Bridging is one of the earliest functional movements that humans master. Even babies know how to bridge. On the changing table, older babies and toddlers intuitively help out by lifting their bottoms to make it easier to change their diapers! Throughout childhood we continue to bridge as we play and do back bends. But, just like anything else, we can lose the ability to bridge over time if we aren’t practicing.
Ultimately, bridging is a wonderful exercise to strengthen your hip extensors throughout your life span. Because of this, holding bridge pose is an important wellness benchmark that you should check in with periodically to make sure you’re in tip top shape.
How long should I be able to hold bridge pose for my age and gender?
Start with knees bent with feet flat on the floor and hip width apart. Press equally through both feet and lift your bottom up until the pubic bone is in a straight line with your lower ribs and nose. Count as you hold this pose. Give it a try now.
Were you able to complete the supine bridge maneuver and hold it for the recommended time for your age and gender? If not, we have some ideas to help you to improve your ability to hold bridge pose.
Different ways to bridge
Before you get too far with holding your bridge pose, we should first make sure that you’re holding the right kind of bridge for this wellness benchmark. Here are a few different ways to bridge.
In yoga, bridging is a preparation for a full back bend and has an extension, or arching, component.
Next, there’s segmental bridging which is commonly used in Pilates and physical therapy to improve both mobility and stability of the spine. This is done by segmentally picking up and then lowering your vertebrae one at a time in a flexed or rounded position of the spine.
Finally, there’s a hip bridge where most of the movement comes from hinging at the hips while the spine stays in a neutral position. This is commonly used by physical therapists and trainers to strengthen the glutes and upper hamstrings (aka. the hip extensors).
All of the bridge varieties are valid, but for the purpose of testing your ability to hold bridge pose, please perform the hip bridge since it is focused on strengthening the backs of your legs.
Factors that limit your ability to hold bridge pose
Tight hip flexors
One of the most common things physical therapists see when our patients try to bridge, is tight hip flexors. In this case, while bridging, the lower ribcage flares and the back muscles have to work harder since the glutes are being inhibited by tight hip flexors.
The ultimate fix for this problem is to stretch your hip flexors. Stretch your hip flexors before you bridge, or perhaps dedicate the next couple of weeks to hip flexor stretching before you try bridging again.
In the meantime, as you work to gain more flexibility in your hip flexors, you can modify your bridge by placing your feet high on something like a therapy ball, couch or ottoman. With your feet lifted up high, tight quads and hip flexors no longer limit your ability to lift your hips.
Weak glutes and hamstrings (hip extensors)
If you have weak glutes or hamstrings, you’re in luck, because bridging is one of the best exercises to improve this. However, weakness in these muscles will make it difficult to raise your buttocks to the full height and will make it difficult to hold for the recommended time for your age and gender.
A nice modification to work on until you can do full bridge is to place something behind the thighs and press the backs of your legs into that to lift into a bridge. Work toward holding this version of bridging. Once this is easy – begin to do the normal bridge starting with your feet closer to you.
Hamstring spasms can occur when there is tightness or significant weakness in the hamstrings. If this happens, stretch your hamstrings prior to bridging.
Or, sometimes they spasm because they are over-working due to weak glutes. In this case, start with your legs over something so that you can focus on recruiting the glutes more than the hamstrings.
On the other hand, sometimes muscle spasms are simply a symptom of an electrolyte imbalance. If you are exercising a lot (especially in heat), make sure you are replenishing your electrolytes.
Back pain or muscle spasms
There are some low back problems that are exacerbated by bridge pose. If you experience back pain, or pain anywhere in the body for that matter, check with your physical therapist to see if bridging is right for your condition. We’ll perform an exam to determine the problem and will then either modify your bridge, or have you do more foundational work prior to bridging.
We wish you a lifetime of being able to bridge!
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