How to Do the Good Morning Exercise With a Barbell

Strengthening the Lower Back With Proper Form

Young fit attractive woman in gym working with barbell
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The good morning exercise gives your hamstrings a workout, as well as your lower back and abs. It is a great exercise for strengthening your lower back, making it more resilient, but only if done correctly. The good morning exercise is an isolation exercise using a pulling motion and it is for those at an intermediate level of training and experience. 

Equipment Needed

The exercise works best with a barbell and not with dumbbells as you may see at times.

Start with light weights or an empty barbell and add weight over time as you progress. Stable footwear and footing are also recommended.

Muscles Targeted

The hamstrings are the primary target, with the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus as the synergists and the erector spinae as the stabilizer. The obliques and rectus abdominis come into play as antagonist stabilizers.

Precautions for the Good Morning

The good morning exercise requires strict attention to form to prevent injury to your lower back. Proper form and execution is vital to weight training safety in any exercise, but your lower back is particularly susceptible to injury if an exercise that focuses on it is performed incorrectly or with too much weight.

Be very mindful of your capability, and do not progress too quickly to higher weight as you train. For beginners, start with an empty barbell to practice the correct form.

How to Do the Good Morning Exercise

  1. Place a barbell of appropriate weight on your shoulders. The bar should rest on the trapezius muscles of the upper back in the shoulder area. Start with a light weight until you get familiar with this exercise.
  1. Position your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Brace your abdominals and remember to breathe normally—out with exertion and in on recovery.
  3. Bend at the hips until the hamstring muscles at the rear of the thigh start to limit your movement. Bend a little further to give them a stretch, but not so that you feel pain or discomfort. Keep the back straight. The knees can bend slightly to relieve pressure on them but do not squat. All of the action is in the hips. 
  1. Maintain the straight back with the tight arch in your lower back as you would when lifting from the floor. Keep your head and chest up. Do not curl your back forward.
  2. Return to the starting position.

How low you can go with this exercise depends on your flexibility across the posterior chain of muscles including the hamstrings, gluteals (butt) and lower back.

Don't push this exercise too far beyond your inherent capability. As a cautionary tale, martial artist Bruce Lee once injured himself when doing good mornings with too heavy of a weight and without a good warm-up.

Find out more about weight training fundamentals if you need background information before you try this exercise.

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