I have to say that Good mornings are one of my favourite assistance / supplemental exercises to help develop strength and robustness outside of the 'the big 6' (squat, bench, deadlift, snatch, clean, jerk), yet among the strength and conditioning community, they seem to be a rarely utilised. The only group that readily uses the good morning appears to be the powerlifting community.
It's a fantastic movement to build a significant amount of strength in the posterior chain (upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings and adductors), an area that's a weak point in even the strongest of individuals.
The movement is akin to a barbell Hip Thrust, Romanian / Stiff-legged Deadlift or a Kettlebell swing, with the primary difference being where the load / weight is placed relative to the body.
In its most basic form, the good morning is a simple hip hinge, where the lifter is to simply push the hips back as far as possible until experiencing a stretch in the hamstrings, all whilst maintaining a tight, braced neutral spine.
Here are some useful cues:
With the knees unlocked, the hips should be pushed backward to start the movement, knees flared out slightly to help increase posterior chain recruitment.
As the body hinges backward, the torso will lean forward, however, the bar should remain over the balls of the feet. The entire spine should be in a braced neutral position with a moderate arch in the lower back.
As the hips reach their maximal point of stretch, the glutes and hamstrings should be maximally recruited. Upper back posture must maintained with no collapse or loss of tension anywhere in the body.
The gluteal muscles contract to bring the hips forward and return the body to a standing position.
There are many useful variations depending on your training goals, level of experience and access to equipment.
To warm up effectively and learn the movement prior to performing heavier sets, I recommend you perform some simple band resisted good mornings. You could try performing 2-4 sets of 20-30 reps, or alternatively perform 100 reps in as few sets as possible
Here are some variations I like to prescribe those I work with in person and online:
1. Seated Good Morning
Sit on the floor or a box with a bar on your back. Your legs are out front, spread, or straight out and bend forward as far as possible whilst attempting to maintain a flat or arched back. This builds strength and flexibility in the lumbar region.
2. Concentric Good Morning
The exercise is done by suspending the barbell on the power rack pins or a set of strong chains for the bar to sit in. Now you position yourself under the bar and lift the bar concentrically. When doing reps, take a long pause after setting the bar back to the pins or chains before performing the next rep... this will break the concentric-eccentric chain, which means you are not using reversal strength / stretch reflex. Note: Use a bow bar, safety squat bar or a cambered bar to save the shoulders.
3. Arched-Back Good Morning for Squatting
Use a close and/or wide stance. With the bar on your back, start by pushing the hips backward with an arched back. Aim to keep the bar tracking over the balls of your feet.
4. Bend-Over Good Morning
Keep the lower back arched, but round the mid and upper back on the eccentric phase. Upon coming to an erect stance on the concentric phase, try to straighten out your entire back. These are great for deadlifts as well as snatch and clean pulls. Note: Use a cambered bar or spider bar to reduce load and stress on the lower back.
5. Zercher Good Morning
Same technique, but with the bar secured in the crooks of your elbow. Fantastic for developing upper back strength. Very useful for rugby players and combat sport athletes.
6. SSB Good Morning
This bar positions the weight slightly forward of your centre of mass similar to the zercher good morning, however the plates still remain high up toward your shoulders and therefore this bar helps develop both lower and upper back strength.
A lower bar position will put more work on the mid-back and hips, whereas a high bar placement will put more pressure on the lower back. You can also manipulate the tissues you prioritise by using a variety of different barbells. Here at Cheshire Barbell we use a straight bar, bow bar, safety squat bar, cambered bar and spider bar for our good mornings
Typically, I'll prescribe at least three reps as working up to a single (1RM) can be dangerous. Sets of 10-12, 12-15 or even 15-20 reps can also be used.
Generally I prefer using just bar weight so that it is heavy at the bottom of the rep, however you can attach bands and/or chains if you wish. This will place a greater emphasis on the lockout. Bands work very well if you position them out in front, as this helps at more tension / load on the upper back at lockout
Good Mornings can be performed as a Max Effort lift (3-5 Rep Max) or as special assistance / supplementary exercise for higher reps (5-20 reps).