There are a few theories on how the good morning exercise got its name. Some say it comes from the movement you make when you rise out of bed in the morning. Others claim it resembles how you might bow at the waist to say, “Good morning.”
Whatever the case may be, the good morning exercise is a simple move that activates your core and engages a handful of your body’s most powerful muscles, including your hamstrings and glutes. It also strengthens your erector spinae, which are muscles that help stabilize and extend your vertebral column, says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., and Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. “The greatest misconception about the good morning is that it’s bad for your back,” he adds. “When performed correctly, it actually has the opposite effect.”
Here’s how to perform this powerful move with proper form so you can safely enjoy all of its muscle-building, back-protecting benefits.
How to Do the Good Morning Exercise With Perfect Form
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and and place your fingertips gently behind your ears.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, lowering your torso until it is nearly parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then return to the starting position.
How to Make the Good Morning Exercise Easier
The most basic version of this move is the bodyweight variation. You should start by mastering the movement pattern and perfecting your form before adding an external load (e.g., dumbbells or a barbell with weight plates). If you lack the strength or hip mobility to lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor, only lower it as far as you can with perfect form.
How to Make the Good Morning Exercise Harder
Increase the difficulty of the good morning by using a resistance band, dumbbells, or a barbell, Thieme suggests.
- Resistance band good morning: Stand on the center of the band with your feet hip-width apart and hold one handle in each hand down by your sides so there is slight tension.
- Dumbbell good morning: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other. Keep the dumbbells close to your legs as you lower your torso.
- Barbell good morning: Place a barbell on your shoulders with your hands equal distance apart.
- Zercher good morning: Hold a barbell in front of your body against your sternum in the cooks of your elbows. Stand warned: This variation is the most technically demanding, and places the greatest strain on your core. That can be a good thing if you’re ready for it, and a bad thing if you’re not.
For an added challenge, you can also perform the good morning on one leg at a time, raising your non-supporting leg behind you as you lower your torso toward the floor. This variation requires even greater core activation to maintain stability.
Bonus Tips for Doing the Good Morning Exercise
“The three key things to performing this move correctly are to engage your core, to keep your back flat, and to initiate the movement by pushing your hips back, ” Thieme says. To achieve that last tip, it helps to imagine that you’re closing a door with your butt. “There should only be a very slight bend in your knees, and you should never feel as if you’re ‘bending over,” which will throw you off balance,” he adds. “The key is to hinge forward at the waist as you push your butt/hips back. Also, never lower your torso until it’s parallel to the floor — you want to stop about 15 degrees above parallel.”
Going all the way down to parallel will increase the strain on your spine. Stopping a bit shy of parallel gives you all the benefits without increasing your risk of injury.
Benefits of the Good Morning Exercise
The good morning is great for learning and mastering the all-important hip-hinge movement (described above), Thieme says. A proper hip-hinge pattern is critical to performing a number of lower body exercises safely and effectively, including the squat and deadlift.
Additionally, the good morning activates many of your body’s biggest muscles, including your glutes and hams, making it a good “bang-for-your-buck” exercise. Plus, it strengthen your erector spinae, which can help reduce your risk of developing back pain.
What Muscles Does the Good Morning Exercise Work?
When you do the good morning exercise, you engage the muscles of your posterior chain, which run along the backside of your body and include your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae. You also hammer your core. Here’s a look at how each of these muscles or muscle groups contribute to helping you perform this exercise.
The term “hamstrings” actually refers to a group of three muscles located on the back of each leg: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. These muscles serve to flex the knee and extend the hip.
Your glutes are group of three muscles in each butt cheek that include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximis is the largest in the trio, and it’s the one that’s most responsible for your booty’s round shape. More important, it helps extend your hips. The gluteus medius and gludeus minimus are primarily responsible for the abduction (outward movement) of the thigh.
While your glutes (which most people don’t realize are part of the core), focus on hip extension during the good morning, the rest of your core muscles engage to stabilize your spine. The key players are the rectus abdominis (i.e., your “abs”), the traverse abdominis—which wraps around the abdomen, and is often referred to as the body’s inner “weight belt”—the obliques that run down your sides, and the erector spinae that are located along your spine.
This part of your core gets a special shout out when it comes to the good morning exercise because of its central role in performing the movement. This muscle group is comprised of nine different muscles that run along the sides of your spine from the base of your skull to your pelvis. They’re primary jobs are to extend and stabilize the spine. As you can imagine, the latter function is crucial when performing the good morning.