Back Bridge - The Timeless Yet Often Forgotten Exercise
The back bridge, originally a yoga pose is a timeless exercise which is rarely performed (correctly) in the gym these days. The basic bridge variations are often used as a form of rehab for those recovering from back and shoulder injuries, however in this post we're going to be discussing and working our way up to the full bridge - an exercise which Paul Wade stresses as one of the key foundational bodyweight exercises in his book 'Convict Conditioning'.
Bridges themselves can be dangerous when performed with careless form, however when done correctly they'll assist you in forging a bulletproof back and unmatched flexibility... whether you're an athlete, a casual gym-goer or a bodybuilder there's no reason why this old school bodyweight exercise should be left out of your workout regime.
Here's The Stand-To-Stand Bridge - The Ultimate Back Bridge Progression
Back Bridge Exercise Benefits
“If I had to name the most important strength-building exercise in the world, it would be the bridge. Nothing else even comes close.” - Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning
So, what benefits does the back bridge provide that deems it so highly rated by a master of bodyweight training such as Paul Wade?
Reduce Back Pain & Restore Mobility After Long Stints Sitting Down
Sitting down in an office from 9 - 5 day in day out does your back no favors. In order to maintain mobility, prevent injury and feel good we need to move. While sitting down we often hunch over, use bad posture and compress our back and hip flexors... the bridge is not only the ultimate strengthening exercise for the back, it's also the best stretch for your back day - if you're an office worker or spend a large portion of your day in a immobile in a chair the back bridge should not only be in youe workout regime but also a staple in your morning and evening routine.
Prepare The Spine For Explosive, Taxing Movements Such As The Deadlift
Warming up before performing any exercise is important, in order to grease the groove, get your muscles warm and prepare for the onslaught of the workout that's about to occur. This point is stressed even more when we're talking about heavy, taxing compound exercises such as the deadlift, squat and pendlay row.
Foam rolling and dynamic stretching is key, as discussed in the back bridge progression below we're going to be performing dynamic movements with the back bridge - instead of holding one bridge pose for a period of time just like any other exercise, it's all about the repetitions baby!
Engaging Literally Every Single Muscle In Your Back
Unlike the back extension the back bridge engages the entire back when performed in the later progressions. Most back exercises and stretches merely isolate a portion of the back... the bridge on the other hand works EVERYTHING. Your entire back, hamstrings, posterior chain, shoulder flexibility (the later variations can do wonders for your rotator cuffs when performed for repetitions).
Reduce Your Risk Of Back Injury By Strengthening The Spine
As Convict Conditioning coach Paul Wade stresses in the video below, the back bridge is the ultimate functional strength builder which results in a bulletproof foundation when it comes time to rip those heavy deadlifts. The push-up and pull-up are fantastic and are extremely popular because they work vanity muscles - if you're able to do one arm push-ups or one arm pull-ups you'll have an armour plated physique to show for it - back bridges on the other hand are quite the opposite. The strength, flexibility, mobility and foundation built via this exercise is unparalleled - but you do not get any aesthetics to show for it.
Functionality over aesthetics, the back bridge is a staple exercise.
Back Bridge Progressions
Here's a great guide demonstrating the progressions from beginner to the master exercise progression shown above utilizing 10 progressions. Remember, the back bridge like any other exercise should be performed for repetitions, not just a static hold. Raise yourself into the back bridge progression, lower yourself down and then raise yourself up for the desired number of repetitions, the static hold often seen when we talking about bridges is the eastern yoga style, not the bulletproof back strengthening version we're discussing here.
Progression 1 - Short Bridges
The very first step in mastering the bridge.
This is essentially a glute bridge - focusing on raising your lower body off the ground while maintaining your upper back and shoulder position on the floor.
Progression 2 - Straight Bridges
The straight bridge has you lifting your shoulders and back off the ground while maintaining straight arms. This variation is essentially a plank.
Progression 3 - Angled Bridges
Angled bridges are the first step to the full bridge, working in a limited range of motion to build flexibility and your confidence in getting into the bridge position.
Progression 4 - Head Bridges
Starting with you head on the ground (do not hold your weight on your head!) assume a bridge position, once again this is almost the full bridge however we're working a limited range of motion.
Progression 5 - Half Bridges
Assume your position using a basket ball or similar - raise and lower your body using down to and up off the ball.
Progression 6 - Full Bridges
The full bridge! At this stage you're more flexible and mobile than most people will ever be. Starting on the ground without any assistance from balls or a limited range of motion raise and lower your body into a complete arch, feeling the stretch through your entire posterior chain.
Progression 7 - Wall Walking (Down)
Now we're taking the full bridge to the wall - ensure you're a far enough distance away from the wall and begin to walk your hands down until you reach the floor. At this stage DO NOT walk back up the wall (as that is quite a step up) focus on performing reps of the downward walk first.
Progression 8 - Wall Walking (Up)
A reverse of the downward walk. This time we're starting in a full bridge position and walking our way up the wall, completing the second half of the wall walk. At this stage you should be able to walk both down and up the wall without any assistance or limiting of your range of motion.
Progression 9 - Closing Bridges
Almost there! At this stage we're performing 3/4 of the entire bridge however we're allowing our body to fall the final portion of the range, catching ourselves with our hands in position to assume the full bridge.
Progression 10 - Stand-To-Stand Bridges
The echelon of success. The master stage. Once you've reached the stand-to-stand bridge your back strength and mobility will be second to none.
From a standing position without the assistance of a wall lean back and work your way down to a full bridge before proceeding back up to a complete standing position.