The bridge is a versatile exercise that can be used for developing great gluteal muscle function. Individuals with back and hip pathologies are often taught to perform bridges in the hook-lying position, elevating the pelvis off the floor. This exercise is particularly useful for facilitating pelvic motions and strengthening the low back and hip extensors. In addition, O’Sullivan et al. have demonstrated the bridge’s ability to enhance motor control of the lumbopelvic region. This article will help you improve your bridge exercises!
The Secrets to Improving Bridge Exercises
To Perfect your bridge exercises, the key is to focus on improving control of and primarily recruiting the glutes!
- Begin to elevate your pelvis initiating from your hips extending, as opposed to getting the extension from your lumbar spine! That will only work your erector spinae, which is Not the intention of a bridge.
- To help with lumbopelvic instability and low back pain, individuals should perform bridging exercises, especially females, especially if they are typically “quad-dominant”; i.e., the quadriceps femoris is the first muscle to activate in response to injury perturbations. A dominant quadriceps femoris causes poor endurance and delayed firing of the gluteus maximus muscle in subjects with lower extremity instability and low back pain. (Beckman and Deviata)
- To increase the abdominal and hip extensor muscle activities, many clinicians have emphasized using unstable devices, such as a Swiss ball, ball cushion, or BOSU ball, and applying unilateral conditions. However, studies have reported inconsistent results regarding the activation patterns of the abdominal and hip extensor muscles during these types of bridging exercises.
- If you feel like you are overusing your Hamstrings and Low back, try the next exercise below.
Master The Bridge and All Hip Movements with Hip [P]rehab!
Mastering exercises similar to the bridge and other hip-engaging exercises is an excellent way to bulletproof your lower body, core, and low back! We have many bridge exercises with progressions in this program, in addition to amazing progressions that will take your hip health to a whole new level. Get started with us today.
Feel The Glutes!
Sample Hip [P]rehab Program Exercise Video
If your hamstrings or low back extensors are overpowering this exercise, here is a great way to focus on improving the control (Mind-Muscle Connection) of your glutes.
A great way to improve control here is by performing this exercise for 3 sets of 30-second holds.
After you feel like you have improved your glute activation, progress into a double leg bridge focusing on driving the pelvis motion with the glutes!
Watch This Video For More Glute Exercise Progressions!
Improve The Bridge Exercise With These Progressions
Far too often progressions of the double leg bridge are neglected, and simply a new exercise is chosen once someone “gets down” the double leg bridge. Once a patient develops a level of comfort and confidence with an exercise, don’t be so gung-ho to change it up for a harder exercise.
Instead, I encourage you to think of micro progressions (changes to the same exercise) instead of macro progressions (choosing a completely new exercise) when it comes to a rehab program – especially when someone is fearful of new movements/exercises.
Progressions and one (of many) rationales:
- Bridge taps for the introduction of single-limb loading and introduction of transverse plane loading through the hip as well as the core
- Single leg bridge with the leg supported. While not encouraged, the patient can still derive some stability from the top leg pushing into the bottom leg
- Single leg bridge unsupported with short lever. The shorter lever is easier.
- Single leg bridge unsupported with a long lever. The longer lever is harder.
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Advanced Bridge Exercise Progressions!
Here is an extremely difficult version of a bridge that requires much more hip stabilization compared to a traditional bridge.
To perform this Exercise:
- Bridge Up, ideally with lifting the pelvis higher than I demonstrate & with more knee flexion than shown in this video.
- Slightly Abduct the Hips to their respective side.
- Slightly Externally Rotate both Hips as you abduct.
This is very difficult as is! To progress this you can perform this movement unilaterally. When you perform bridge exercises unilaterally you are now working the glutes in more than one plane of motion.
Did you know a Single Leg Bridge Stretch’s the Hip Flexors?
Why is that so important you might ask? When the hip flexors are limited, it inhibits the glutes from working to their full capacity. It’s all about the muscle length relationship and active/passive insufficiency. Tight hip flexors will pull the pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt, affecting the glutes (and hamstrings) on the opposite side of the pelvis, making it more difficult to recruit.
If you’ve been following us, you’ll know that this anterior pelvic tilt also influences lumbar spine position, moving the spine into extension at the end range, which under many circumstances we’d ideally like to avoid. So…the best way to stretch the hip flexors? By ACTIVELY using the Glutes in the single leg bridge! This will lead to the phenomenon called reciprocal inhibition. The infamous glute guy, Bret Contreras, also found that the glute max exhibits maximal activation at end-range hip extension! So make sure to give your glutes a good squeeze at the top of the motion!
Improve The Bridge Exercise: Load It Up!
Once you are gaining some confidence and bridge exercises against gravity are becoming easy, it is time to add some weight to make those strength gains! The Hip Thrust exercise is a great way to add some weight to your bridge motion and encourage even more facilitation of the gluteal musculature.
Hip Thrust Exercise
Hip Thrust 101 – How To Set Up, Execute, and Master The Hip Thrust
Ever been in the gym and think to yourself, man, I really wish I could do the hip thrust exercise, but I don’t know how to set it up right! Fear no longer! This [P]Rehab Youtube Video Episode below will show you how to master the hip thrust exercise.
Bridge exercises are foundational and have so many benefits. Furthermore, it can be progressed in so many ways, making it a continuous challenge. You can work all the way from the bottom of isolating your glute activation all the way to a barbell hip thrust! Ensure your foundation is solid rather than just going through the motions with the bridge exercise. It is easy to find the easy way out and compensate with this exercise by using your low back, hamstrings, or quadriceps. If focusing on the glutes, make sure they are firing!
Give Your Hips Both Strength and Power!
To go from stepping to sitting we can thank the 27 muscles that cross the hip joint for their work. After thanking them, we should also thank your core, knees, feet, and really the rest of your movement system as they work together on a team to create movement. Perhaps, the best way to thank them is by giving them what they desire: strength and power!
- “Effects of a bridging exercise with hip adduction on the EMG activities of the abdominal and hip extensor muscles in Females” by Jang et al. 2013.
- “Ankle inversion injury and hypermobility: effect on hip and ankle muscle electromyography onset latency.” Beckman et al. 1995.
- “Effects of a functional knee brace on the biomechanics of running.” Deviata et al. 1992.
About The Author
Arash Maghsoodi, PT, DPT, CSCS
[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Financial Officer
Arash Maghsoodi received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. For his undergraduate studies, he attended San Diego State University and studied Kinesiology. After sustaining a career-ending ankle sprain while playing collegiate soccer, he realized how disabling and life-altering injuries can be. Arash currently resides in beautiful Santa Monica, California. His clinical experience is primarily in the orthopedic and sports setting. He has treated a wide variety of conditions ranging from the post-operative individual to the professional athlete. Arash is keeping the family legacy of becoming a physical therapist, as his mother is a practicing clinician of 30 years in the Orange County area.
Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.