Bridging Part II: Mastering the Bridge in Minutes, not Months

Bridging Part II: Mastering the Bridge in Minutes, not Months

by Jeff Martone, owner of Tactical Athlete

awork3The wrestler’s back bridge is a great total body exercise that builds strength and flexibility. As Steve Baccari says, “It works everything – from your nose to your toes”. The following insights will result in almost instant results (i.e. perfect form) with minimal pain and suffering. What would normally take months to accomplish can literally be reduced to minutes. The best part is you don’t even have to be a wrestler to benefit from this exercise! To be sure this exercise is right for you, please consult your physician. In addition, make sure you have read and practiced the exercises in the “Bridging: Part I” article, before to attempting the exercises in this article. If all checks are “go”, lets move forward to bridging excellence.

Please, look at the picture. Look real close. Based on what you learned in Part I, what do you see? Try to overlook the obvious (i.e. a group of guys bridging)? Look closer, especially at their profiles. Do you see it? Poor spinal flexion (i.e. flat backs), which are a result of very tight hip flexors. Please keep in mind, the bridge is not just a neck strengthening exercise. It’s a total body exercise.

The Warm Up:

A proper warm up should proceed any strenuous or perceived strenuous activity.

1. Joint mobility drills are a great way to start your day or any training session.

2. At a minimum, practice the shoulder bridge (see part I of this series). For best results, always perform this drill prior to practicing full back bridge. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes. Remember, the difference is in the details.

The Sequence:

The following sequence should put you in a proper back bridge.

1. Begin by lying flat on your back, heels close to buttocks. (Figure 1)

2. “Flare your neck” i.e. lift chin, tilt head. Note: The pivot point is the crown of your head, not the back of your head. This is a critical step to prevent unnecessary muscle strain and possible injury. (Figure 2-3)

3. Place hands next to your ears, palms down, fingers pointing towards toes. (Figure 4)

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 3

p1010085-01
Figure 4
4. Raise your hips off the mat, “pinching the coin” (i.e. contract glutes) and gently transfer the weight from the crown of your head to the top part of your forehead. Forehead is preferred over the top of your head. For safety, I strongly recommend that you keep your hands on the mat for added balance and stability. As you get stronger and more comfortable you can fold your arms across your chest. Hold this position for hold for 5-60 seconds. Place hands on mat and recover to the starting position. (Figure 5-6)

5. Bring your knees to your chest, hugging them with your arms, tuck your chin and gently roll back and forth. Each vertebrae should sequentially touch the mat one after the other. There should be no flat spots! “Become the ball.” (Figure 7-8)

Figure 5
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 8
6. Stand up and perform the isometric/PNF type hamstring stretch from Pavel’s “Beyond Stretching”. Bend at the hips, hold at a comfortable range of motion, contract glutes and hamstrings 5 seconds, exhale – relax, then lower to new range of motion. Repeat 3-5 times or until progress ceases. For safety, be sure to Bend your knees prior to recovering to the standing position. (Figure 9-12)

7. Perform Front Bridge (optional). Hold for equal time as back bridge.

8. Repeat – entire sequence (1-7) for 3 sets.

Figure 9
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 12

Remember, balance is the key to preventing injury. That’s why it is important not to leave out the sequence 5-7. It is critical that you build strength and flexibility in all directions directions.

The Next Level:

When I first started bridging, it took me several weeks of daily practice before my nose came close to touching the mat. I would roll back and forth for a while then hold it for time at my limited ROM (i.e. range of motion). This was a slow and somewhat painful process. Eventually, I reached my goal. With a nose like mine, you would think I would have had an unfair advantage. I’m embarrassed at how long it took me get it to the mat. Later, I discovered there is a better way.

The first picture was taken after performing the shoulder bridge. Notice that the ROM is nothing to write home about. The fact is this was the first bridge I did in several months and it showed. No worries. Look at the next photo. It was taken less than two minutes after the first. That’s right, two minutes! It would have taken weeks and months of consistent practice the old fashioned way to achieve this ROM increase. Look at the difference in the back arch and the angle of the thighs. The ROM went from the edge of the hairline to nose flat on the mat.

From this… p1010087-011 to this… p1010104-01 in less than 2 minutes.

The flexibility increase is significant. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is!

The next drill can be performed with or with out a training partner. If a training partner is available, he/she can provide resistance by standing over you and pressing down on your hips (i.e. pelvic bones) with the palms of his hands. Hold for 5 seconds, release (allow hips to move into new ROM) and repeat 3-5 times.

However, if no training partner is available do not despair. The following drills are demonstrated with a 100 lb. sandbag because that was the only one available. A 30-50 pound sandbag would have worked just as well. Please remember; use common sense and know your limitations. The objective is training, not maiming. With that said…

1. Resume the starting bridge position with the sandbag beside your hip. (Figure 1)

2. Roll toward the sandbag, bear-hug it and roll to your back, having the sandbag lying across your hips. (Figures 2-3)

3. Push the sand bag to the middle of your thighs. This will make the drill easier, safer, and less stressful on your neck. (Figure 4)

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 4
4. “Flare your neck”, drive hips towards ceiling, and roll into the bridge position. (Figure 5)

5. Once posted on your head, carefully position the sandbag over your hips, than place your hands on the ground for added support. Forcefully contract your glutes, drive your hips to the sky, and hold for 5 seconds. (Figures 6-7)
6. With your hands still placed on the ground, quickly lower to starting position, cast the sandbag off to one side, and pop back up to the bridge. Feel and notice the difference. You should be able roll further onto your forehead with out straining. (Figure 8)

Figure 5
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 8
7. Relax, bring knees to chest, hug tight, tuck chin and roll.

8. Stand up, perform Pavel’s toe touch stretching drill.
9. Perform Front Bridge

10. Repeat entire sequence 1-9 for a total of 3 sets.

Your strength and range of motion should increase with each set.

In closing, I would strongly recommend that you re-read this article a couple of times prior to practicing the above drills. I would encourage you to have at least a spotter during the first few training sessions. Go slow, take your time, and pay attention to the details. When all else fails, employ common sense and listen to your body.

Pray Hard – Stay Safe,

Jeff Martone