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When creating a strength training workout, some exercises are used more often than others. Want to work the lower body? This typically involves movements such as the squat, lunge, and deadlift. Looking for the highly regarded six-pack abs? Planks and crunches are often utilized to build a stronger core. Yet, another exercise that deserves to appear in more workout routines than it does is the good morning exercise.
If you’re not familiar with this exercise, it is a hip hinge movement. A hip hinge exercise involves bending forward at the hip, such as when doing a deadlift or kettlebell swing.
This type of movement targets the posterior chain or the muscles along the backside of the body. The primary muscles worked when doing a good morning include the hamstring (back up the thigh), erector spinae (muscles that run alongside the spine), and gluteus maximus (the butt). Though, the core muscles are activated during this movement as well.
Since good mornings primarily target the posterior chain, they can be used to increase strength in the hamstring and spinal erector muscles. That makes them a great addition to a lower body strength workout, along with the squat and deadlift.
Increasing hamstring strength provides many benefits. One is that it reduces the risk of injury to this muscle group. The stronger the hamstring, the more resistant it is to strain. Another benefit is that strong hamstrings help support a healthier posture. They also make it easier to lift heavy objects, such as when moving furniture.
Building glute and erector spinae strength provides similar benefits. Both of these muscle groups support proper posture. They also make everyday movements involving the lower body easier to perform.
Adding this exercise to your workout routine helps keep muscle balance in the upper leg. Working the quadriceps without also working the hamstrings can lead to muscle imbalance. Not only does this affect the symmetry of your body, but it also increases your injury risk.
As with all exercise movements, proper form is essential when performing the good morning. Using good form ensures that you’re working the muscles you want. It also helps prevent injury due to poor form.
To do the good morning exercise:
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees. Place your hands behind your head, such as when doing a sit-up.
Slowly bend forward at the hip, sending the hips backward as if using your butt to shut a door. Keep the spine straight during this movement.
Continue the forward bend until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Engage your core to help stabilize the movement.
Hold briefly, then return to the starting position.
When first starting out, do only a few bodyweight good mornings, focusing primarily on good form. Once you feel more comfortable with this movement, increase this amount. Strive to work your way up to 12 to 15 reps.
To avoid injury, don’t lock the knees when doing a good morning. This stops you from placing too much stress on the knee joints. It’s also important to keep a neutral spine as arching your back creates spinal misalignment. This misalignment can lead to low back pain. So too can hinging too far forward as this also increases stress on the spine.
The great thing about good mornings is that they can be modified to accommodate any fitness level—the perfect tool for any personal trainer. Here are a few options both for making this exercise easier and ways to increase its intensity if you’re ready to notch it up a bit.
To Make the Good Morning Easier
A seated good morning is a great option for people who are bed-bound, can’t stand for long, struggle with hip flexion or hip extension, or have a lower body injury. Like with the standing good morning, you do it by bending forward at the hip (and keeping the spine straight). The only difference is that you’re sitting.
To Make the Good Morning Harder
Research has found that using a load during good morning exercises increases hamstring and erector spinae muscle activation. (1) So, once you’ve mastered this exercise without any type of weight, add resistance to keep improving muscle strength and size.
One way to do this is by using a resistance band. A banded good morning involves wrapping one end of the band around the upper body while securing the other end under the feet. The band creates resistance during the latter portion of the exercise when returning to the starting position.
Another option is to do a barbell good morning. To do this variation, place a barbell across the shoulder blades, similar to how you would when performing a weighted squat. Try this exercise first without weight. Once you’ve mastered your form with just the barbell, add weight to it to increase the intensity.
You can also add weight to good mornings with dumbbells or kettlebells. This involves holding each dumbbell or kettlebell over the shoulder, near the shoulder blades. Start with a light weight. For beginners, this would likely be somewhere between one and five pounds. More advanced exercisers might start with a weight that is ten pounds or more. When the lighter weight feels too easy, move up to a heavier weight. This enables you to continue to experience strength gains.
Whether using a light or heavy weight, always continue to monitor your form. If you find that you’re arching your back or otherwise modifying your form to perform this hip hinge, the weight is too heavy. It’s always better to use a lighter weight with proper form than a heavy weight with poor form.
Where does the good morning exercise belong within a weight training routine? Because it works the posterior chain, the best place to put it is with other lower body exercises. You could sandwich it between other exercises designed to work the glutes, lower back, and hip area.
If doing good mornings on leg day, they should be performed before quadriceps exercises. Doing them after, when the upper leg is already fatigued, may cause you to compromise your form. So, if you typically do squats, for instance, do good mornings before.
Good mornings can also be incorporated into days when you work your glutes. Start your workout with the Romanian deadlift and end with the good morning. Do Bulgarian split squats and single-leg step-ups in between.
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Vigotsky, A. D., Harper, E. N., Ryan, D. R., & Contreras, B. (2015). Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ, 3. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.708
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