How to Do the Good Morning Exercise With a Barbell

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Young fit attractive woman in gym working with barbell
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Also Known As: Barbell good mornings

Targets: Hamstrings, glutes, core, lower back

Equipment: Barbells

Level: Intermediate

The good morning exercise works your hamstrings, lower back, and abs. The exercise works best with barbells as opposed to other weights, like dumbbells. You should have a good understanding of weight training fundamentals before adding good mornings to your routine.

Benefits

When done correctly, good mornings are great for strengthening your lower back, making it more resilient. The pulling motion required also makes it a solid isolation exercise.

Your hamstrings are the primary target with this move, but other muscle groups get a good workout, too. Your gluteus maximus and adductor magnus work as synergists while the erector spinae is the stabilizer. Your obliques and rectus abdominis come into play as antagonist stabilizers. By engaging all of these muscle groups, good mornings are a great way to improve leg, hip, and back strength.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place a barbell of appropriate weight on your shoulders. If you're just starting with the exercise, begin with light weight. The bar of the barbell should rest on your trapezius muscles of the upper back near your shoulders.
  3. Brace your abdominals and take a good breath in.
  4. Exhale as you bend at the hips until your hamstring muscles start to limit your movement. From here, you can bend a little further to give them a stretch, but not so far that you feel pain or discomfort. Remember to keep your back straight. Your knees can bend slightly to relieve pressure, but you don't want to be in a squat.  
  5. Inhale and focus on maintaining a straight back. Keep the arch of your lower back tight as you would when lifting from the floor.
  6. Exhale. Make sure your head and chest are up and forward. Check that you aren't curling your back forward.
  7. Inhale smoothly as you return to the starting position.

The number of sets and reps you do will depend on your goals. Ask a trainer or coach for personalized recommendations. If you're just beginning, a good goal to start with is 3 sets of 3 reps.

Common Mistakes

You're Overdoing It

How low you can go with this exercise depends on your flexibility across the posterior chain of muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back). While you want to improve your fitness level and gradually challenge yourself, don't push yourself too far too fast.

You don't need to lift the heaviest weight possible to get the benefits of this exercise.

Your Squat Form is Poor

Before you add weights and start lifting, make sure your good morning squats have excellent, consistent form. This will ensure you're doing the lift safely and effectively every time.

You Aren't Warmed Up

One of the most serious mistakes you can make with weight training happens before you even touch a weight. If you aren't properly warmed up, you risk straining your muscles, if not incurring a serious injury. If you're in a crowded gym or fitness center, lifting weights when you're overtired, not warmed up, or unfocused can also put those around you at risk.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Start with an empty barbell to practice the correct form. Stick to light weights at first, then add weight gradually over time as you gain strength and refine your form.

You can also do this exercise from a seated position. While being seated on a bench for the lift won't give your hamstrings the same workout as the standing version, the seated variation is great for isolating your core muscles.

Up for a Challenge?

As you gain strength and develop confidence in your form, the most straightforward way to increase the challenge of good mornings is to add more weight. While you'll want to go about this gradually, there are other ways you can intensify the exercise without adding weight.

  • Change your stance: The simplest adjustment you can make no matter what weight you're lifting is to narrow or widen your stance. A wider stance works your hamstrings, while a narrow one puts your glutes to work.
  • Deeper bend: As you prepare to lift heavier weights, bending your knees more will intensify the stretch, protect your lower back, and allow you to lift safely.
  • Single-legged good morning: When you're at a more advanced level, you can really challenge yourself by doing the lift on one leg. If you decide to try this variation, make sure you're not using too much weight, that you have someone to spot you, and that you are wearing appropriate footwear. Doing the lift on only one leg requires great focus, stability, strength, and balance.

Safety and Precautions

Good mornings require strict attention to form to protect your lower back. Proper form and execution are vital to weight training safety in any exercise, but since your lower back is a key focus of good mornings, performing them incorrectly or with too much weight can put you at particular risk for injury.

Be very mindful of your goals but, at the same time, realistic about your individual physical capabilities. As you train, resist the urge to progress quickly to a higher weight.

For safety, it's also imperative to have the right equipment and gear. Whether you're practicing at the gym or at home, always make sure you have stable footing and appropriate footwear.

As always, check in with your doctor before starting or increasing a weight training program. Good mornings are an advanced weight training lift, so you'll also want to work closely with a trainer or coach to get started.

While there may be modifications your trainer can recommend, heavy weight lifting should be avoided if you:

  • Are under the age of 16
  • Are pregnant or recovering from childbirth
  • Are injured or recovering from an injury to your spine, back, neck, arms, knees, or feet
  • Have recently had surgery on your abdomen, pelvis, knees, arms, neck, or back

Try It Out

Good mornings with barbells are an intense workout for your hamstrings, lower back, and abs. Try adding them to your lift day as part of these weight training workouts:

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