as these and all the hundreds of other exercises I post into your training routine, check out my daily workouts TRAINING REDEFINED.