All you need to know about the good morning exercise

good morning exercise
Your complete guide to the good morning exerciseVasyl Dolmatov - Getty Images

When it comes to exercises that deliver bang for your buck and work muscles across your whole body, you're probably thinking of big-ticket exercises like your squats and deadlifts. But what about the good morning exercise?

A hip hinge move, it strengthens your whole posterior chain (including your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors), much like a hip thrust or glute bridge. What's more, according to research, the exercise is helpful for hamstring and erector spinae activation, and may be helpful for reducing the risk of hamstring injury.

We spoke to Lewis Paris, PT, founder and award-winning lead trainer of London-based Lewis Paris Fitness to talk about this movement that 2.9k of you Google every month - as demoed by our Women's Health Collective expert trainer, Izy George - including what it is, how to do it, good form and more.

What is the good morning exercise?

'The good morning exercise is a hip-dominant movement that primarily focuses on your posterior muscles,' says Paris. 'So that means your hamstrings with support from your lower back and glutes.'

Which muscles does the good morning exercise work?

'The good morning is a compound exercise and is posterior dominant,' says Paris. The main muscles worked are predominantly:

Compound exercises (or multi-joint movements) are moves work multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, a lunge works your quads, core, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Since compound exercises tend to use large muscle groups, you'll increase strength in multiple areas. One Frontiers in Psychology study showed that training using compound exercises provided higher gains in physical performance than training with single-joint exercises. It's also an efficient way to exercise, since you're hitting multiple groups at the same time.

How do I do the good morning exercise?

If you are doing it with a barbell, Paris recommends these steps:

1.Position the barbell on your back the same height you would a back squat, but not too high, as this will add stress to your neck and lower-back muscles. Take a wider grip with your hands.

2. Pinch your shoulder blades together while shrugging down to contract your lats and protect your spine. Position your feet between hip and shoulder width apart.

3. Brace your core by inhaling and creating tension in your mid-section. Prepare to keep your torso straight and avoid rounding your back.

4. This is primarily a hip hinge, so begin the movement by leading from your hips and slightly bending at your knees, bringing your chest forward towards the floor and driving your hips back.

Keep in mind not to squat as you bow down. Your focus is to feel your hamstrings engage as you make your descent.

5. As you continue to come down, maintain a rigid back and neutral spine. Avoid tilting your head too far up or too far down: imagine a tennis ball between your chin and chest.

6. You should now start to feel the tension build up in your hamstrings. Go as far down as your hamstrings and mobility will allow before your form breaks. If you find it difficult, slightly bend your knees to allow for greater range of motion.

7. Avoid shifting all your weight into your heels and aim to keep your weight in the midsection of the feet for a more rooted stance.

If you feel pain in your lower back at any point then stop going down any further.

8. Once you've reached your maximum depth (which will never be more than parallel to the floor), stop, exhale and come up. As you ascend, focus on pushing your hips forward.

Can I do the good morning exercise with dumbbells?

Yes, you can do the exercise with dumbbells and using your body weight.

Performing the good morning with one dumbbell

Paris notes: 'Rather than placing the weight on your back with a barbell, you can place the dumbbell on the front side of your body just above the chest (front-rack position).'

The same rules apply when performing the exercise with a barbell, so:

1. Focus on lat contraction by pinching the shoulder blades together.

2. Brace your core, leading from your hips and slightly bending at your knees.

3. Go as far down as your hamstrings and mobility will allow before your form breaks.

4. Once you've reached your maximum depth (which will never be more than parallel to the floor), stop, exhale and come up.

Performing the good morning with two dumbbells

Performing the good morning using your body weight

You can also perform the good morning exercise using a resistance band, standing with both feet about hip-width distance apart on the band and with it looped around your neck. This movement has the benefits of a barbell good morning, but without the compression and pressure on your upper back and shoulders. It can be useful as a warmup or a low-risk, lower-intensity variation.

Five common form mistakes to look out for with the good morning exercise and how to avoid injury

Here are five form mistakes to watch out for, according to Paris:

1. Rounding of your back

'This will lead to lower-back strain and lack of engagement in your hamstrings,' says Paris.

2. Leading from your head

'If you lead with your head down, you're likely to relax your upper back and force the weight towards your neck, which will increase instability and put more strain on your lower back and neck,' warns Paris.

3. Leaning too far back on your heels

Avoid shifting your weight onto your heels to protect your lower back. 'With your feet fully rooted into the ground and the weight distributed throughout your whole foot, you'll encourage the weight to stay in your core and hamstrings,' advises Paris.

4. Going too heavy

Paris reminds us that, 'This is an accessory movement so going heavy can cause serious strain to your spine due to how the weight is positioned'.

5. Not bracing

'Learn how to engage your core to perform the exercise safely. This protects your lower back and encourages a neutral spine. In turn, that will help to distribute the weight to your hamstrings, which is the focus of the exercise,' says Paris.

good morning exercise
Keep your torse straight and avoid rounding your backHearst Owned

What are the benefits of the good morning exercise?

Paris says that 'the good morning is a great accessory exercise to improve and strengthen your posterior chain, which can aid in:

  • posture development

  • core stability

  • hamstring strength

  • improved Romanian deadlift technique

  • increasing isometric control (contracting a muscle without it changing length) of your back and dynamic control of your hips and hamstrings.

This can also be part of your warm-up routine to prime your posterior muscles before a big lift such as a squat or deadlift.

Is the good morning a compound exercise?

According to Paris, 'Yes, the good morning is a compound exercise, but it's also classed as isolation for the hamstrings.' As a multi-joint move, it works your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, spinal erectors, core and upper back.

Can I do the good morning exercise seated?

Yes, says Paris. 'If you find it difficult whilst standing, you can take the load off your knees, increase balance and focus primarily on hinging at the hips for further engagement of your hamstrings.

'The same sequencing follows but just in a seated position', continues Paris.

1.Your feet will be wider than your hips

2. Brace at your core throughout inhalation. With your back and core engaged start your descent by leaning forward and hinging at your hips.

3. Go as far down as your hamstrings allow and when you reach your depth, exhale and sit back up leading through with your core and glutes.

What are some good morning alternatives?

1.Romanian deadlift (including the single-leg variation)

Similar to the good morning, the RDL engages your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, erector spinae and core.

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, and place them in front of your hips with palms facing thighs.

  2. Keeping your spine in a neutral position and squeezing the shoulder blades, start sending your hips back

  3. Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, lower them down so they are in front of your shins. Once they pass your knees, do not allow the hips to sink further.

  4. Maintain a neutral spine and drive through heels to fully extend hips and knees, squeezing your glutes at the top.

A study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal revealed that the good morning is a helpful alternative to the Romanian deadlift if you have lower levels of grip strength or upper-limb injuries, as you can still work your posterior chain without having to use your forearms or lats.

2. Kettlebell swing

Like the good morning, kettlebell swings target your glutes and hamstrings, but also the rest of your posterior chain:

  • glutes

  • hamstrings

  • shoulders

  • lats

  • hips

  • core

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down to pick up the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip.

2. Look ahead, not down, and keep your spine aligned and your knees slightly bent throughout the movement.

3. Drive your pelvis forward to swing the kettlebell out and up to shoulder-height.

4. Allow the weight to drop back down, hingeing at the hips as it swings between your legs.

3. Glute bridge

The main muscles targeted here are your:

  • glutes

  • hamstrings

  • quads

  • hip flexors

  • core

  1. Lie on your back on a mat, with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart.

  2. On an exhale, squeeze your glutes and push your heels into the floor to lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Pause for a moment at the top before slowly lowering back down (first shoulders, then lower back, then bum) to the mat. That’s one rep.

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