Are you looking to add some variety to your posterior chain workouts? It’s time to try seated good mornings!
When it comes to building a stronger back and hips, good mornings are a popular choice. Performed with a barbell, this exercise is so-called because, when you do it, you look like you are bowing, as you might have in past times to greet an acquaintance.
However, as with most exercises, there is more than one way to do good mornings. While most people do standing good mornings, some opt for the seated version.
Doing seated good mornings allows for a more controlled range of motion, making it potentially safer and better for those with poor flexibility. Plus, many lifters welcome the variety that this exercise provides, as it’s an excellent alternative to the standing version.
In this article, we reveal the muscles worked by the seated good morning, explore its benefits, and provide alternatives you can use to keep your workout routine fresh and challenging.
So, whether you’re a novice bodybuilder or a seasoned powerlifter, keep reading to discover how to make the most of this unusual yet effective exercise.
Seated Good Mornings – Muscles Worked
Whenever you do any exercise, you should always know its purpose. That way, you can be sure it matches your training goal. So, with that in mind, these are the primary muscles developed by seated good mornings.
Located on the backs of your thighs, the hamstrings are a group of three muscles – the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. The term “hamstrings” originates from the Old English word “ham,” meaning the back of the thigh, and “string,” which refers to the tendons that are prominent at the back of the knee.
The functions of the hamstrings are knee flexion and hip extension. However, seated good mornings only involve the latter.
Known as the glutes for short, this is the most significant muscle in the human body. It’s located on the back of your hips, and you are probably sitting on yours right now. The primary function of the glutes is hip extension, which it does in combination with your hamstrings. In addition, the glutes also play a part in:
Hip Abduction: Moving the leg away from the midline of the body.
Hip Adduction: Bringing the leg toward the midline of the body.
Medial Hip Rotation: Rotating the hip inward toward the midline of the body.
Lateral Hip Rotation: Rotating the hip outward away from the midline of the body.
These different movements are the result of the direction of the muscle fibers that make up the glutes.
The Erector Spinae is a group of muscles that run the length of the spine, from the sacral region to the base of the skull.
The main muscles that comprise the Erector Spinae are:
Iliocostalis: Further divided into iliocostalis lumborum, iliocostalis thoracis, and iliocostalis cervicis.
Longissimus: Subdivided into longissimus thoracis, longissimus cervicis, and longissimus capitis.
Spinalis: Includes spinalis thoracis, spinalis cervicis, and sometimes spinalis capitis.
These muscles work together to extend, laterally flex, and rotate the spine. During seated good mornings, their primary function is keeping your spine straight and stable. As such, they work isometrically, i.e., statically. That is to say, they generate force without changing length.
Please Note: The glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae are often referred to as the posterior chain and typically work together. While each muscle is independently important, together, they make up one of the most critical muscle groups in the human body. The posterior chain is involved directly or indirectly in almost every movement you perform, both in and out of the gym.
Core is the collective term for the muscles that comprise your midsection. These include the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and the aforementioned erector spinae. When they contract, these muscles squeeze inward to increase intra-abdominal pressure, or IAP for short. This increases stiffness and stability in your lumbar spine, preventing it from flexing.
Trapezius and Rhomboids
The trapezius is a large diamond-shaped muscle that covers much of your upper back. In contrast, the smaller rhomboids are located between your shoulder blades. These muscles work together during seated good mornings to stabilize your shoulder girdle, which is the collective name for your scapulae and clavicle bones.
Now you know what muscles seated good mornings work, it’s time to move on to how to do this potent posterior chain exercise.
How to Do Seated Good Mornings
Get more from seated good mornings while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum by following these guidelines:
Set Up: Start by sitting on an exercise bench or box with your feet flat and legs straddled. Plant your feet firmly on the floor.
Position the Barbell: Hold a barbell across your upper back, resting it on the top of your traps. Brace your core and draw your shoulders down and back. Pull the bar down onto your shoulders to keep it secure.
Perform the Movement: Slowly hinge forward at your hips while maintaining a solid back arch. Keep your chest up and your shoulders back. Descend until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
Return to the Starting Position: Engage your glutes and hamstrings to raise your upper body back up to the starting position. Do not round your lower back, as doing so could lead to injury.
Get even more from this exercise with these tried and tested insider tips!
Tempo Variations: Experiment with different tempos to challenge your muscles in new ways. For example, try a 4-1-1 tempo where you take 4 seconds to lower, pause for 1 second at the bottom, and take 1 second to rise.
Pause Reps: Add a 2-3 second pause at the bottom of each rep. This eliminates momentum and increases time under tension for the hamstrings and glutes, making the exercise more challenging.
Band Resistance: Attach resistance bands to the barbell and anchor them under your feet or to the base of the bench. This adds variable resistance, making the exercise more challenging as you lock out each rep.
Mind-Muscle Connection: Mentally focus on the muscles you’re targeting during the exercise. This is called the mind-muscle connection. Visualize your hamstrings and glutes contracting and lengthening. This can improve muscle activation and make your training even more effective.
Use a Safety Squat Bar: Safety squat bars are padded and have handles so you can hold the bar more comfortably and easily. The weight hangs below the bar, changing the center of gravity. While commonly used for squats, this exercise is ideal for seated good mornings.
Consider Wearing a Weightlifting Belt: Wearing a weightlifting belt makes it easier to generate intra-abdominal pressure. More IAP means a more stable lower back. Wearing a weightlifting belt may allow you to lift more weight and get a better workout.
Perform Seated Good Mornings in a Power Rack: Doing seated good mornings in a power rack makes sense – both from a safety and performance point of view. Setting the horizontal bars at the appropriate height means you can get out easily from under the bar if you get stuck at the bottom of a rep. In addition, the safety bars give you a target to aim for, so you won’t cut any of your reps short.
Now you know how to do seated good mornings, let’s move on to the benefits and drawbacks of this exercise.
Not sure if seated good mornings deserve a place in your workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide!
Great Posterior Chain Exercise
Your posterior chain is critical for better athletic and everyday performance. It’s actually quite hard to think of activities that don’t involve this powerful group of muscles. Whether you want to run faster, jump higher, lift heavier, or kick harder, a stronger posterior chain will help. Seated good mornings are a very effective way to develop this essential muscle group.
Enhanced Lower Back Strength
A strong lower back is a healthy lower back. Lower back pain affects a high percentage of adults, and it’s often caused by weakness. Seated good mornings provide a safe way to challenge and strengthen your back muscles, which could reduce your risk of back injury and pain.
Posture is the alignment of joints. In good posture, there is very little pressure on your muscles or joints as everything is “stacked” in a biomechanically sound way. However, in poor posture, misaligned joints put more stress on the muscles and joints, which can cause pain and dysfunction.
Seated good mornings train the muscles responsible for keeping your spine upright against the pull of gravity. They also teach you to maintain a neutral spine as you move. These features can help improve your posture. Good posture makes you look taller and feel more confident and energized. It also reduces your risk of neck and back pain.
Increased Core Stability
Doing seated good mornings requires and develops core strength. A stronger core can help make your movements more efficient and safer, as your lower back is less likely to round unexpectedly. A rounded lower back is a weak lower back, putting stress on ligaments and intervertebral discs, which are easily injured and slow to heal. A stronger core helps bulletproof your lumbar spine.
While exercises like deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts are popular ways to train your posterior core, they can lose some of their appeal and effectiveness if you do them too often. Adding seated good mornings to your workout toolbox means you have another posterior chain exercise you can use to make your workouts more varied and interesting.
Less Flexibility Required
Standing good mornings are done with slightly bent knees. As you lean forward, this results in an intense stretch in your hamstrings. If you’ve got tight hammies, you may be unable to lean very far, making this exercise less effective.
However, during seated good mornings, your knees are bent, which puts some slack in the backs of your thighs. This means your hamstring flexibility should not limit your range of motion.
While seated good mornings are a mostly beneficial exercise, there are also a few drawbacks to consider:
Potential for Lower Back Strain
While seated good mornings are arguably safer than the standing variation, there is still a risk of injury, especially if you use heavy weights or improper form. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that seated good mornings are entirely risk-free – they’re not. However, when performed with appropriate weights and good technique, most people should be able to perform them relatively safely.
Not Ideal for Beginners
There is a lot that can go wrong with good mornings, as they’re a relatively technical exercise that requires good form. In addition, they also demand a strong core and good postural awareness. As such, this exercise is not really suitable for beginners. There are safer/more accessible exercises that beginners can use to strengthen their posterior chains, such as barbell hip thrusts, conventional deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts.
While most gyms should have everything you need to do seated good mornings, you may not have the necessary equipment if you train at home. As such, this exercise may be impractical for some people.
Limited Range of Motion
Compared to standing good mornings, the seated version involves a shorter range of motion. While this can take pressure off your lower back, it also means that you won’t be training your hamstrings through their entire length. As such, you won’t develop full-range strength, and your flexibility probably won’t change much, either.
Consider yourself thoroughly schooled on seated good mornings, but what exercises can you do instead? Check out the next section to find out!
7 Seated Good Mornings: Variations and Alternatives
Seated good mornings are a highly effective posterior chain exercise, but that doesn’t mean you need to do them all the time. There are several variations and alternatives you can use to keep your workouts productive and interesting:
1. Banded Seated Good Mornings
No barbell? No squat rack? No problem! You can also do seated good mornings with a resistance band. As well as being ideal for home exercisers, this move is much more lower back-friendly than the freeweight version, so it’s a better option for beginners and those with a sore lower back.
Attach your resistance band to a low anchor point. Sit on your bench with your legs apart, knees bent, and feet flat.
Hold the end of the band in your hands. Pull your shoulders back and down and brace your core.
Hinging from your hips, lean forward and extend your arms in front of you. Do not round your lower back.
After pausing for 1-2 seconds, contract your glutes and hamstrings and sit up straight.
Very lower-back friendly.
Ideal for home exercisers.
More suitable for beginners than the barbell variation.
2. Seated Dumbbell Good Morning
While this exercise is called seated dumbbell good mornings, it’s actually more like a seated Romanian deadlift. Not that such a distinction matters, as both movements are great for developing a stronger, more muscular posterior chain. Having the weights in your hands instead of on your shoulders makes this exercise much easier on your lower back.
Sit on your bench with your legs apart, knees bent, and feet flat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, weights between your legs. Pull your shoulders back and down and brace your core.
Hinging from your hips, lean forward and lower the dumbbells down toward the floor. Do not round your lower back.
After pausing for 1-2 seconds, contract your glutes and hamstrings and sit up straight.
A more back-friendly exercise than barbell good mornings.
A good alternative for solo exercisers.
You can also do this exercise with a single dumbbell or kettlebell.
3. Seated/Chair Deadlift
The seated/chair deadlift is an official exercise in disabled strongman events. The current official World Record is held by Tobias Anthofer, aka “Big Sitting Bull” of Germany, at 505kg. While you probably won’t make much impact on the World Record, this exercise works many of the same muscles as seated good mornings but works them somewhat differently as the barbell is in your hands and not on your back.
Sit on your bench with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Your barbell should be behind your feet.
Grip the bar with an overhand or mixed grip. Use lifting straps and/or gym chalk if you wish. Pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core.
Drive your feet into the floor and sit up, lifting the bar off the floor. Do not round your lower back.
Lower the weight back to the floor and repeat.
Less flexibility required than with seated good mornings.
Offers the potential to lift heavier weights for increased strength.
An excellent exercise for developing a stronger grip.
4. Seated Zercher Good Mornings
One issue many people have with seated good mornings is the discomfort caused by resting a potentially heavy barbell on their upper backs. The pressure can cause pain, while the long lever increases lower back stress. Doing this exercise “Zercher style,” with the weight in the crooks of your arms, overcomes both of these issues.
Sit on your bench with your legs apart, knees bent, and feet flat. Hold a barbell, medicine ball, or sandbag in the crooks of your elbows. Pull your shoulders back and down and brace your core.
Hinging from your hips, lean forward and lower the weight down toward the floor. Do not round your lower back.
After pausing for 1-2 seconds, contract your glutes and hamstrings and sit up straight.
A very accessible exercise as you can use almost any weighty object for resistance.
Less risk of upper back/neck pain.
Very lower back-friendly.
5. Kneeling Good Morning
While good mornings are traditionally done with weight, this variation is a body weight exercise, so it’s ideal for home workouts. As well as working your glutes and hamstrings, kneeling good mornings are also an excellent exercise for mobility and balance. However, if you’ve got a heavy upper body, you may find maintaining your balance challenging.
Kneel down on the floor with your thighs upright and your hands on the sides of your head. Push your elbows out and back to open your chest. Brace your core.
Push your hips back toward your heels, hinge forward, and lower your head down toward the floor.
Push your hips forward and, engaging your glutes and hammies, return to the upright position.
Continue for the desired number of reps.
No additional equipment required, so this exercise is ideal for home workouts.
Minimal stress on the lower back.
Ideal for beginners/less experienced exercisers.
6. Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a classic barbell exercise for the posterior chain. With the bar in your hands and not on your back, it’s more lower back-friendly than seated or regular good mornings. It’s no secret that the RDL is one of the best glute, hamstring, and lower back exercises around.
Hold your barbell with an overhand or mixed grip. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, core braced, and shoulders pulled down and back.
Hinging from the hips, push your butt back and lean forward as far as possible without rounding your lower back.
Stand back up and repeat.
A very functional exercise.
Suitable for building muscle mass or strength.
Lots of variations available, including single-leg RDLs, paused RDLs, RDLs from blocks, etc.
7. Barbell Hip Thrust
Most posterior chain exercises put quite a lot of stress on your lower back. That’s okay for some people but may not be appropriate for others. Barbell hip thrusts place very little weight on your lower back, leaving you free to focus on working your glutes and hamstrings in relative comfort and safety.
Sit on the floor with your back resting against a sturdy bench. Rest a barbell across your hips. Bend your legs and plant your feet firmly on the floor, about hip-width apart.
Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips up so they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders.
After pausing for 1-2 seconds, lower your butt back to the floor and repeat.
A very safe exercise, even for solo trainers.
No squat rack required, so ideal for home workouts.
Can be done with one leg to make this exercise more challenging.
Now you know what exercises you can do instead of seated good mornings, in the next section, we answer the most common questions about this exercise and posterior chain training in general.
We’ve covered a lot of ground on seated good mornings and their variations, but you may still have some questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions to help you get the most out of this effective posterior chain exercise.
1. What muscles do seated good mornings primarily target?
Seated good mornings are a compound exercise, meaning they target several muscle groups simultaneously. The main muscles developed by seated good mornings are:
Gluteus maximus – aka the glutes, this is your butt and the largest muscle in your body.
Hamstrings – located on the backs of your thighs, your hammies work with your glutes to extend your hips during seated good mornings.
Erector spinae – this is a group of three muscles, each with three sections, that run up either side of your spine, from your sacrum to your skull.
Core – the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, including your obliques and rectus abdominis.
Together, these muscles are known as your posterior chain.
2. How do seated good mornings differ from standing good mornings?
The main difference between seated and standing good mornings is your position. However, this obvious change affects certain aspects of the exercise. In summary, these differences are:
Seated Good Mornings
Standing Good Mornings
Posterior chain, lower back
Posterior chain, lower back
Lower Back Stress
Range of Motion
Suitability for Beginners
Risk of Injury
3. Can I perform seated good mornings if I have lower back issues?
This is a tricky question to answer because it depends on the nature and severity of your lower back problem. However, given that seated good mornings are slightly more lower back-friendly than the standing version, it may be okay. That said, if you have any doubts as to the suitability of this exercise, you should seek medical advice before adding it to your workout routine.
4. How often should I do seated good mornings?
Most exercisers should train their posterior chain 2-3 times per week. This provides a good balance between work and recovery. However, you don’t need to use the same exercises each time you train. In fact, using different movements in each workout will probably produce better results and make your training more interesting.
For example, you could do seated good mornings on one day, standing good mornings the next, and Romanian deadlifts for your third workout.
That said, if your posterior chain isn’t recovering between workouts, you should reduce training frequency and volume to avoid overtraining.
5. What are some common mistakes to avoid when doing seated good mornings?
While seated good mornings are a beneficial and effective exercise, there are mistakes that could make them less so. Common mistakes to look out for and avoid include:
Using Too Much Weight Too Soon: Starting with heavy weights can compromise form and increase the risk of injury. Start light, master the exercise, and then add weight gradually as you get stronger.
Rounding the Lower Back: This puts unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine and can lead to injury. A rounded lower back is a weak lower back. Maintain a strong arch throughout.
Improper Breathing: Holding your breath or irregular breathing can affect your performance and core stability. Inhale as you descend into each rep, and exhale as you come back up.
Lack of Core Engagement: Failing to engage the core can result in poor form and an increased risk of back strain. Make sure you brace your core from the start of every set to the end.
Rushing Your Reps: Quick, jerky movements can be harmful; it’s crucial to maintain a controlled tempo. Smooth reps are effective reps; make this your new training mantra.
Not Warming Up: Skipping a warm-up or not adequately warming up can lead to muscle strains and joint injuries. Any time saved could cost you months of missed workouts if you end up hurt. So, never skip your warm-up!
Poor Posture: Not keeping your chest up and shoulders back can lead to an ineffective workout and an increased risk of injury. Think “tall,” making sure that you keep your head up and your back straight.
Doing Them Too Often: Overuse can lead to muscle fatigue and increased risk of injury. Your muscles get stronger between workouts, so rest is critical for your progress.
Ignoring Fatigue: Continuing the exercise when overly fatigued can compromise form and lead to mistakes. Take extra rest days if you haven’t recovered from your last workout.
Not Progressing: Sticking to the same weight and reps can lead to a plateau, so it’s important to gradually increase the challenge. Gradually increase your reps or weight as you adapt to your workout.
Avoiding these common mistakes can help you get the most out of your seated good mornings while minimizing the risk of injury.
6. What weight should I use for seated good mornings?
Unfortunately, this is one question we cannot answer because we don’t know how strong or experienced you are. As such, you’ll need to determine this for yourself. However, you should choose a weight that fatigues you in your desired rep range but still allows you to do the exercise with perfect form.
It’s generally best to underestimate your abilities and do a few extra reps rather than overestimate and get crushed under a heavy weight. Remember, the aim of any workout is to challenge your muscles to grow and strengthen and not annihilate them. That’s especially true for the seated good morning, where lower back injuries are a real risk.
7. Can seated good mornings replace deadlifts in my workout routine?
Seated good mornings work many of the same muscles as deadlifts, but deadlifts are the more complete exercise and involve many more body parts. As such, seated good mornings are probably best viewed as a supplement to and not a replacement for deadlifts.
The mighty deadlift is too productive an exercise to drop in favor of seated good mornings. However, adding seated good mornings to your workouts will probably enhance your deadlift performance.
Seated Good Mornings: Wrapping Up
In the world of fitness, variety is not just the spice of life; it’s the key to continuous progress.
Seated good mornings and their variations offer a unique way to strengthen your posterior chain, enhance your core stability, and improve your overall athletic performance. With options ranging from resistance bands to barbells, there’s a version for everyone, whether you’re an experienced gym rat or a fitness newbie.
But remember, like any exercise, the effectiveness of seated good mornings depends on proper form and technique. Always prioritize quality over quantity, and don’t use too much weight too soon. Your back will thank you.
So, enough reading; now it’s time to try seated good mornings for yourself and feel the difference in your posterior chain!
Vigotsky, A. D., Harper, E. N., Ryan, D. R., & Contreras, B. (2015). Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ, 3, e708. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.708
Schellenberg, F., Lindorfer, J., List, R., Taylor, W. R., & Lorenzetti, S. (2013). Kinetic and kinematic differences between deadlifts and goodmornings. BMC sports science, medicine & rehabilitation, 5(1), 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/2052-1847-5-27