The Bridge Exercise: Introduction
The bridge exercise is included in the top 5 best exercises of all time, according to BeachBabyBob, a 70 year old certified fitness instructor by YMCA Canada.
The bridge exercise strengthens your body’s posterior chain of muscles, fascia, and connective tissues. If you are just learning the best way to move so that you will live longer and be happier, then keep reading.
Bridge exercises will build strength and flexibility of your back and spine, all the way down to your toes. Your deep core muscles will get stronger, such as your multifidus, transverse abdominus, diaphragm, and kegels.
The 2 major muscle groups, your glutes and your hamstrings, that tend to be neglected in the mobility world, will begin to play a major role in creating an overall balance for your body. Bridges even help with your “IT Band” syndrome.
The iliotibial band is the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh, from the hip to the shin. If you don’t work all your muscles equally, an unbalanced body could become tight or inflamed.
The IT band attaches to the knee and helps stabilize and move that joint. This is important to keep healthy.
Let’s begin with the basics for bridge exercises and someday you might be able to perform the full bridge aka wheel pose.
The Bridge Exercise: Warmup
Before we begin, we need to warm up our connective tissues and our muscles gently. Let’s begin with our head.
a) The Owl exercise is a great way to prepare your neck for that bridge. Standing in neutral, which means legs shoulder with apart, shoulders down and relaxed, and keeping your shoulders over your knees.
With your opposite hand, grab hold of your trapezius muscle which connects your shoulders to your head. While looking straight ahead, squeeze that “trap”.
Gently turn your head into the squeeze, back to neutral, away from the squeeze, back to neutral then look up and finally look down, moving your head accordingly while you maintain the squeeze.
Repeat on the other side with the opposite hand doing the squeezing.
The trapezius (traps) muscle is complex. Well developed traps work closely with your front (anterior) deltoids. Your posture will improve and your risks for injury will decrease.
b) The Arm Pulse exercise will warm up all 3 parts to your shoulder – front anterior deltoids, lateral, and posterior delts Just stand in neutral and extend your arms out into a “T”.
Keep your shoulders down and relaxed while you pump your arms up with palms facing up. Then continue without any rests, and pump the arms palms down, palms to the front, and finally, palms to the back.
Basic Bridge Exercises for Beginners
Let’s get into the “Table” position and we should use a mat for this. Your nicely groomed backyard lawn will do too, if you don’t have a mat. Ok! The Table position … Here we go –
You are seated with your legs straight in front of you. With your palms pushed into the ground at your sides, roll up onto your feet, so that you are in a squat position.
Reach forward with your arms until they touchdown at shoulder distance apart similar to your knees. Relax your head in neutral.
You should look like a small table or bench. Without doing any more, you are in Table One postion.
Oh! If that was too difficult, just get down on your mat, the safest way you can, until you are on your hands and knees, with your head looking down and relaxed.
Cow Cat bridge exercise is next.
Your legs are shoulder width apart and your hips are right above your knees. Your hands are directly below your shoulders and your fingers are spread.
If you drew a line from your low back to the top of your back, that line would be parallel to the flow. Your head is relaxed and you are facing down.
The dynamic sequence of Cat-Cow is a familiar feature in most modern yoga classes. The fitness experts today, believe that the Cat-Cow dynamic movement sequence will strengthen your low lumbar bad by allowing your spine to move through a fairly substantial range of motion.
In fact, I have found it so useful for my weekly crew of back-challenged yogis that it shows up just about every week in our class.
What is so great about Dynamic Cat-Cow is that it not only is an excellent way to move your spine through a pretty full range of the motions of gentle forward bending and back bending, known as flexion and extension respectively, but you also start connecting movement with breath.
That connection is helpful both for cultivating present moment awareness and for cultivating an aspect of agility.
Begin in neutral and take a deep breath. As you round your back like a cat and lower your head, blow the breath out. Pull your belly button into your spine.
Once in that cat pose, breathe normally for a few breaths. Begin to lower your belly to the floor as your back begins to arch and your bum sticks upward.
You are also lifting your head and looking up at the same time. Once you have reached the Cow pose, breath normally for a couple of breaths, then return to the Cat pose.
You can repeat this dynamic combo for as long as you feel good, maybe 6 times a session would be fine.
Note that you are stablizing your bridge with your feet, legs, arms, and core muscles. You are kegeling, using your transverse abdominus when you suck in your belly, and working your diaphragm with the proper breath.
You bum or glute muscles are also adding strength to your poses. Hands and wrist bone strength is needed too which might help fight against osteoporosis.
What the Cow-Cat exercise will do for you:
- low back pain release
- improve upper body weakness
- increase bone mass density to help with osteoporosis
- build muscle fibers to ward off arthritis
- keep your joints lubricated to reduce stiffness of the hips
- release tension
- improving breath
- stress reliever
- general warm up
- gentle movement practice
Cautions: Use extra support for knees and wrists if necessary. Only move into the most comfortable range of motion at first. There should never be pain, but discomfort is normal.
The Most Common Basic Back Bridge Exercise
- Lie on your back. Use a yoga mat or a regular gym mat. Lie down face up.
- Bend legs at the knee. Place your heels close to your bum. Your feet are shoulder width apart.
- Place arms at your side. You will be pushing your arms, hands, and feet into the floor for support.
- Lift your hips. You should have a slight arch in your low back as you lie in neutral. Push your low back into the floor and take a deep breath. Blow the breath out as you lift one vertebrae at a time starting at the bottom.
- Breath deeply. Once you have lifted your hips and back up as high as you can, take another deep breath and hold the body up for a few more breaths.
- Lower your back one vertebrae at a time as slowly as you can from top to bottom.
- Rest on the floor. Once your body is down and your low back is pushed into the mat, relax, creating that natural lumber arch. Repeat a few times.
- Option: Try performing this common back bridge but lift your straight arms up and over as you lift your spine. When you are ready to lower yourself, lower your arms simultaneously.
Cautions: No pain. If you experience any, stop immediately, and move away from the pain. A styrofoam brick to support your head in this prone position might be more comfortable for some. You decide.
Final Thoughts on the basic Bridge exercise
The breath is very important when doing all exercises. Do the bridge exercises very slowly so that you can coordinate your breath with the easy parts and the hard parts of the exercise.
A good rule when breathing while exercising is to BLOW OUT ON THE EXERTION. Your diaphragm is one of the most important core muscles.
Be sensible! Do all movements slowly and if you experience any type of pain, stop immediately.