People often ask me what my favorite exercises are to decrease low back pain. While no one exercise is perfect for everyone, I want to spend some time talking about the bridge. There are several reasons why I (and many other physical therapists) love the this exercise:
- A bridge is performed in a neutral spine position. Often core stabilization exercises are performed in either a flexed position (think sit up) or an extended position (think up-dog). Depending on the type of injury, a patient may have, flexing the spine or extending the spine can increase pain. With the bridge, the spine remains neutral and hips are doing the work.
2. It works the posterior chain-essentially the back of the body. In my experience, even the most avid of athletes to the weekend warriors forget to strengthen these muscles and lead to muscle imbalances, back pain and shoulder pain.
The bridge primarily engages the glute max, transverse abdominals, and hamstring muscles. These muscles are essential in creating a corset of stability in the mid section to protect the spine from excessive movement and damage during lifting and bending activities.
3. It is an excellent exercise to do anywhere because no equipment is required.
4. It is an easy exercise to progress. Below you will find some of the variations to make this exercise more challenging.
The Basic Bridge
Lie on a flat surface with your knees bent and your feet shoulder width apart and your feet flat on the ground. Bring your belly button down to your spine by engaging your transverse abdominal muscles. These muscles are the same as the ones you engage when putting on a tight pair of pants or bracing yourself if someone were to punch you in the stomach. You should not be holding your breath or lifting your rib cage when tightening your transverse abdominals. Once you have engaged your transverse abdominals, take a deep breath in. On the exhale, lift your hips up and squeeze your butt cheeks together. On the inhale, lower yourself back down. Repeat this motion for 8-10 reps and 2-3 sets, depending on your fitness level.
Once you master the basic bridge, you can move on to a single leg bridge or a bridge on an unstable surface such as a stability ball or bosu. Check out these variations:
By bending your knees, you can isolate your glutes and not use as much hamstring. The ball helps to add an element of instability, forcing you to engage your core to stabilize the ball.
By elevating your legs onto a chair, you increase the arc of motion your hips need to move through.
The Bosu is another way to add an element of instability to the bridge, forcing you to engage your core muscles to stabilize.
A single leg bridge increases the load you put on your glutes. It also forces you to engage your core muscles to maintain level hips.
The reverse bridge engages your upper body and gives you a slight shoulder stretch. With this exercise, your triceps and upper back are engaged in addition to the lower body.
Give these exercises a try and as always, consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. If you have any pain with these exercises, make sure you are fully engaging your abdominals. If pain persists, contact your physical therapist or physician.