How to Do the Good Morning Exercise to Strengthen Your Entire Backside

Find out why the good morning exercise is worth your time — and how to do it perfectly to keep injuries at bay.

Good Morning Exercise
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"Good morning" may be an email greeting, a cute text your boo sends while away on business, or, TBH, the best way to describe any morning that doesn't begin with an alarm clock. But the good morning is also an exercise you should absolutely be doing on the regular.

Never heard of it? This guide is for you. Here, learn exactly how to do the good morning exercise with good form, common mistakes to avoid, and what you'll gain from adding it to your exercise rotation.

How to Do a Good Morning Exercise

At its most basic, the good morning exercise is a hip hinge. "The hip hinge is one of the functional movement patterns that involves maintaining a neutral spine and bending at the hips," explains Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist and founder of Movement Vault. To visualize, think about the first half of a deadlift when you break at the hips and bend forward — that's a hip hinge.

Another great visual is the movement's namesake: Getting out of bed in the morning. When you get out of bed, you plant your feet on the floor, then brace your midline before shooting your hips through to stand. Right? Well, that's the good morning exercise in a nutshell.

Here's the full play-by-play, as demonstrated by Wickham:

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees softly bent. Hands should be either straight down, crossed over chest, or resting on back of head.

B. Brace midline and simultaneously hinge at hips and push butt straight back, keeping lower legs perpendicular to the floor.

C. Maintaining a flat back, continue to lower torso toward the floor until noticing a stretch in hamstrings or until back begins to round.

D. Press into feet and drive through hips to reverse the movement, using hamstrings and core to stand upright. Squeeze glutes at the top.

Note: While you eventually want to work toward hinging your torso forward until it's parallel with the ground, you might not be able to do that at first (likely due to hamstring tightness and/or core weakness). That's okay! "Don't be so worried about getting so low that you compromise form. Some people may only be able to hinge forward a few inches to start," says Wickham.

The Key Good Morning Exercise Benefits

So, why should you incorporate good mornings into your fitness routine? Here, the breakdown of all the benefits the good morning exercise has to offer.

Targets the Posterior Chain

While good mornings primarily strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, they also strengthen all the other muscles in the posterior chain (aka the muscles along the backside of the body), such as the upper back, lats, and calves.

In modern culture, the population has chronically weak posterior chains, says Wickham. "Not once when we go from sitting at work to sitting in a car to sitting in front of the TV does our posterior chain have to activate and work," he explains. This can make those muscles incredibly tight and/or weak, and because it contains the largest and most powerful muscles in the body, a weak posterior chain thwarts your athletic potential. Seriously: A strong posterior chain can help you run faster and lift heavier, as Shape previously reported.

Helps Prevent Injury

Simply put, good mornings are the ultimate move for injury prevention, and their effect on the aforementioned posterior chain is the most important perk.

To explain, the problem with a weak posterior chain is that other muscle groups are forced to compensate for that weakness, and when that happens, "the risk of injuries like plantar fasciitis, knee injuries, pulled hamstring, and low back injuries all skyrocket," says CJ Hammond, a NASM-certified trainer with RSP Nutrition. Having go-to exercises to activate these overlooked muscles, then, is crucial.

Improves Your Functional Fitness

Another reason to do good mornings points back to the exercise being a functional movement pattern, as previously mentioned by Wickham. "Functional movement pattern" is a fancy way of saying that the movement mimics motions you'd do during everyday tasks. (Other examples include the squat, push-up, and lunge.) If you can't properly do a good morning, "the odds that you'll injure your lower back doing day-to-day movements — like putting groceries away or tying your shoelace — goes way up," says Wickham. And that's especially true as you get older, he adds.

Good Morning Exercise Muscles Worked

You already know by now that the good morning exercise is a great strengthener for the posterior chain, but that's not the only group this movement targets. They also hit all the muscles in the core (including the transverse abdominis, obliques, and pelvic floor), which play a key role in keeping your spine safe and protected, according to Hammond. And if the movement is weighted (it doesn't have to be, FYI), it can strengthen your triceps, biceps, shoulders, and traps in addition to every other muscle already mentioned. So, yep, the good morning exercise is as full-body as an exercise gets.

Good Morning Exercise Variations

The good morning exercise on its own is sure to leave your entire body feeling strong and prep you for everyday life. But you can tweak the exercise so it more heavily targets specific muscle groups. If you add weights, where you hold or position the weight and whether you remain standing impact the difficulty of the movement and the degree to which the exercise targets your core or hamstrings.

If you don't have a barbell, but you do have a light dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball (or any of these household items), you can still do a lightly weighted good morning — the keyword here being "light." Start by using a five-pound plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell (or, use an object such as a hardcover textbook if you're working out at home). As you get stronger, you can work up to a good morning exercise with dumbbells at a moderate weight.

Variation: Back-Loaded Good Morning Exercise

Ever done a barbell back squat? When you do that exercise, the barbell is in the back-loaded position. For a back-loaded good morning, you'll have the barbell in that same position, which helps increase engagement in the hamstrings and erector spinae, research shows.

You have two options for getting the bar onto your back safely when back-loading. You can either set up a squat rack and unload the bar as you would for a barbell back squat — or, if it's light enough, you can power-clean the barbell into the front rack position (when you're holding it in front of your body so that it runs horizontally across your chest, and rests on your shoulders). Then, push press the bar overhead, and lower it behind your head so that it rests along your upper back.

Note: Because taking the barbell from the rack is easier and allows you to lift more weight, that's the option explained below. The remaining steps are the good morning movement itself.

A. If using a squat rack (also known as a rig), walk up to the bar and dip underneath it so that the bar rests on traps or rear deltoids. Straighten legs to unrack the bar.

B. Step backward away from the rack so there's enough room to hinge forward. Position feet hip-width apart, toes as straight as possible. Activate the upper back by screwing pinkies into the bar.

C. Brace midline, then bend at waist, pressing butt back while lowering torso toward the floor.

D. Continue lowering until a stretch is felt in hamstrings, or until chest is parallel with the ground — whichever comes first.

E. Keep abs engaged, then activate glutes and hamstrings to return to standing position.

Variation: Front-Loaded Good Morning Exercise

To amp up the core challenge of your good morning exercise, try holding your barbell (or any other weight you have on hand) in front of your chest rather than on your back, as demonstrated by Wickham.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms bent, hands in front of chest, and a barbell racked in elbows. (Alternatively, hold a weight goblet-style in both hands in front of chest, elbows tucked in toward ribcage.)

B. Brace core and bend knees slightly, then push hips back while leaning chest forward, keeping back straight.

C. Reverse the movement as soon as a stretch is felt in hamstrings, or when core begins to fatigue, by pressing feet down and driving through hips back to standing position.

Variation: Seated Good Morning Exercise

Performing a good morning with your peach planted emphasizes your hamstrings less than the standing variation does — but it prioritizes your glutes and lower back more, according to Wickham. It's a great option to use to warm up the body for heavy squats, he says.

"The safest way to weight [this] exercise is to unload the barbell from a nearby rack [just like a barbell back squat] and sit on a nearby bench after," says Wickham. However, you won't need more than an empty barbell — if that, he says. Of course, you can always just use your body weight too, placing your arms over your chest.

A. Find a firm surface such as a box or table short enough that feet can be planted on the floor while seated. Sit, feet planted shoulder-width apart and a bar resting on traps or rear deltoids.

B. Brace core. Grind glutes into the bench and drive feet into the floor. Then, keeping core engaged , lower until torso is as close to parallel with the floor as possible without back rounding.

C. Press through the floor and activate hamstrings and midline to return to starting position.

Common Good Morning Exercise Mistakes

To be blunt: The good morning exercise is super beneficial, but when done incorrectly, it carries a high risk of injury — especially when loaded. "Add weight when your movement pattern isn't sound, and you cause an injury like a disc herniation or bulge," says Wickham. Yikes. That's why everyone should get the okay from a trainer on their form doing the classic, unweighted good morning exercise before adding weight, says Wickham. "At the very least, you should video yourself doing the movement from the side and make sure your back isn't rounding [in either direction]," he says.

When you're ready to try a weighted variation, it's worth mentioning that you can practice using a PVC pipe to mimic the feel of doing the good morning exercise with a barbell and avoid injury. (Or, if you're at home, a broom handle also works.) When loading the weight in front of your body, your core really has to engage to help you maintain a neutral spine throughout each rep. Be honest with yourself about your core strength and its limits, because "if your core isn't strong enough for the weight you're using, it can cause your back to flex in a dangerous position," explains Wickham.

How to Add the Good Morning Exercise to Your Routine

There's no reason to ever incorporate this movement into an AMRAP or metabolic conditioning–style workout — or really, any workout that entails racing against the clock. Quality, not quantity, is the name of the game with good mornings, according to Hammond.

When unweighted or lightly weighted, you can do good mornings as part of your warm-up to "wake up" the posterior chain and core muscles, says Wickham. For instance, before movements such as a heavy deadlift, squat, or clean, do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, he recommends. "Doing good mornings before a workout will help your body get used to activating your posterior chain so that it will happen automatically during the workout," explains Wickham. As mentioned earlier, you can also use a PVC pipe to practice doing good mornings before moving to a weighted barbell.

Good mornings are also great as a strength exercise on leg day. Try doing three or four sets of eight to 12 reps at a weight you can do with impeccable form, recommends Wickham. Once you're familiar with the movement pattern, you can do five sets of five reps at a medium weight, he says. Go any heavier and the risk is far greater than the potential reward. Oh, and make sure to do it early enough in your workout that your core isn't too wiped to engage.

Remember: Good mornings are worth your time because they help prevent injury. Don't let your ego interfere with that.

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