Developing The Posterior Chain With The Good Morning Exercise
For developing the posterior chain, there are very few exercises that compare to the good morning. The fact that the exercise is universally used by top level athletes, strongmen, powerlifters, and olympic lifters, should indicate the effectiveness of this exercise.
The article will review the good morning exercise, the muscles involved, the associated benefits and explain what exactly makes it such a great developer for strength and size. It will also break down the technique required to safely and efficiently perform a good morning and provide information on how to best program it into training.
The posterior chain is very simply every muscle found at the rear of the body – from the calf at the bottom of the leg to the traps in the upper back. While all the muscles of the posterior chain contract in some capacity to drive or stabilize movement, there are a number of specific muscles that are responsible for performing a barbell good morning:
– Spinal Erectors
– Upper Back Muscles
– Scapular Stabilizers
Good Morning Technique
This section will break down the form for a conventional barbell good morning exercise. There are a number of useful good morning variations that can be performed, however, as stated, the technique explained here is for a conventional good morning.
The most important aspect of the good morning is ensuring that the hips move backwards effectively and that a neutral spine alignment is maintained throughout. This is an important aspect, not only to ensure that the correct musculature is activated, but also to protect the lower back from injury. Flexing or extending the spine under a great deal of load can cause significant injury – specifically disc herniation (also referred to as a slipped disc) (1).
Those who have performed the deadlift, squat or other athletic movements previously may grasp this technique relatively quickly. This is because the movement patterns are very similar to many other strength and athletic exercises.
1) Set a barbell on a rack, just beneath shoulder height. Place the bar on the upper back and grip the bar with both hands, keeping them close to the shoulders. Before unracking, drive the chest up and squeeze the core muscles to protect the back. Lift off and take a few steps back so not to make contact with any part of the rack.
2) Assume a hip-width stance, stand tall and keep soft at the knees. Before hinging the hips, once again ensure that the chest is lifted and the core is braced. From this position, focus on pushing the hips back so that the trunk of the body tips forward while keeping the knees out over the toes and feet flat on the floor. If possible, and without compromising a flat back, tip forward until the chest is approximately parallel with the floor.
3) On reaching this position, reverse the movement by driving the hips through until reaching an upright position. At the end of the movement, focus on squeezing the glutes together. Repeat these steps again for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Good Morning Benefits
It is clear the good morning is an effective posterior chain strength exercise, but what specific benefits are associated with developing these muscles?
For many big compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts and olympic lifts, a large emphasis is often placed on protecting the lower back from injury. This is typically done by squeezing core musculature thus increasing intra-abdominal pressure and stabilizing the spine (2). Failure to do this may lead to flexion of the lumbar spine which can cause injury.
Regularly performing good mornings will increase the isometric strength of the spinal erectors, muscles which are pivotal in spinal stabilization, thus further protecting the back from injury. Additionally, building strong glutes and hamstrings will not only reduce the risk of experiencing a soft tissue or back injury but may also facilitate a greater performance for a number of exercises.
There is good reason why the good morning appears in so many powerlifting and weightlifting training programs. Squats, deadlifts, cleans and snatches all place the lifter in a bent over position where the hamstrings and glutes are exposed to a great load and stress. If these muscles are weak and inefficient, the lift will also be. Research has indicated that regularly performing the good morning will develop hamstrings and glute strength to a large degree (3).
Facilitating Deadlifts & Squats
With every strength based exercise, resisting spinal flexion is crucial for distributing load effectively and reducing injury risk. In addition to this, regularly performing good mornings will improve strength and proprioceptive ability (the body’s understanding of movement). By improving both of these, there will be a consequent positive impact on performance of the squat, deadlift and a variety of other compound lifts.
More specifically, building upper back tension and spinal stability will be specifically useful for lifters during the squat who either struggle to anchor the bar tightly to the upper back or find themselves tipping forward in the squat. There are similarities between the deadlift and the good morning as the movements for both exercises are alike and recruit the same muscles. Therefore, the good morning is an excellent accessory exercise for the deadlift, both in terms of total weight lifted and overall technique.
Although the good morning can be highly beneficial for facilitating better technique for both the deadlift and squat, it should not be over relied on or seen as the only answer for rectifying technique issues. There are a number of factors that must be considered and assessed when looking to improve technique.
Good mornings can be used to improve a number of fitness components and are specifically useful for developing strength and causing hypertrophy (muscle growth).
For building muscle mass, the recommendation is to complete 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. This volume is enough to apply metabolic stress, mechanical tension and cause muscle damage – the 3 mechanisms necessary for bringing about muscular hypertrophy (4).
For strength gains, look to keep the weight heavy and rep range relatively low. Typically no more than 5 reps to be completed per set. However, with heavy loads it is important to be aware that technique is more likely to break down and therefore heighten the risk of sustaining injury. As a result, heavy good mornings are not recommended for many – only those who are advanced lifters or athletes.
If new to the good morning exercise, ensure to start with a light barbell initially and practice regularly. As the movement becomes more automatic, it would then be acceptable to progress and gradually start adding weight to the bar.
Finally, for those who struggle with low back pain, exercise caution. Although the good morning can have a very positive impact on back pain, increasing the weight on the bar places a large deal of stress through the muscles around the hips and the back (5) and therefore, a slight deviation from good technique could exacerbate issues.
The recommendation therefore would be to perform other core strengthening exercises, such as bird dogs, dead bugs and glute bridges, for a period of time to enhance spinal stability before progressing to the good morning. This has been found to be an effective method for reducing injury to the spine and lower extremities (6).
Good Morning Variations
The barbell good morning can be performed from a seated position to maximize tension on the spinal erectors and hamstrings. This is a great variation, however, be sure to reduce the load on the barbell when performing the seated version. The technique involved is similar, however, a wider stance is often required in order to provide space for the trunk to drop in to.
Another brilliant variation of the good morning is the banded version of the exercise. Not only will it effectively fire up all the musculature of the posterior chain, it will also be of great benefit to those who are looking to grasp the movement patterns without the fear of placing a heavy barbell on the back.
For the banded good morning, find a long resistance band, place it under the feet and stand on it. With the other looped end of the band, hinge forward and hook it over the head so that it sits on the upper back. From that position, brace hard, keep the chest lifted and drive up until standing. Reverse the movement, returning to the hinged position and repeat for the desired number of reps.
In summation, good mornings are a highly effective developer of posterior chain strength and size. While caution should be exercised for strength training beginners and those with low back issues, the wide range of benefits associated with this exercise means that it is a useful addition to the majority of strength training programs.
1-VanGelder, Leonard H.; Hoogenboom, Barbara J.; Vaughn, Daniel W. (2013-8). “A PHASED REHABILITATION PROTOCOL FOR ATHLETES WITH LUMBAR INTERVERTEBRAL DISC HERNIATION”. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 8 (4): 482–516. ISSN 2159-2896. PMC 3812831. PMID 24175134.
2-Hackett, Daniel A.; Chow, Chin-Moi (2013-8). “The Valsalva maneuver: its effect on intra-abdominal pressure and safety issues during resistance exercise”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27 (8): 2338–2345. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827de07d. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 23222073.
3-Schellenberg, Florian; Taylor, William R.; Lorenzetti, Silvio (July 17, 2017). “Towards evidence based strength training: a comparison of muscle forces during deadlifts, goodmornings and split squats”. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 9. doi:10.1186/s13102-017-0077-x. ISSN 2052-1847. PMC 5513080. PMID 28725437.
4-Schoenfeld, Brad J. (2010-10). “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24 (10): 2857–2872. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 20847704.
5-Vigotsky, Andrew David; Harper, Erin Nicole; Ryan, David Russell; Contreras, Bret (2015). “Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity”. PeerJ. 3: e708. doi:10.7717/peerj.708. ISSN 2167-8359. PMC 4304869. PMID 25653899.
6-Huxel Bliven, Kellie C.; Anderson, Barton E. (2013-11). “Core Stability Training for Injury Prevention”. Sports Health. 5 (6): 514–522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200. ISSN 1941-7381. PMC 3806175. PMID 24427426.