Bridges are a common exercise we see in almost every setting—gym routines, personal training sessions, yoga studios, physical therapy, etc. The main purpose for the exercise will vary depending on the goals of the individual, but there are general benefits that you can always count on. Many people will run through this exercise without really thinking about it—which unfortunately can result in poor form and therefore decreased benefits. So next time you decide to do a set of bridges keep this in mind:
Bridges teach your muscles the RIGHT activation patterns
When your muscles contract to perform certain movements, there is a specific order that they should “turn on” to provide the most stability and necessary power for the movement. A common “misfiring” pattern today is the hamstrings firing, or turning on, before the gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus). This is often the result of sitting at a desk for most of the day, and then going to exercise with very poorly activated gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscles are where your power for hip extension should come from, not your hamstrings. (This is one way you can get hamstring strains!) The bridge exercise can be used to focus on actively contracting the glutes to lift the hips (hip extension) instead of using the hamstrings. This is key for re-reducating your neuromuscular system, strengthening the glutes, and preventing hamstring injuries.
Bridges improve spine and hip mobility
The bridge exercise moves your hips and spine into extension—positions and ranges of motion that we do not reach throughout a typical day. If you sit at a desk for most of your day, your body is generally in flexion. Your hips are flexed and your spine is curved forward. Your shoulders are probably rounded and your head is in a slight forward position. The bridge is essentially the opposite of this—hip extension, some spinal extension, opening of the shoulders, and head back. This promotes full mobility of your joints—a must for maintaining joint health.
Bridges can reap the benefits of inversion
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you have probably heard about the benefits of inversion. The bridge exercise is a good compromise for those of us that are either unable or uncomfortable with a full inversion (headstands, pikes, etc). It promotes core strength (when held for a short period of time), allows for decompression of the spine, and improves your breathing by strengthening your diaphragm.
Cathlin Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS, CAFS