Use the Back Bridge Exercise to Improve Posture and Reduce Back Pain?

December 9, 2009

Up until recently, the last time I did a back bridge was in a junior high PE class.

This winter I am doing a routine that incorporates a mild version of the back bridge, called the hip bridge. As soon as I added in hip bridges, I knew this is the exact exercise that my body was looking for. My back has been injured for 20 years and my lower spine has a tendency to lose the healthy natural curve and flex forward a bit.

Things like sitting at a desk for a lot of the day just add to the problem. This past week I have been researching back bridges and possibly incorporating this exercise into my routine permanently. But they are kind of controversial.


[This picture doesn’t have a lot to do with this post, but people keep telling me that Rain from Ninja Assassins got in great condition for this movie. Yeah, the guy looks pretty darn ripped.]

My Experience With Hip Bridges

So I am pretty new to bridging. People who do Yoga, Martial Arts, Wresting, Gymnastics, and sports of that nature have probably been doing this exercise for years…but it is new to me.

So far I have been doing hip bridges a few times per week for about 2 months and my lower back feels better than it has in a long time.

A Quick Video of a Hip Bridge…

[Josh, the guy in the video does a great job at explaining this exercise. I have never heard of this trainer before, but he does a spot on job of describing and demonstrating this exercise.]

What I Like About Hip Bridges

Hip bridges automatically make the muscles that contribute to good posture, fire off. I also get an amazing active stretch in the hip flexors and quads in a way that actually increases active flexibility.

When I try to do the quad stretch or hip flexor stretch where I am standing and grabbing my foot with my arm and pulling it to my glute muscles…it doesn’t lead to any active flexibility.

Hip bridges improve my posture and flexibility immediately and that effect lasts for a few days minimum. I actually feel a little taller after doing a few sets!

A Great Exercise to Do After Planks

Try doing a few sets of 2 minute holds after doing planks. It will make your entire mid section and core warmed up. It feels as if the deep spinal muscles get worked and loosened up.

I also plan on using hip bridges as a warm up before doing things like bent over rows or overhead presses. It reinforces correct spinal alignment before putting a load on the lower back. As Josh explains in the video, it also ensures that your glute muscles fire properly during squatting motions.

I Am Just Beginning to Look Into Back Bridges

Back bridges are quite a bit more extreme than hip bridges, but many people swear by them. A leading authority on lower back health, Stuart McGill, isn’t as enthusiastic about this type of movement for the back.

In “Low Back Disorders” he states that this can cause a fatigue fracture (spondylolisthesis). Great book by the way…I have it on my desk right now. So one of the leading back experts is not a fan, but some people swear by them.

Here is a Quick Demo of a Back Bridge…

Matt Furey of Combat Conditioning Swears By These

Not sure if you guys have heard of Matt Furey or not, but he has a pretty big market share of the fitness market. His approach is more towards functional fitness and protecting the body against injury.

Furey claims that that the Back Bridge stretches the spine and strengthens the neck, back, thighs, hips and buttocks like nothing else.

Paul Wade Says Back Bridges Combat-Proof the Spine

I had not heard about Paul Wade until recently. He just released a book with a controversial title, “Convict Conditioning“. I don’t like the name of the book at all, but I had to order it…mainly to do more research on back bridges. It is on the way to my place, so I haven’t read it yet.

Some of the Things Paul Wade Says About Bridges

I will just list some bullet points from the sales page of the book. It really makes me curious about this exercise. The curiosity was killing me, so I had to order the book.

  • Why the bridge is the most important strength-building exercise in the world.
  • And ask yourself this: how big are your spinal muscles?
  • Develop this first line of defense against spinal injuries.
  • Why you should sell your barbell set and buy a cushioned mat instead.
  • Why bridging is the ultimate exercise for the spinal muscles
  • Why the short bridge is wonderful therapy for those who have suffered disc injuries.
  • How to train your spine—as if your life depended on it.
  • How to own a spine that feels like a steel whip.

Makes You Think A Little!

I am just beginning my research on this exercise. I am probably going to order another book or two from other authors as well.

At some point I will do a more involved article, but for now I wanted to see who has had experience with this exercise.

 

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

andy December 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm

excellent post as always… this is the only fitness blog i subscribe too!!! and for good reason

David - Fat Loss Tips December 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Don’t know if this qualifies as a back bridge but I get a good stretch when I “lay out” on a yoga ball. Really hits the spot nicely in my lower back after a long day sitting at my desk starring at a computer screen.

Interesting stuff as usual…

Grok December 9, 2009 at 10:20 pm

OOOh! Good one Rusty! My favorite for a while. I will be incorporating Hip bridges ASAP & work my way up. I too suffered from horrible LBP for about 8 years.

You might look into wearing Vibram Five Fingers also. They made a huge difference for me.

Monica December 9, 2009 at 10:25 pm

I have been doing those for a long time, adding weights by holding a dumbbell, then putting my working leg on top of a chair or so, again, increasing weight. For a few weeks now I’ve been doing hip thrusts with a BB and love those. I can do 135 pounds now for 8 good reps – they do wonders for a girls butt 🙂

Michael December 9, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I’ve had lower back pain for about a month now. Through lots of research and a few “experiments” I have determined the problem to be tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Apparently, this is pretty normal. I bought a foam roller and googled some hip flexor stretches and have been doing them for a couple of days. It’s amazing! My back feels brand new after I stretch or roll it (at least until I sit in my recliner or stand in one place for too long).

I also read that weak glutes contribute to the problem. Apparently, most leg work does not work the upper glutes–just the mid glutes. These hip bridges, on the other hand, do. I just started doing them as well, and it is amazing how quickly a few sets can relieve my pain. I might get daring enough to try the back bridges some day.

Now, I’m not a personal trainer, or even super athletic. That’s why I come here; to be “better”, but I will provide some of the links I have found that relate to back pain and the core and lower body muscles with the understanding that I’m a novice at this. 😉

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/dispelling_the_glute_myth

http://www.sbcoachescollege.com/articles/HamstringDominance.html

http://www.healthline.com/blogs/exercise_fitness/2008/11/which-stretch-stops-back-pain-by-making.html

*On another note, I just want to say that I love this site. It is my favorite and I visit every day hoping for new posts. Even though you only post once or twice a week, I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

Manda December 9, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Rusty, I think your caution regarding back bends is right. When I was younger, I sustained the stress fractures of spondylolisthesis in my lower back that you mentioned from doing back bends and other similar movements.

However, hip bridges have been part of my rehab program. The fractures have never fully healed, so I have to continually work on maintenance. The hip bridge is the single-most important exercise I do to keep my lower back from being sore. Great post!

Johnny at The Lean Saloon December 10, 2009 at 12:21 am

The thing he said that especially stands out is this exercise is good when done after we’ve been sitting all day. I have observed that those who sit the longest invariably have the hardest time doing reverse hyper-extension with fully extended hips (180+ degrees). The hip bridge has facilitated full hip extension (in the reverse hyper) faster than other methods I’ve tried.

kre-alkalyn December 10, 2009 at 3:20 am

kre alkalyn Kre-Alkalyn is the top most creatine supplement on the market. It does work, sharing my experience..

Richard December 10, 2009 at 8:49 am

Good artilce as ever. I also couldn’t resist Paul Wade’s book. I have been looking for a pure strength focussed bodyweight manual with good progressions. If one is to reach the end goals that would be some exceptional strenght.

I am intrigued by the bridging section as well. It is an area of my training that i have perhaps overlooked. I look forward to exploring it and reading your thoughts as you do as well.

Richard

Wazzup December 10, 2009 at 8:53 am

Tried them today after workout (cool down)… they were harder than I expected…. Now I will have to wait how my back responds.

Thanks.

Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness December 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

This is a great post as I’m currently experimenting with different exercises to build muscle on my lower back.

I just tried the hip bridge, and here’s what I found:

1) It didn’t seem to work the lower back any more than the superman.

2) The one legged hip bridges didn’t seem to work the lower back at all, but rather just the leg.

Right now I’m looking for different exercises to really hit the “sides” of the lower back, which seem to be the muscles that compliment the side abs. Bird dogs do well, but I’m looking for something with a little more intensity and I’ll see how it goes.

Also, I’d just like to note that for someone with an advanced level looking for strength, I was surprised to find through personal experience that ab exercises done on a pull up bar not only increase your ab strength, but also your lower back strength.

-Rafi

Helder December 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm

One thing i’m starting to realize, almost everyone with years of lifting have problems, in the back, in the joints specially shoulders, knees and elbows, and also in muscles and tendons.

I had a few before, and i’m proud to say i always lift with perfect form, but our bodies are limited in capacity, and having heavy weights on our bodies for many years in a row will leave their marks.

Everyone who used heavy squats and deadlifts in the past, has big problems, i’ve abandoned those long ago for aesthetic reasons, and also to “save” my body

Since i’ve started to train only with bodyweight, i never had any problems or pains again.

JC December 10, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Good stuff. one other thing you might try to relieve back pain is working directly on your glutes. I will cover this on my own blog eventually but I’ve had an incredible experience by doing some self myofascial release a few times per day with a tennis ball.

I basically position a tennis ball right below my lower back, on the top of either glute and roll until I find a tender spot, sit there for a moment until pain dissipates and find another one. Then I do some serious stretching afterward. my lower back pain is immediately relieved and flexibility has improved.

howar December 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm

I run in the nike frees but then train in vibrams if not barefoot, pretty useful.. here’s a comparison between those shoes tho

http://barefootrunningshoes.org/2009/10/08/nike-free-versus-vibram-five-fingers-10-points/

jeff December 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I prefer pull-ups vice any other exercise for healthy back maintenance. Just my unsolicited 2 cents.

deb roby December 11, 2009 at 2:01 am

I’ve been doing hip bridges-and variations- for about 3 years. When I do them regularly I have no lower back, have better posture, and – a godsend for women- notice decreased stress incontinence. That is, the movement works the lower back and pelvic floor. (along with the quads, glutes, hammies).

Manda December 11, 2009 at 8:55 am

@JC Yes, tennis balls or even softballs are great for myofascial work! Foam rollers are awesome for more widespread tightness. They are great for stretching out the glutes, hams, and IT bands just by rolling your muscles over them or laying over the roller much like JC is describing with a tennis ball.

Rez December 11, 2009 at 1:42 pm

How do pullups strengthen your lower back?

Baz December 11, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Nothing to do with this post but just on that pic of that guy from ninja assasins, I was looking him up after seeing that picture and found this:
http://www.allkpop.com/index.php/full_story/rains_body_before_and_after_ninja_assassin/

apparently this is how hard he worked. I guess a multi million dollar blockbuster is good motivation.

Baz December 11, 2009 at 2:44 pm

This is also a great site for anyone who wants to know how rain got into shape.

http://munfitnessblog.com/how-rain-build-his-body-for-ninja-assassin/

notice how he got ripped and built muscle at the same time.

Rounder December 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Hey Rusty, great posts. I just have a quick question, When I flex my arms or calves I have pretty good definition, if I relax it just looks smooth. I want it to look ripped all the time, is that just fat in the way? I do still need to lose 30-40 lbs, I have dropped 70 just trying what your posts have said.

P.S..I live in Seattle too, dam cold huh?

jeff December 11, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Pull-ups probably do very little to directly strengthen the lower back; however, they are one of the best ab exercises and place the spine in a natural plane, which should improve posture and in theory relieve back pain. Of course I could be totally wrong…

Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness December 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Rez,

I meant exercises on the pull up bars like l-sits and hanging crunches for the lower abs and lower back (although they’re mainly for the lower back).

-Rafi

hawaiichica December 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I need help Im a girl and I want cut arms with definition. my arms are my trouble spot does anyone have recomendations to getting nice looking arms? What do you all do?

gary December 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

hawaiichicado- do high reps on the bicep curl 15+

Helder December 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

Hawaiichica: Train your arms with low heavy reps, something like 3×3-5 that will bring definition and density to your arms, and obviously eat clean foods, and watch the calories

Gary: High reps don’t bring definition, the muscles will get a pumped and bloated look.

Studio Element Personal Training December 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Good post! Quite often an overlooked area, the low back needs equal attention to the ever so popular, abdominal area. We, at Studio Element, constantly stress this to our personal training clientele and incorporate muscular balance into our workouts.

Mickey December 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm

MBT shoes can activate neglected muscles and improve posture, Circulation & Gait,i think it is your best choice of improving your posture.
Hot sale mbt shoes

jasonfranks December 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

@howar, do you wear the ninja socks that go with it with it?

if so, dont you need larger sized vibrams? its kind of tight if i have the socks.

Matthew Gagliano December 17, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I couldn’t find anywhere in McGill’s book about the hip bridge being bad. In fat, MikeBoyle who is also a fan of McGill is a big fan of the hip bridge. One major word of caution, make sure the client is fully contracting the glutes and not compensating by using the back and hyper extending the hipflexors. This can hurt the lower back by putting too many newtons of force on the lower lumbar. Keep up the posts, great blog!

Doc Adam December 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

Great suggestion, the more functional movement a person does the better they will improve their strengthen and range of motion. May i suggest that you should stretch out your hip flexors first to improve upon the results- this will help stimulate the proper back and glute muscles building a stronger core.

Trent December 31, 2009 at 3:00 am

Rusty – I love your site it has so much knowledge especially knowledge that makes sense. I always come to see what new tid bits I can learn. The only problem I have is when to utilize the knowledge I’ve acquired. For instance the hip bridge or other techniques that have to do with posture etc where do they fit in with a regular workout routine and how long should you use them?

Larry January 9, 2010 at 9:59 am

Kudos to these trainers!!! I had disc surgery 5 years ago; pain had limited me to half of what I did before, and made it hard to teach my martial arts class. I bought COMBAT CONDITIONING and started with the Hindu squats, followed with the Hindu pushups and then added the neck bridge. It was AMAZING the difference it made; I have less back pain and am able to grapple now with students half my age!! I thank God every day that I found out that body weight calisthenics are MUCH better than barbells.

I have added the lower back exercises like the Superman to my students’ workout. If it helped me, it’ll help them.

Larry Bostic
Senior Instructor, Academy of Martial Arts
Jacksboro, TN

Jon January 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I recently added bridges to my routine and it has made a huge difference in back/spine strength, hip flexibility and overall confidence. I used to have slight soreness in the lower back from being at the computer a lot but it’s virtually gone.

I do the “tumbleweed” flow from this prasara yoga routine, using ploughs to compensate hip bridges; the transitions are simply gorgeous:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK6CGtViWg8

Kathy January 24, 2010 at 10:45 pm

I love the hip bridge and use it any time I find my hip-flexors tightening up… like after sitting at a computer all day. need to figure out neck bridges, but the one or two times I have dabbled it led to a headache. frustrating.

Sasha March 9, 2010 at 5:59 am

I learnt to do the back bridge while taking ballet classes growing up. Although I stopped dancing a long time ago, I have always worked on my flexibility and I do the back bridge from standing upright during my cool down time at the end of my workout. I never knew how beneficial this exercise is until i read this article and now that I think of it, I have never had any back problems in my life (but I’m only 24 so i dont know if that counts.
But yes back bridges can hurt your back if done wrong. I would highly recommend trying them using a stability ball underneath for support first and over time work towards being able to do it without the ball.
Wonderful site btw:)

J. Emory March 10, 2010 at 11:36 am

Rusty,

Nice! Glad someone else has found this to be true. I learned about bridging from Matt Furey, and I have had no LOWER back pain for over 4 yrs. All I do is 3 reps/day holding for about 10-15 sec/rep, and wala!! BTW I play a lot of golf, so lower back pain has bothered me for the past 15 yrs.

Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

I know this is an older post, but Rusty, if you’re still reading comments here….

I know your personal experience is with lower back pain, but if you happen to find some, I’d love to get information on how to eliminate pain in the MID-back. It seems that quite a few people experience this but I don’t have the slightest idea which muscles to strengthen (and what exercises will strengthen them), or what opposing/antagonist muscles might be yanking things out of place or adding stress.

Janalyne April 4, 2010 at 1:36 am

I absolutely love bridges…hip, back, and neck bridging has tremendous benefits in my own workouts and I’ve used it with clients as well for increasing strength and decreasing back pain. Many clients comment on noticing a change after just the first few workouts!

G.P. July 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

I was doing back bridges when I was younger back in my elementary, middle school and high school days and let me tell ya, back bridges feel damn good! Everything gets a nice stretch! I’m starting to get back into bridges since I started working out again. I’m 30 now. I can’t hold a bridge for too long yet since I haven’t done it in years but from what I can do it feels pretty good especially for the lower back.

Back Pain Relief Products September 24, 2010 at 6:02 am

The wrestler’s Bridge is a very good exercise to build neck strength, for back pain, I find back extensions effective, strong abdominal muscles can also reduce back pain, especially lower back pain.

Joseph September 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

found a great site at http://purefitnesstulsa.com. Check it out

Jay Jay April 4, 2011 at 1:19 am

I have a bad back and have had to have specialist treatment to keep it mobile, but have been told that the only way to alleviate the pain totally is to operate. I am getting less and less able to exercise to keep my muscles strong. I have found that supplements help (like KreAlkalyn which is a form of Creatine) as it gives me a boost to help continue with my exercises. Just because you see a fit, healthy looking body with good muscle mass, doesn’t mean that body is feeling good – take it from me.

Missed Period April 14, 2011 at 9:02 am

wow, thanks for the videos. i need this. much time on the computer sometimes makes you forget your posture… and then you become comfortable… haaaay… but really, thanks for this post! very helpful!

Sol Hinchliffe July 14, 2011 at 12:53 am

Back bridges should be done with supervision and care if one is still new to the exercise. Injury claims specially for back injuries should be taken into consideration when exercises for the individual are usually back related workouts.

Immunization Schedule September 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

This video is really helpful. It helped me with my back injuries. I would surely recommend this to anyone! Thank you!!

hugh September 1, 2012 at 5:54 am

the back bridge is the best exercise you can do for your spine & back. just learned about them @ the end of 2011 nov/dec through cc paul coach wade.his message is excellant for get the titles,just use his knowledge you cant go wrong. cc 1&2 cant put them down. cant wait for #3. thanks h p m

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