Are good mornings safe?

By Kendra Whittle
Sep 22 2022

Are good mornings safe?

Good mornings are a development movement that isn’t limited to the a.m. – it’s for morning, noon and night! Terrible puns aside, if you’ve been moving a barbell for a while now, a good morning last likely come across your WOD’s warmup routine or even in the main Metcon.

Despite its sunshine-y name, good mornings have a darker side. Athletic trainers have long debated if athletes run a higher risk for back injury while doing good mornings, certainly if they are being performed incorrectly. Famously, American martial artist Bruce Lee seriously injured his back while performing good mornings on August 13, 1970. According to one biographical article, Lee was performing sets of good mornings at his bodyweight (135 lbs). He was on his first set of 8 without allegedly warming up properly. He claimed he heard “a loud popping sound” and promptly dropped the barbell.

That one bad bend proved to be disastrous for Lee. Doctors reported the athlete  had done permanent damage to the fourth sacral nerve in his lower back. He was bedridden for three months and was told he would never practice kung fu again. Fortunately the doctors were proved wrong, as Lee eventually trained again, but suffered from chronic back pain for the rest of his life.

There’s a lot of talk about whether or not Lee had properly done a proper warm up before beginning the good morning exercise, or if he was lifting too heavy. Whatever the case, the reputation of good mornings being the single most dangerous exercise in weightlifting has haunted them ever since. On the other hand, some coaches claim good mornings are one of the best posterior chain exercises out there.

What’s the truth? Is the bad rap on good mornings deserved? Let’s break it down.

What’s a good morning? 

A good morning is a basic hip hinge exercise that develops the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors (basically, the entire posterior chain). 

To perform good mornings (for this example’s sake, let’s assume this is a simple bodyweight good morning),, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly turned out and a soft bend in the knee (NO LOCKING OUT here). Take a deep breath and lower forward, shifting your hips and glutes back until your chest is parallel with the ground (straight midline here). Reverse, bringing your hips forward and slowly stand back up to the upright position.

Good mornings are in the same category as Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs), another common posterior chain movement. In the RDL, the barbell is positioned in the front of the body held by straight arms. In the good morning, the barbell  is typically in the low bar position on the back. 

Benefits of good mornings

Good mornings strengthen the posterior chain, which is paramount for improving other weightlifting movements. They work your hamstrings and glutes, spine and lower back. 

With proper form, they’re great for building strength in the lower body. They are also a good trainer for other exercises, such as kettlebell swings, that utilize a hip hinge. When done right, they stabilize your spine to prevent spinal flexion.

All of this, when done with good form, can help out with your squats and deadlifts. Higher AMRAP squat and deadlift numbers? Yes, please!

Risks of good mornings

Unless you’re doing bodyweight good mornings, good mornings will put a load (from the barbell) directly on your spine. When done incorrectly or with a weight that’s too heavy, the impact on your spine can easily lead to low back pain or legitimate concerns of serious injury. 

 Back loaded good mornings, by nature, bend the athlete forward to the end range of motion.That means, if you’re using a heavy weight and you can’t control it, it’s a breeding ground for injuries – including herniated discs or bulging discs.Ow. 

Clearly good mornings run some serious risk, probably more so than other standard weightlifting moves. It’s not a move for beginners (if you’re looking to work toward a stronger posterior chain and this article is scaring you so far, coaches recommend starting with an RDL, goblet squat or single leg deadlift to get the same benefits). However, with proper technique (let’s say it again for the people in the back: PROPER TECHNIQUE) and a proper good morning lifting scheme, your glutes and hamstrings may be thanking you a few weeks from now.

There are plenty of good morning variations out there to perfect your practice and work all the muscles. Some focus more on technique and warming up, others on adding more weight and building athletic performance. Let’s take a look at some of the best.

Are good mornings safe

Seated good morning

Seated good mornings are all about booty gains and lower back love. Set up a barbell on a power rack with a weight bench to get started. Plant your feet planted on the floor shoulder width apart. Load the barbell on to your back rack. Brace your core, engage your glutes into the bench and drive your feet into the floor as you bow forward until your midline is as close to parallel as you can. Press through the floor and return to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times.

Front loaded good mornings

This good morning exercise is all about light weights. This is a good one to bring in a set of dumb bells or a kettlebell or even a medicine ball (no, not a dball. You will fall forward and hurt something…unless you’re ridiculously strong). 

For this one to happen safely, you really need to focus on your core to engage your spine. Hold your light weight goblet-style in front of the chest, elbows tucked in, and keep your feet hip width apart and knees straight.. 

Keep your core tight while pushing your hips back, leaning your chest forward to parallel. Return to standing. Do 5-10 reps. 

Back loaded good mornings

There are the most good morning variations from the back rack. Many CrossFit boxes use a back loaded good morning as a warm-up, using a PVC pipe or an empty barbell. You also can use heavy weights here, but use caution. This is the variation that gets the bad rap for injuries.

For a barbell good morning, especially one using a heavy weight, any exercise physiologist will probably recommend using a rig to rack your barbell for safety’s sake, as opposed to cleaning it off the floor and jerking it up over and on to your shoulder blades. 

During this barbell bend over, brace your midline and concentrate on feeling the stretch in the hamstrings and lower back, and then bring your hips forward again to stand. Complete 5-10 reps.

Back loaded good mornings can be done in the low bar position (with the barbell sitting on your posterior deltoids or in the middle of your shoulder blades) or the high bar position (with the barbell sitting on your traps in your upper back). There are only a few minor differences between the two and don’t necessarily change the muscle groups worked).

 If you have one available, using a safety bar for a good morning exercise  instead of a barbell might be a good option. Safety bars shifts your center of gravity and does make the good morning exercise more difficult, but there’s a reason “safety” is in the name. The bar is easier to hold the bar in place, taking one factor that might harm your proper form out of the equation.

Single leg good morning

Hamstrings and glutes, rejoice! This one’s about strength, but it’s also about stability and balance. So obviously, light weights again.An empty barbell is perfect here.

Perform single leg good mornings  by placing one foot on the floor and balance the other foot on a bench behind you. Bend the support leg as you hinge at the hip and bend forward.This one uses all the spinal stabilizers, so pay special attention to the arch of the back and not to bend your knees further into a squat depth. Return to the starting position. Repeat 5-8 reps and then switch legs. 

So are good mornings safe?

Can you safely incorporate good mornings into your workout routine? Yes, and if you’re an experienced lifter, there’s a lot of benefits in doing so. Getting good at good mornings can eventually help with the depth and mobility of squats and deadlifts. They can be great for posterior muscles, glutes, hamstrings and more. A well-done good morning creates strong engagement for the core too. 

So watch those lower back muscles, take a few pointers on safety and technique whenever your coach offers them and don’t be tempted to add more weight before you know if you can handle it. Perform good mornings carefully and intentionally, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy the benefits without the injuries. 

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