Good Mornings: How to Perform This Advanced Exercise Move

Woman with barbell on her shoulders


Workout moves have many different names, but none are better to start your day than a "Good Morning" exercise. Although, unlike the title's implication, you can do a Good Morning at any time of day. To find out what it is, how it's done, and its benefits, we spoke with trainers Kelly Collins and Katie Kollath. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

What is a Good Morning?

A Good Morning exercise is a weighted squat. Unlike squats with dumbbells you hold in your hands, a Good Morning utilizes a barbell placed behind your shoulders. Its name is believed to have arisen for two reasons: for one, the way you bend your waist in a bowing motion is similar to how a person might bow to someone to say, "Good morning." Another reason for the name is because the move resembles the stretch that occurs when you rise out of bed in the morning.

As the Good Morning move involves a barbell, it's considered an advanced workout exercise even when unweighted, weighing forty-five pounds. There are many muscles involved, and proper form, which we will detail for you at length, is key to preventing injury. Kollath tells us that "you want to make sure you have adequate strength and mobility before performing this movement with the barbell."

What are the Benefits?

This move is all about back stabilization. It will work your hamstrings and glutes, but there is no shortage of workout moves that focus on those. In addition to exercising those muscles, the Good Morning helps to create stability and strength in both your upper and lower back. If you've found yourself at a plateau in your workouts, this move is an excellent way to move past it and increase your strength more than you have before. It falls in the same category of workout moves as deadlifts and squats but works more muscles in your back, too. It engages the entirety of your posterior chain, which are all the muscles needed to keep your back in good form.

How Do You Perform a Good Morning?

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place a barbell on your upper back; Kollath says this should be done "just as you would for a back squat." In addition, Kollath recommends, "Think about arching the lower back or sticking your butt up and back as you start the movement. This will keep the back "flat" at the end range of the good morning to ensure you're maximally stretching and strengthening the hamstrings and glutes."
  2. Hinge forward from the hips, with your knees bent a little. Then, Collins tells us to "continue to push your hips back while lowering your torso until your spine is almost parallel to the floor. Be sure to maintain a slight arch in your lower back with your shoulder blades pinched together."
  3. Lift your torso and return to your starting position, be sure to keep your core engaged. Kollath stresses that your spin should remain elongated. Kollath says to drive the hips forward and squeeze the glutes hard as you stand back up.

Tips to Prevent Injury

With the amount that your back is involved in this move, it's important to follow injury prevention tips. Here are the top ones.

  • To avoid lower back strain, Collins says to "keep a slight bend in your knees and focus on pushing your hips back, rather than dropping your chest forward."
  • The movement of your spine when you bend forward is key. Kollath tells us to "avoid spinal flexion, especially at the end range of the movement." That's because "spinal flexion with the barbell on the back can be too much too soon for most people who could potentially lead to a back strain or back pain in general if consistently performed this way." 
  • It may seem like a no-brainer, but you should already have comfort and experience using a barbell before trying this move. Follow all guidelines you already know for this piece of equipment, such as not rushing the move, not progressing too quickly with added weights, and using the proper grip.

Additionally, Collins notes that heavy weight training is not recommended for "those pregnant or recovering from childbirth, those injured or recovering from an injury to their back, neck, spine, knees or feet, or those who have recently had surgery or are not medically cleared by their doctor." If experience pain during this exercise, you should see a licensed physical therapist or certified personal trainer who can assess your form and suggest modifications as needed.

What Are Some Modifications You Can Try?

While this is an advanced move, there are numerous ways to modify it so that beginners or intermediate exercisers can more easily do it.

  1. Try a Good Morning without weight. To ensure proper form, Kollath suggests that "you can place the hands behind the head to help maintain that anterior pelvic tilt." She also recommends a one-legged version done with bodyweight, which will be more difficult than standing on two legs but still easier than with a barbell.
  2. Do a seated version. A seated Good Morning can make it easier to not put too much pressure on your back, as you do it sitting, not standing.
  3. Collins recommends a resistance band instead of a barbell for less advanced people. For that, the band will be in front of you, held under your feet, and you'll use your hands to lift it as you rise.
  4. Hold a dumbbell in front of you. Kollath says you can "grab a dumbbell and hold it across the chest and perform the same movement" by following this guide.

The Takeaway

A Good Morning exercise is an advanced workout move that gets its name because the movement involved looks similar to a getting of bed stretch and a bow. It is a form of squat, but it involves your back muscles more than squats generally do. This is because of both the movement involved and the usage of a barbell of your upper back. With so much back involvement, proper form is integral to preventing injury. If you aren't at a place in your workout journey where a Good Morning is yet within your reach, you can try it with bodyweight, dumbbells, or resistance bands, or do it seated instead of standing. A "good morning" can have an entirely new, stronger definition with these tips than ever before.

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