The Good Morning Exercise
Walking into a powerlifting gym or athletic training facility, you will likely find athletes performing compound movements. Exercises such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, hang cleans, etc., are commonly programmed when improving strength, speed, and athleticism is the goal. However, one critical exercise is commonly disregarded: the good morning.
At Westside Barbell, we have utilized the good morning and its many variations for decades. Why? Because few exercises compare to the good morning in terms of posterior chain strength development. Additionally, the good morning is a versatile exercise, which can be programmed as a main, primary accessory, or accessory exercise.
This provides a coach or athlete with many options regarding exercise selection and program design. Another great advantage of using the good morning exercise is the rate of recovery associated with the movement.
Typically, most athletes will be able to recover from high-intensity good morning workouts much faster than a high-intensity deadlift workout and considerably faster than a high-intensity squat workout. This is another reason we like to use the good morning as a main exercise at Westside Barbell; the ability to load the posterior chain to further develop absolute strength without incurring excessive fatigue.
When programmed correctly, the good morning exercise can rapidly improve strength in the squat and deadlift, build the paraspinal muscles, and improve the rigidity of the trunk.
The Two Types of Good Mornings
Understanding the two basic ways to execute a repetition when performing good mornings is essential. First, we will discuss the most commonly known style of good morning exercise; bodybuilding good mornings.
Bodybuilding Good Mornings
Bodybuilding good mornings are performed to develop the upper glutes and the low and mid-back muscles. Proper execution calls for the knees to be at or near lockout, allowing for the burden to be placed on the targeted muscle groups. This style of good morning is typically programmed as a high-volume accessory exercise.
Powerlifting Good Mornings
Powerlifting good mornings are performed to fully target the posterior chain, with the end goal being further development of squat and deadlift strength. Instead of positioning the legs and torso to focus on one area of the posterior chain, the athlete should hinge the hips and bend the knee, similar to their deadlift movement pattern.
One of the best ways to describe a powerlifting-style good morning is a deadlift with the weight on the back. The movement pattern should be nearly similar to a conventional deadlift, allowing the torso to travel to the same level you’d typically begin your deadlift before beginning the concentric portion of the lift.
At Westside, we utilize the powerlifting good mornings most often. However, do not abandon the bodybuilding-style good morning altogether. Depending on an athlete’s weaknesses, the bodybuilding-style good morning can help address issues with low back or upper glute strength.
Good Morning Exercise Variations
As mentioned above, we have utilized the good morning exercise at Westside Barbell for many years. Throughout that time, we have had the opportunity to experiment with different good morning exercise variations to discover the most beneficial variations to enhance posterior chain strength.
Here are a few of our go-to good morning variations:
Standard Good Morning
The standard good morning is performed following the movement parameters associated with a powerlifting-style good morning. Typically, a competition squat barbell is used to perform the movement. However, athletes can use a bow bar to relieve shoulder stress.
The standard good morning will help to develop the posterior chain and improve the strength of the trunk as well. Additionally, athletes can expect improvements in squat and deadlift posture as well.
SSB Good Morning
Considering the high bar position the SSB provides, this variation of the good morning exercise places additional stress on the mid and upper back along with the rest of the posterior chain. This variation is beneficial for athletes dealing with muscular weakness at the thoracic or cervical spine levels while focusing on the glutes and hamstrings.
If an athlete has issues keeping their chest up in a squat position, this exercise can be a game changer.
Cambered Bar Good Morning
Similar to how the SSB emphasizes the mid and upper back, the cambered bar good morning emphasizes the other end of the spine, with the low back, glutes, and hamstrings doing most of the work. Additionally, the cambered bar good morning emphasizes the trunk muscles, which build the abdominal muscles and helps improve an athlete’s ability to brace.
This movement should be a staple movement in the training of all athletes. No lower body exercise can provide similar benefits at a similar recovery rate.
Seated Good Morning
The seated good morning can be performed using any of the specialty barbells mentioned above, with the only exception being the athlete will be seated instead of standing. However, the seated position will limit the number of muscle groups targeted, mainly focusing on the low, mid, and upper back.
For this reason, we typically perform seated good mornings using the bow bar or SSB bar. When performing this exercise, setting safety pins at the correct height is essential to prevent the athlete from becoming pinned if things go wrong. Adding reverse bands to this exercise can be beneficial.
Zercher Good Morning
The Zercher good morning is a good morning variation that focuses on posterior chain strength and anterior torso strength. Zercher good mornings call for an athlete to perform the powerlifting good morning movement pattern while carrying a barbell in the Zercher squat position.
Carrying the barbell in the Zercher position emphasizes the stress on the trunk and torso and forces an athlete to lock the muscle groups of the torso to control the barbell and complete the lift. This movement can also be performed using the SSB and is an excellent option for strongman competitors looking to improve their stone-lifting abilities.
Anderson Good Morning
The Anderson good morning is a variation of the Anderson squat, named after the late-great strength athlete Paul Anderson. Like the Anderson squat, the Anderson good morning eliminates the eccentric portion of the lift. The barbell is suspended to a height comparable to where the athlete would be at the point the eccentric part of the lift ends and the concentric portion begins.
This exercise is exceptionally good at building starting strength in the deadlift and can benefit athletes struggling out of the hole during squats.
Good Morning Exercise Programming
For the good morning exercise to be maximally beneficial, it is vital to understand the proper programming of this exercise. Fortunately, this is a relatively straightforward process. It is important to remember that the good morning is a highly versatile exercise and can be programmed to fit practically anywhere in a training program.
First, the good morning can be programmed as a main exercise on a max effort lower training day. When this is the case, the athlete should work up to a top set of 3-5 repetitions. Due to the risk of injury, we do not recommend performing single-rep good mornings for max effort.
The second way to include good mornings in a training program is to program the exercise as a primary accessory exercise. In this case, the good morning is programmed following submaximal volume parameters. It is recommended to perform 3-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions.
The final way to program good mornings is as a high-volume accessory exercise. We will do this if an athlete displays specific weakness in the low back and glutes or if an athlete is returning from injury. In this case, the recommended set and rep scheme is 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Regarding loading, max effort good mornings should always be performed at intensity levels of 85% or above. Accessory exercises should be loaded using a reasonable weight that can be executed with proper form while completing all prescribed sets and reps. Always strive to push yourself during accessory exercise training, but do not risk injury.
Here are examples of how to add good mornings into your training program.
- Week 1 - SSB Squat
- Week 2 - Giant Cambered Bar Good Mornings (top set of 3)
- Week 3 - Deficit Deadlift
- Week 4 - Bow Bar Good Morning (top set of 5)
Primary Accessory Exercise:
- Main Exercise
- SSB Good Mornings - 4 x 5
- Accessory Exercise A
- Accessory Exercise B
- Accessory Exercise C
- Main Exercise
- Primary Accessory Exercise
- Accessory Exercise A
- Barbell Good Mornings - 3 x 8-10
- Accessory Exercise B
Common Good Morning Mistakes
The good morning is an exercise that is as safe as any, provided the movement is executed correctly. Above, we discussed how to execute the two basic styles of good mornings properly; now, we will discuss mistakes most commonly made when performing the good morning exercise.
Mistake 1: Legs Locked Out
No matter the style of good morning being performed, it is always important to maintain a slight bend in the knee. Failure to do so can place excessive stress on the lumbar spine, resulting in a lower back strain. By keeping a slight bend in the knee, the glutes and hamstrings can absorb some stress and allow the movement to be executed safely.
Mistake 2: Excessive Spine Flexion/Extension
When performing a good morning, it is essential to maintain a neutral spine position with the eyes staring straight ahead. The goal is to establish a strong trunk brace to stabilize the spine throughout the movement. It is as important to avoid excessive lower back extension as it is to avoid letting the upper torso fold over.
Mistake 3: Failure to Reach Proper Depth
Ideally, athletes should reach a depth comparable to their conventional deadlift starting position. The lower body, upper body, and hip hinge should all be similar to the starting position of a conventional deadlift.
Mistake 4: Overloading the Barbell
Similar to many exercises, the good morning is an exercise that is easy to overload and perform with suboptimal form. This turns the exercise into more of a “squat-morning,” mainly using leg drive to complete the movement. While this movement will still provide some benefit regarding posterior (and anterior) strength, it is more beneficial to load the exercise appropriately and perform it as intended.
Mistake 5: Rushing the Process
If an athlete is new to good mornings, it is crucial to focus on higher volume good morning training first to develop the movement skills and base level of strength necessary to move on to more demanding and complex programming styles and variations.
Start by adding good mornings as an accessory exercise, then bump the movement up to the primary accessory exercise level, and finally to the max effort exercise level. Developing good morning movement skills keeps the exercise safe and will provide maximum benefit in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How often do athletes use good mornings at Westside Barbell?
A: Weekly. The good morning will be used as a main, primary accessory, or accessory exercise at some point during most training weeks.
Q: Should a belt be used when performing good mornings?
A: Yes, we recommend using a belt when performing this exercise. Aside from the safety benefits a belt provides, the belt can also teach beginners how to brace the trunk to perform a good morning properly.
Q: Are heavy good mornings only beneficial to powerlifters?
A: No, heavy good mornings are beneficial to all athletes. Absolute strength development, particularly posterior chain absolute strength development, is a critical component of athletic development regardless of sport.
Q: Where should the feet be positioned during a good morning?
A: This will depend on the athlete, but usually somewhere between the conventional deadlift and squat stance.
Q: Can good mornings be used to recover from an injury?
A: Yes. If an athlete has experienced an injury that limits squat or deadlift ability, the good morning can be used to execute beneficial lower body training.
Q: Can bands be used during good morning training?
A: Yes, we perform good mornings against band tension regularly. While this is a beneficial exercise variation, it should be reserved for advanced athletes.
One Exercise, Many Uses
The good morning is an exercise that can be implemented into a training regimen in various ways. However, one thing is sure: good mornings always bring beneficial training adaptations regardless of how the movement is programmed. It is the exercise that can provide similar benefits to a squat and deadlift, with nearly half the recovery time.
The good morning is a tremendous benefit to any athlete needing posterior chain strength and trunk stability. Not only can this exercise help reduce back injuries, but good mornings can also help reduce the chance of knee injuries. This is all due to how the good morning exercise rapidly builds the trunk, back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings.
It should be clear by now that the good morning exercise benefits all human beings regardless of sport-focus. Everyone can benefit from improved back, hip, and knee durability, as well as the athletic benefits that come with the absolute strength and work capacity improvements this movement provides.
Don’t let uninformed coaches fool you; the good morning is an exercise every athlete should perform.