Barbell rows vs good mornings: which is exercise is best for your back?

an image of a man doing a good morning and a man doing a barbell bent over row
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Lower back strength is important for a number of reasons —  not only are strong lower back muscles important when it comes to maintaining a healthy posture, but they also help us with day-to-day movements as well as gym workouts, from rowing through to running, weight lifting, and swimming. But which exercise is best when it comes to building lower back strength? Here, we put two of the most popular lower back exercises head to head and look at the barbell bent over row vs good mornings. 

The lower back can often weaken due to a sedentary lifestyle (yes, that means too much time being sat down behind a desk), bad form during weight lifting, and also bad posture. A weak lower back can lead to lower back pain and tight muscles. So, ensuring the muscles in the lower back are strong is important. Read what happened when this writer did 30 Supermans a day in a bid to strengthen his lower back

But, if you’re looking to work on your lower back strength in the gym, should you focus on the barbell bent over row or good mornings? Before you pick up your best adjustable dumbbells and get lifting, read what happened when we spoke to two different experts on which exercise is best. 

a photo of a man doing a barbell bent over row

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to do a barbell bent over row

For the barbell bent over row, you’ll need a barbell, either with or without plates. The weight used is based on your strength — it should feel challenging by the final few reps, but not impossible. If you’re new to the move, it’s worth using just the barbell to start with until you’ve worked on your form. 

Bliss Mason, Trainer at F45 Mill Hill says you should approach the barbell and stand with a mid-foot stance under the bar.  “Bend over and grab the bar with a medium grip, palms facing towards you. Unlock your knees while keeping your hips high, lift your chest, and straighten your back. At the same time, pull the bar against your lower chest.”

David Wiener, Training and Nutrition Specialist at Freeletics adds that it’s important to keep a neutral spine and to control the movement while lowering the bar, maintaining a strong core throughout.

The benefits of a barbell bent over row

Essentially, as Bliss explains, “the barbell row is primarily beneficial for the back muscles, as this exercise increases the strength in your posture.”

“A barbell row is fantastic for improving your core strength, and for building muscle in the major back muscles including your latissimus, the rhomboids, and the posterior deltoid muscles,” adds David.

“Improving your strength in these muscles will also help strengthen your hip flexors, hamstrings, and aid your overall mobility. All the muscles in your back are affected most by this move, including your lower back too. Your core and hip muscles are also affected, and even the hamstrings if you push your hips back enough”, David says. 

Overall mobility is important as it helps us move through life comfortably, without pain. When muscles and joints are tight or immobile, we can often find ourselves struggling to perform certain movements. 

an illo of a woman doing a bent over row

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How a barbell bent over row helps build your back strength 

The barbell bent over row is ideal for building back strength, but of course, it needs to be done properly and good form needs to be maintained throughout. 

“If you are performing a barbell row correctly, your upper back should be doing most of the work,” says David. 

“Barbell rows are incredibly beneficial if you want to build back strength as they primarily work all the muscles in your back, and with the added resistance from the barbell, this will improve back strength further”, he adds.

a photo of a woman with a barbell on her back

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to do a good morning 

The good morning exercise is a little different from a barbell bent over row, however, you’ll still require a barbell. David says that a good morning can be done in two ways; either with the barbell on your shoulders or on your lower back.

For the barbell on your shoulders, either lift the bar safely to your shoulders or stand under a barbell squat rack and place the bar on your shoulders this way instead. “Make sure you are holding the bar with both hands,” says Bliss.

“Stand upright, engage your core and keep your shoulders back. Hinge forward from your hips and allow a slight bend of the knees while keeping your back flat. Reverse the move to stand up straight. You should feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings”, Bliss adds.

The benefits of a good morning

The good morning offers plenty of bang for its buck as it works several muscles, but the back muscles are the primary muscles worked during this move. “Good morning movements are great for building strength in your core, as well as strengthening your lower back muscles and improving hip mobility,” says David.

“It’s extremely important with this exercise that you’re properly performing it with the correct form and spinal alignment. The exercise will activate your posterior chain, as well as working muscles such as your hamstrings, glutes, abs, and lower back”, David adds.

Our posterior chain is quite literally a chain of muscles that primarily run down the back of the body. Muscles including the glutes, hamstrings, calves, erector spinae, lats, and shoulder muscles are all part of the posterior chain.

an illo of a man doing the good morning exercise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How good mornings help build lower back strength 

As David explains, with this exercise, your lower back is constantly being worked which helps build strength in the muscles. “The good morning exercise will also help support muscles in the posterior chain, which in turn will help avoid lower back injury from other forms of exercise or for when you get older”, he says.

Barbell bent over row vs Good mornings: Which is best 

So, we know about each individual move, but which is best when it comes to barbell bent over rows and good mornings?

David says that both moves are great but for different reasons. The barbell bent over row is great for working the upper back muscles, while good mornings focus on the lower back. “Both the upper back muscles and lower back muscles are essential in keeping great posture and mobility, so combining both exercises into your routine would be a great idea,” says David. 

If you’re also wanting to get a leg workout too though, Bliss says the good morning exercise trumps barbell bent over rows. “However, I find both of these exercises are equally as effective and I include them in all of my sessions,” she adds.

Overall, if it’s lower back strength you want to work, opt for good mornings — they’ll touch on other muscles, and the lower back muscles will get a good workout. Read what happened when this writer did 30 good mornings every day for a week

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.