Why the Good Morning Exercise Is Worth Your Time
Wake up, wake up sleepy glutes...
"Good morning" may be an email greeting, a cute text your boo sends while away on business, or, TBH, any morning that doesn't begin with an alarm clock. But "good morning" is also an exercise you should absolutely be doing.
Never heard of it? This guide is for you. Scroll down to learn exactly how to do the good morning exercise with good form and what you'll gain from adding it into your exercise rotation.
What Is the Good Morning Exercise?
At its most basic, the movement is a hip-hinge. Hip-huh? "The hip-hinge is one of the functional movement patterns that involves maintaining a neutral spine and bending at the hips," explains physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a digital movement education platform. To visualize, think about the first half of a deadlift when you break at the hips and bend forward—that's a hip hinge. (Never done a deadlift? This deadlift guide is for you).
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! (Don't worry, there's a more detailed step-by-step below.)
Why You Should Be Doing the Good Morning Exercise
Simply put, good mornings are the ultimate move for injury prevention.
While good morning primarily strengthens your glutes and hamstrings, they also strengthen all the other muscles in the posterior chain (the muscles along the backside of the body), such as the upper back, lats, and calves. They also hit all the muscles in the core (including the transverse abdominis, the obliques, and pelvic floor), according to CJ Hammond, a NASM-certified trainer with RSP Nutrition. And if the movement is weighted (it doesn't have to be), it can strengthen your triceps, biceps, shoulders, and traps in addition to everything else we previously mentioned. Yep, the good morning is as full-body as an exercise gets.
From an injury prevention standpoint, good mornings' effect on the posterior chain is the most important perk. As a culture, we have chronically weak posterior chains, explains 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 says. This can make those muscles incredibly tight and/or weak.
The problem with a weak posterior chain is two-fold. First, other muscle groups are forced to compensate for a weak posterior chain, and when that happens, "the risk of injuries like plantar fasciitis, knee injuries, pulled hamstring, and low back injuries all skyrocket," says Hammond. Second, because the posterior chain contains the largest and most powerful muscles in the body, a weak posterior chain thwarts your athletic potential. Sigh. (You can bet the strongest woman on earth Tia Toomey doesn't have a weak posterior chain!)
Another reason to do good mornings points back to what Wickham said about the exercise being a functional movement pattern. "Functional movement pattern" is a fancy way of saying that the movement mimics movements you'd do during everyday tasks. (Other examples include: the squat, push-up, or 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 says. (Lower back already in pain? Here's how to ease those aches ASAP.)
Good Morning Workout Move Variations
All variations of the good morning workout move involve the same general movement pattern. But if you load the movement, where you hold or position the weight and whether you remain standing impact the difficulty of the movement and the degree to which the movement targets your core or hamstrings.
Classic Good Morning
To be blunt: The good morning exercise is a great movement. 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 he says all people should get the OK from a trainer on their form doing the classic, unweighted movement before adding weight to the exercise. "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.
How to do it:
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees softly bent. Hands should be either straight down or crossed over the chest. (Wickham says putting your hands behind your head or overhead can inadvertently cause you to pull your back out of the neutral position.)
B. Brace midline and simultaneously hinge at hips and push butt straight back, keeping lower legs perpendicular with the floor.
C. Maintaining a flat back, continue to lower torso toward the floor until noticing a stretch in hamstrings or that 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, likely due to hamstring tightness and/or core weakness, you might not be able to do that at first. That's okay! "Don't be so worried about getting so low that you compromise form," says Wickham. "Some people may only be able to hinge forward a few inches to start." (If your hamstrings are tight, you might work these 6 hamstring stretches into your routine, too.)
Back-Loaded Good Morning
Ever done a barbell back squat? Welp, when you do the barbell is in the back-loaded position. For a back-loaded good morning, the barbell is in that same position.
First off, 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. (Or, if you're at home, a broom handle.) Once you're ready to go for the barbell, you have two options for getting the bar onto your back. 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 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 then lower it behind your head so that it rests along your upper back. (Related: Barbell Exercises Every Woman Should Master)
Note: Because taking the barbell from the rack is easier and allows you to lift more weight, that's the option we'll explain below in steps A to B. 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 your traps or rear deltoids. Straighten legs to unrack the bar.
B. Step backward away from rack so you have 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 the waist, pressing butt back while lowering torso toward floor.
D. Continue lowering until you feel a stretch 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.
Front-Loaded Good Morning
When you load the weight in front of your body, your core really has to engage to help you maintain a neutral spine throughout each rep. "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.
Start light. Like a 5-pound plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell. Or, use 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.
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a weight goblet-style (vertically) 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 you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or when your core begins to fatigue by pressing feet down and driving through hips back to standing.
Seated Good Morning
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.
A. Find a firm surface like a box or table short enough that you're able to plant your feet on the floor while seated. Sit, feet planted shoulder-width apart.
B. Brace core. Grind glutes into bench and drive feet into floor. Then keeping a tight torso lower until torso is as close to parallel with the floor as you can get without back rounding.
C. Press through the floor and active hamstrings and midline to return to start.
"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, he says you won't need more than an empty barbell—if that. Of course, you can always just use your body weight, too, placing your arms over your chest.
How to Incorporate Good Mornings Into Your Workout
There's no reason to ever incorporate this movement into an AMRAP or metabolic-conditioning style. 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.
As a warm-up move: 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 like a heavy deadlift, squat, or clean, he recommends doing 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. "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," he says. (Here's a full dynamic warm-up to do before weightlifting.) You can also use a PVC pipe to practice doing good mornings before moving to a weighted barbell.
As a strength move: You can also do good mornings as a strength exercise on leg day. Wickham recommends doing 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps at a weight you can do with impeccable form. Once you're familiar with the movement pattern, you can do 5 sets 5 reps at a medium-weight, he says. Go any heavier and the risk 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. (See: How to Correctly Order Your Exercises In the Gym)
Remember: Good mornings are worth your time because they help prevent injury. Don't let your ego interfere with that.