Building a Bridge the Right Way
A properly performed bridge is a one-stop shop cure for the modern desk warrior lifestyle. Most people spend the bulk of their day sitting in front of a computer with poor posture: slumped shoulders, rounded back, and closed hips. If they do train at all, it is often nothing but jogging and bench press, which just serve to further tighten their joints.
Fortunately, bridge work performed in the correct manner can help undo these stressors in all the right ways. There are several key elements that must be taken care of first, however, before jumping straight into bridges on the floor. Rather than struggling with improper bridges and potentially exacerbating pre-existing issues, take the time now to address the following mobility restrictions.
Upper vs. Lower Back
One very common flaw when attempting bridges is arching solely from your lower back (or lumbar spine). This reduces the need to extend from your upper back (thoracic spine), but in doing so it severely limits the benefits you will get from training bridges the correct way. Plus, most people already have too much arching in their lower back, and rather than fixing this problem, it will just add to it over time, possibly even resulting in lower back pain.
Begin patiently building your bridge with the GB Stretch Courses!
A proper bridge, on the other hand, has you arching more from your upper back, which is precisely what most people need more of in the first place. Remember our desk warrior with slumped shoulders and a round back? They are crucially lacking thoracic extension, and training bridges the correct way can help fix this. Additionally, bridge work done with an upper back focus will translate to limbers, walkovers, handsprings, and other tumbling drills down the road. With too much bend through the lower back in your bridge, the doors to these more difficult skills will be closed until you go back and make the fix.
Another key principle for bridge work is opening your shoulder angle overhead, or increasing your shoulder flexion. Again, when many people attempt to lift their arms up overhead, they are actually bending too much from their lower back. Try standing with your back completely flush against the wall. Can you comfortably lift your arms overhead all the way until they touch the wall behind you? If not, then try this cat stretch for increasing your shoulder flexion:
From a hands and knees position on the ground, set up such that your upper legs are perpendicular to the floor. Then reach your arms out in front of you as far as possible, and keep them shoulder-width apart or closer. For this cat stretch, think about dropping your upper chest closer to the floor (to increase thoracic extension). Coach Sommer also uses the cue, "big armpits" to help his athletes increase their range of motion in this position. If needed, continue to walk your hands further away from your knees until your upper chest contacts the floor.
Get Your Feet Up
So now that your upper back and shoulders are beginning to function properly, it is time to attempt some bridge work. Rather than just throwing caution to the wind and letting you struggle your way into a bad bridge position (like many inexperienced trainers do), the standard here at GB is to elevate your feet. What this does is allow for the bulk of the stretch to be felt exactly where it needs to be: in the upper back and shoulders, not the lower back. With your feet elevated, you can concentrate on straightening your arms and legs, holding the position, and breathing.
One last detail to note is that bridge work also requires a great deal of mobility in your hip flexors. Going back to our office worker example, sitting at a desk all day causes your hips to tighten up in that closed position. Luckily, bridge work helps to engage your glutes, hamstrings, and the rest of your posterior chain, as well as stretch through your hip flexors, quads, and even abdominals along the front of your body.
Here is what you need to keep in mind when building your bridge the right way:
- Excessive arching from your lower back can cause injuries and limit progress, so strive to extend more from your upper back.
- Increase your shoulder flexion range of motion overhead by using the cat stretch before bridge work.
- Once you are ready to practice bridges, elevate your feet as much as is needed to emphasize thoracic extension and shoulder flexion.
GymnasticBodies Thoracic Bridge Stretch Series will gradually help you develop a healthier, more mobile upper body.