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The Ultimate Guide to Smith Machine Good Mornings: Benefits, How to Do, Variations

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Good morning is an effective exercise that builds your hamstrings, glutes, and your spinal erectors. This great compound movement is often overlooked. In this article, we are going to tell about the Smith machine good mornings and how to do good mornings on a Smith machine. Let’s get started.

What Are Smith Machine Good Mornings?

The Smith machine good mornings are one of the most underrated posterior chain exercises out there because of just how unique it is. The basic movement pattern is going to target and develop the hamstrings and glutes similar to how a Romanian deadlift would. However, since the bar is being held up on your back, it’s going to have much more strength carryover to the raw squat.

A woman performing smith machine good mornings at the gym
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Smith Machine Good Mornings Muscles Worked

With the good mornings on the Smith machine, we’re going to engage mainly the hamstrings and glutes through hip extension. There is also a strong isometric lumbar contraction as the hips straighten out. It occurs when the spinal erectors of the lower back activate to keep the spine neutral. 

There’s a thoracic isometric contraction as well because you place the barbell on your upper back. It’s handled by your spinal erectors

The good morning on the Smith machine can be thought of as a hamstring and glute movement. However, it’s also going to engage the back quite heavily.

Unlike the squat, the good mornings on Smith machines create a great lever arm at the hips for the low back. It makes this compound exercise incredible for these target muscle groups. 

Until you strengthen your muscles, you’re going to want to load the movement very light because of the increased torque requirement. You can use moderate weight as you get comfortable with performing a full range of motion.

An athlete doing smith machine good mornings
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Benefits of Smith Machine Good Mornings

1. Targeting Many Different Muscle Groups

Good Mornings on Smith Machine are practical exercises for strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. These primary muscles are important for maintaining a healthy posture, improving your coordination, and balance, and for squat assistance.

2. Isolating Muscles

The good mornings on the Smith machine have a lot of pros. The fixed bar path reduces your use of stabilizer muscles. It also helps isolate your primary movers. This makes this excellent exercise a good choice for beginners. You can also manipulate your foot position to then isolate or emphasize different muscle groups.

3. Ability to Use More Weight

If you’re doing Smith machine good mornings, it lets you load the bar and then emphasize the primary movers of the movement because you don’t have to stabilize the bar. This can help lead to better isolation of the muscles which can lead to better growth and strength gains.

4. It’s Safe

The Smith machine is also safer when you’re going for heavy loads because it’s easier to unrack and you don’t have to worry about the failure of your stabilizers.

How to Do Good Mornings on a Smith Machine

So, the good morning is a challenging exercise that targets mainly your hamstrings and a little bit of glutes. To help isolate your hamstrings, you’ll want to make sure your spine remains neutral at all times, especially when you’re going down into the good morning. This simply means that your back is straight, not arched or curved. Maintaining a neutral spine will also help alleviate stress on your back.

The initial setup for the good mornings on Smith machine is the same as a low-bar back squat. Set up the barbell in the rack at about armpit height. Then grip the bar a little wider than shoulder width. Do not grab too close, it might cause shoulder tightness or pain. Grabbing too wide also causes losing upper back tightness when you lift.

With the bar on your rear delts and your feet shoulder-width apart, take a deep breath and brace your lower back allowing your knees to bend as the bar comes forward and down. 

Keeping your calves as close to vertical as you can, push your hips straight back. Keep going until you can feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Then squeeze your glutes and exhale. This automatically will push your hips forward and bring you back to starting position all the while making sure your spine remains neutral.

Our Tips For Performing Good Mornings on Smith Machine

1. Use Moderate Weight

We recommend loading this exercise with moderate weight in the 6-12 rep range. Because if you load this too heavily, it’s usually going to turn this movement into a squat morning. It takes the hamstrings out of the movement because it allows the knees to bend too much. 

If you’re new to this exercise, you’re going to want to use a much lighter weight than you would do on a squat. And even as you get advanced, usually, you won’t load over 40% of your squat 1 rep max. Generally, it’s much more necessary to be able to perform the proper form before you begin worrying about using heavier weights.

2. Push Your Pelvis Back

To make sure your technique actually hits your hamstrings, keep your chest up while pushing your hips back. You essentially want to touch something far behind you with your glutes. 

Common Mistakes

1. Arching or Rounding Back

A common mistake is not having your spine neutral. Make sure not to arch or curve your back and just keep it as neutral as you can. It takes a little bit of practice but the more you do it, the better you get at it.

2. Placing the Bar Too High

The next mistake is having the bar up too high onto your neck. To fix this thing, just make sure to move the bar off of your neck and onto the top or behind your shoulders.

If you find that the bar is hurting you, it’s likely because it is on your neck and not on your shoulders. Your shoulders naturally hold more fat making them a better cushion for the bar, whereas your neck is much more bony. 

3. The Bar Rest on Your Hands

Letting the bar rest on your hands is a common mistake. It puts unnecessary strain on the elbows and wrists. Instead, just grip the bar with your hands above the bar and allow the weight to rest fully on your back.

4. You Bend Your Knees Too Much

The most common mistake that we can see in the good morning is allowing the knees to bend too much, turning the movement into more of a squat-type movement. 

Some degree of knee bend is fine and you don’t want your knees to be fully locked out. However, if you bend the knees too much, you’re going to seriously reduce the contribution from the hamstrings on the lift. You want to remember that the squat isn’t a great hamstring exercise but the good morning is as long as you keep a straighter leg.

A woman doing smith machine good mornings to strengthen her back
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5. Your Upper Body Isn’t Tight

Another common mistake is a lack of upper body tightness. If you find the bar sliding down or up on your back as you lift, you’re probably not really mashing the barbell into that upper back shelf that’s created by your rear delts. 

6. Letting the Pelvis Tilt

The next mistake is letting the pelvis posteriorly tilt thus rounding the lower back and taking tension away from the hamstrings. 

The whole purpose of this movement is to load the hamstrings. The hamstrings cross the hip joint and the knee joint. So, what you want to do is keep your legs straight, not locked at the knees. And you want to pre-stretch the hamstrings pushing your glutes back. Now, it’s a hamstring-dominant movement. 

If you allow your pelvis to posteriorly tilt, you end up rounding over. Even if your lower back doesn’t round but just your pelvis comes down, what ends up happening is that the hamstrings no longer have a ton of tension through them and they’re not the prime mover and thus they’re not the target. 

7. Insufficient Range of Motion

Many people struggle with getting comfortable with the proper good morning depth. How do you know you’re not going deep enough? If you have some painful stretch in your hamstring, that’s when you know you’re going deep enough. 

8. No Standard Range of Motion

The next mistake is not having a standardized range of motion. If each good morning is with a little bit different depth, it’s not a terrible thing.

If you want to do a little bit more this time than last time, you actually don’t know how much total work was done. By cutting your reps a little bit this time and using more weight, you might end up doing less work this time and not have as much time as you could have. 

How are you supposed to track your performance over time if you’re cutting your depth to different types?

Once you have a standardized range of motion, all you have to do is think about your technique feeling the tension.

9. You Don’t Control Your Descent Phase

A huge part of the reason we do good mornings is to focus on the eccentric phase. Because the eccentric phase is hugely hypertrophic if it’s the controlled descent lengthening the muscle. 

Dropping into your hamstrings with a lot of weight absolutely increases your risk of injury. You don’t have to do a 5-second eccentric but control this phase.

10. Squatting the Weight Up

A lot of people re-bend their knees on the way up. They want some extra help standing up. And they rebend their knees and almost squat the weight up. They’re missing out on the concentric work of the hamstrings.

Variations of Smith Machine Good Mornings

Kneeling Smith Machine Good Mornings

Start in a kneeling position. Your knees are directly under the bar. Place the bar on your shoulders and lift it off stops. 

Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and bending at the waist. On the way up, drive your hips forward by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. Keep your back flat and bend slightly at the knees as you lower the weight. 

How low you can get depends on your hip and hamstring flexibility. The bar should be low on your shoulders, not up on your neck. At the top, push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.

Angled Smith Machine Good Mornings

The most obvious difference between the vertical Smith machine and the angled Smith machine is the bar path. The bar moves vertically straight up and down on the vertical Smith machine. The angle machine has the bar movement path at a slight angle.

The best part about the vertical bar path Smith machine is that there’s no wrong way to face. You are able to face inside or outside depending on whether you want to see yourself in the mirror or not.

Most people find racking with wrist flexion easier, than racking with extension. So, they face outwards that way when they’re re-racking the bar they just have to flex their wrists forwards.

Generally, the vertical Smith machine is best suited for exercises that have a vertical bar movement path like a squat, a lunge, a calf raise, or a shoulder shrug. The angled Smith machine is becoming more the standard because it better simulates the bar path of pressing movements, such as the bench press

If you find that maybe the angled bar path doesn’t quite match your movement and you’re more comfortable in a vertical Smith machine for your good mornings, that’s perfectly fine.

Barbell Good Mornings

Start off with your feet shoulder-width apart. It’s a similar stance to squats. You may need to play around with your foot positioning a bit to find the right spot for you. You can point your toes slightly out if you’d like to. Some people feel like it gives them more leverage and helps them keep their balance. The bar is positioned on top or behind your shoulders, not on your neck. Hands on the bar wherever it is comfortable for you.

As you go into the good morning, inhale and contract your core pushing your hips back and slowly lowering your upper body down and forward. Keep going until you can feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Then squeeze your glutes and exhale. Push your hips forward and bring you back to the starting position.

When you go down into the good morning, make sure you have a small bend in your knee. You simply want to go as low as you can without compromising your form. There’s no need to go super deep. Also, make sure your head follows your spine. Do not look up or to the side. You want to look straight ahead.

Smith Machine Good Morning Alternatives

Here are some alternative exercise:

1. Hyperextensions

Lie down on a hyperextension bench. Keeping your back flat, begin bending forward at the waist as far as possible. Push your hips into the pad and squeeze your glutes at the top.

2. Reverse Hyperextension

Reverse hyperextension is a fantastic exercise for loading the glutes, the hamstrings, and the back muscles. However, it comes with a common problem of not having access to the machine that was designed to be on. 

3. Glute Bridge

You’re going to strengthen the hamstring muscle, the low back, and the glutes. Lay down on the ground. Make sure that your feet are about shoulder-width apart. Then you’re going to get your pelvic tilt. That means you’re going to rotate your hips back so your low back is touching the ground. You can feel those deep core muscles activating. 

Once you have your pelvic tilt, then you’re going to squeeze your glutes and raise up towards the ceiling. You’re going to hold there for a couple of seconds and then you’re going to come straight back down slow and controlled. When you come back down, come out of the pelvic tilts and then return to starting position.

Common mistakes:

  • Weight on toes;
  • The spine is curved;
  • The head does not follow the rest of the spine.

Instead, do this:

  • Weight in heels;
  • Straight spine;
  • Head follows the spine. 

4. Romanian Deadlift

The Smith machine good mornings are similar movements to a Romanian deadlift. But instead of holding the bar out in front of your legs, it’s on top of your shoulders.

A common mistake is thinking that the further you bend forward at the waist, the more you’ll be working your hamstrings and glutes. In reality, once your hips have moved back as far as they can go, that’s the full active range for those muscles. And bending further toward the ground will just target your lower back. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if you specifically want to target your hamstrings and glutes, hip flexion and hip extension are what you should be focused on.

5. Barbell Hip Thrust

Find a bench, box, or any surface that you are able to comfortably lean on. The bench should be resting under your shoulder blades. 

Have your knees bent and feet slightly wider than hip-width. Position the bar across your hips. It’s important to find something to place under the bar to make it more comfortable on your hips. For example, a towel.

Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and press the bar up driving through your heels. Keep your chin tucked throughout the entire movement. Keep the sternum and head in place. Isolate the thrust to the pelvic region.

Common mistakes:

  • No tension in the core;
  • Only moving out of your back;

6. Dumbbell Hip Thrust

A common mistake is putting pressure on the low back. The correct form is:

  • Your chin tucked;
  • Weight in heels;
  • Upper body stable;
  • You keep tension in your core;
  • You are moving your hips.

Good Mornings on Smith Machine: FAQs

Is the Smith machine as effective as the barbell?

Generally, using a free weight barbell is way harder than using a Smith machine. Because the free weight barbell takes stabilization and often more skill. So, being able to perform good mornings on Smith machine with a certain weight does not necessarily mean that you will be able to perform this exercise with the same weight with a free barbell.

Why is the Smith machine better than free weights?

For the Smith machine, the machine bars are fixed in place, this removes the influence of stabilizing muscles and it can place a lot more focus on the muscles that you’re trying to activate.

What muscles does Smith machine good mornings work?

The bent-knee good morning exercise primarily stimulates hypertrophy in your hamstrings and also a little bit in your glutes and all the muscles that tend to extend the hip. This exercise is good for the spinal erectors and some of the other muscles in the back as well.


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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