by Madeline Black • Edited by Amanda Altman
Pilates and other movement systems, such as Gyrotonic®, yoga and Garuda, provide a whole-body movement experience, giving you the freedom to move with strength and grace. Training your body in a more functional way also enables you to stay active as you age.
One movement all of these modalities share is the Bridge. I love the exercise—and its variations—because I find it to be the safest and most effective strengthener. It’s also a time-saver; doing just a short series of Bridges gives your body what it needs. Bridges can be executed almost anywhere, no excuses applicable.
Bridges target the hips, especially the important posterior-lateral hip connection with the inner leg (glutes, deep hip abductors and adductors). Plus, they require trunk work for stability and spinal motion. Strong hips translate to better balance when standing, and support from the back to the knees and the feet. There are many variations to challenge the avid Bridge doer, or that will provide a safe way for those in healing to work their body.
This Bridge-orama series is for the strong and mindful mover. It has an accumulative effect so you may experience soreness with a subsequent tightness, which might potentially cause a pelvic twist that you may not be happy with later. A more conservative approach is to perform the Proper Bridge, along with one or two variations, and then slowly build from there to avoid overstressing your body. If you’re in the process of healing, consult a qualified teacher or movement practitioner to guide you through proper form and specific cues for your body. See you at the top!
Props: mat; rolled towel (optional)
Reps: If you’re doing the entire series, begin with 3; if you’re only doing Proper Bridge and a few variations, do 5–10 (unless otherwise indicated).
• Keep your pelvis level as it lifts—never overarch your spine.
• Rest on your scapula and the back of your head—don’t flatten or press your cervical spine (neck) into the mat.
• Track your knees over your third toes.
Purpose: wakes the trunk and hips; stimulates the spinal joint movement; activates the spinal-core ring muscles while firing the hips to promote a strong trunk connection with the legs for better balance and posture
Setup: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides, palms down. Bend your knees, placing your feet about 12 inches from the bottom of your pelvis; you want your shins to be close to vertical. Feel a strong sense of contact with the outer edges of your feet, your big toes and the balls of your feet to the mat. Allow the middle of your sacrum, the area across your lowest ribs, your scapulae and the back of your head to feel heavy on the mat.
1. Inhale, bringing awareness to the placement of your body on the mat.
2. Exhale slowly and steadily, reaching your knees over your second and third toes and feeling your ankles flex.
3. Continue your exhale, lifting your pelvis and spine sequentially, until your weight is on both your scapulae.
4. At the top of the Bridge, inhale, pressing your heels into the mat, imagining that you’re pressing a button to emphasize the heel-to-gluteal connection.
5. Exhale slowly and steadily, softening your chest to begin descending your spine from behind your heart; continue to exhale, moving your spine down into the mat, and then widening your sit bones as you return your pelvis to the mat.
Tip: At the top of the Bridge, focus on extending your hips while your upper rib cage rests on your scapula with the lower tips of your scapula on the mat. Make sure not to press your neck flat.
Bridge with Rotation and Spinal Articulation
Purpose: moves the pelvis on stable legs (as opposed to moving the legs with a stable pelvis), activating the deepest hip joint muscles; engages the oblique angles of the myofascial core connections from the pelvis to the ribs to create spinal rotation
Setup: Move into step 3 of Proper Bridge (you’re at the top of the Bridge).
1. Inhale, reaching your right knee longer than your left, and then move your pelvis to face left; feel the outer edge of your right foot and the inner edge of your left foot.
2. Exhale slowly and steadily, repeating to your other side. Switch the weight on the feet to the inner edge of your right foot and outer edge of your left foot.
3. Inhale, returning your pelvis to center, evening out your legs and firmly planting your feet.
4. Exhale slowly and steadily, lowering as you did in Proper Bridge.
5. Repeat this sequence alternating the direction of your pelvic rotation. If you’re performing all the Bridge variations, do 2 sets; if only performing a few variations, do 4.
Tips: Keep your ribs and pelvis aligned—avoid extending or lifting your lower rib cage, or allowing your hip joint to drop into flexion. Lift your pelvis as high as possible throughout.
Purpose: challenges the hips by loading one leg and placing a demand on the core ring muscles to stabilize the pelvis in a level position; excellent for balance training because it strengthens the working hip and the necessary core connections that maintain an upright pelvis
Setup: Same as Proper Bridge, but cross your right ankle over your left thigh.
1. Inhale, allowing your body to feel the points of contact into the mat.
2. Exhale slowly and steadily, reaching your left knee over your toes, and then lift your pelvis as you did in Proper Bridge; inhale at the top.
Advanced: Place your hands on the front of your pelvis with your elbows off the mat. If one side drops, press that side up into your hands. Also, at the top of the Bridge, press the side of your pelvis that corresponds to your crossed leg firmly into your hand.