Why You Should be Doing Good Mornings to Strengthen Your Glutes, Hamstrings and Lower Back
- Dr. Joel Seedman -
STACK interviewed Dr. Seedman for this article, which originally appeared on stack.com on 4/13/16
The Good Morning exercise gets a bad rap. Some think it's just a Squat gone wrong. Others look at the movement and cringe at the thought of what holding a heavy bar with your torso nearly parallel to the ground is doing to your back.
No doubt, these are legitimate concerns. Unless you have years of intense weightlifting experience, the move does look like a Squat with a less-than-ideal torso position. And it can cause injury if you're not careful.
Fun fact: The Good Morning got its name because the movement is similar to bowing at the waist to say "good morning."
However, the Good Morning is one of the best exercises to develop your glutes, hamstrings and lower-back muscles. And if you find yourself stuck on your Deadlift and Squat, it could be the key to blasting through a plateau.
Before we learn how to perform this exercise, let's look at the benefits of the Good Morning and whether you should give it a try.
Benefits of the Good Morning
The Good Morning is classified as a hip hinge exercise, meaning the primary movement comes from hinging your hips—what in common terms is called bending at the waist. This puts it in the same category as the RDL, Kettlebell Swing and Pull-Through. It targets the posterior chain muscles—the glutes, lower back and hamstrings—but it also strengthens other back muscles.
If you look closely at the exercise, it's extremely similar to an RDL except for the bar position. The hips do most of the work in a movement that finishes with your torso nearly parallel to the ground. But holding the bar on your back is what makes the Good Morning such an effective, yet challenging exercise.
"Because the bar is loaded above the center of mass, unlike an RDL, it creates a biomechanically disadvantageous position," explains Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance (Atlanta, GA). "It really creates strong engagement of the entire posterior chain, all the muscles of the back, all the spinal stabilizers that prevent spinal flexion."
Strengthening these muscles can help you overcome a weakness that might be holding you back in your Squat and Deadlift.
"When most people are squatting and deadlifting, it should be their legs that get you first, but it rarely is," Seedman says. "It's usually their low back, upper back or spinal stabilizers. If you feel like your back has a tendency to give out, Good Mornings are one of the best exercises to address that."
Also, Good Mornings reinforce the hip hinge, which is important for squatting and deadlifting.
"It's really good for teaching those optimal hip hinge mechanics and really working the posterior chain," Seedman says. "It teaches you how to sit the hips back."
But Isn't It Dangerous?
First, let's establish which type of Good Morning we are doing. One variation calls for keeping your knees straight and basically bending forward. DO NOT DO THAT.
A proper Good Morning is achieved by sitting your hips back. It's basically a Back Squat where your torso bends over to just above parallel.
But with all the benefits come some risks.
"In my opinion, Good Mornings done properly are one of the best posterior chain exercises," says Seedman. "But when they're performed improperly, they probably are the single most dangerous exercise you can do."
The weight on your back in the hinged position has the potential to cause a serious spinal injury if you're not careful.
Seedman advises against performing Good Mornings if you're a beginner. It's important to master the hip hinge with exercises such as RDLs and Pull Throughs before considering a Good Morning.
"If they can't do a simple RDL, there's no way a Good Morning will happen safely," he adds.
Also, if you have low-back pain or a previous injury, you should avoid using heavy weight. However, it's OK to perform it with lighter weight, which can actually strengthen often weak lower-back muscles and provide a therapeutic effect.
How to Perform the Good Morning
Before we get into the nitty-gritty on how to perform the exercise, let's cover a few pointers from Seedman.
He advocates a low-bar position across your rear delts, because it shifts the load to your hips and makes the exercise safer. That said, the high-bar position across your traps is also perfectly fine. It works the hamstrings and low back a bit more. You can choose whichever variation you prefer.
It's impossible to do a Good Morning without your spine flexing if you don't activate your lats.
One of the worst mistakes athletes make is trying to go to parallel or even lower. Instead, stop at about 15 degrees above parallel.
Start with a weight that's about 25 percent of your Back Squat and work to lift 50 percent of your back Squat.
Perform Good Mornings at the end of the workout as an accessory lift on a lower-body day. Your muscles are already warmed up and it helps to lengthen your glutes, hamstrings and lower back, which often tighten up during the end of a lower-body workout.
Performing the Good Morning is a lot like the Back Squat with a few minor differences. Watch Seedman demonstrate the exercise in the video player above.
Step 1: Set up exactly as you would for a Squat with a stance slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place the bar in the high- or low-bar position.
Step 2: Pull the bar into your body, take a deep breath in and tighten your core.
Step 3: Break at your hips to initiate the movement. Push your hips back until your torso is at about 15 degrees above parallel.
Step 4: Push your hips forward to drive up to the starting position. Exhale at the top of the movement.
Seedman also recommends variations of the Good Morning. One of his favorites is the Single-Leg Good Morning, because it exposes and fixes weaknesses throughout the body. Another is the Eccentric/Isometric Good Morning, which involves a slow and controlled lower into the exercise followed by a pause at the bottom of the move.