bridge exercise

Even just a few years ago, if you’d asked me about the bridge exercise, I would have told you it was some lame exercise reserved mainly for beginners, the injured, or people suffering from lower back pain.

And although as a personal trainer I would include a form of bridging in many of my clients’ programs, it was something I only rarely did myself, and when I did do a bridge or two, it was more as a remembrance of when I did gymnastics as a kid than for any other reason.

I never thought of it as a “serious” exercise and never deliberately included it as a main part of my own or my clients’ training.

But boy, was I wrong. As I’ve gotten more and more into bodyweight and calisthenics training over the years, I’ve realized what an incredible exercise bridges really are.

Common misconceptions about bridges

When most people think of bridges, they think of a short bridge, which is the most common form of the bridge and the one that you’ll most likely see at any basic gym.

But while this form of the bridge is great for those with a weak or injured lower back, it’s fairly non-taxing for anyone who has been working out intensely for a while, so they quickly skip over any other forms of the exercise, thinking it’s too easy for them.

But here’s the thing: half bridges are by no means the most difficult form of the exercise. And if almost anyone, including those who consider themselves to be pretty strong, did try the ultimate bridge—the stand to stand bridge—they’d almost be guaranteed to fall due to lack of strength of flexibility.

It’s time for people to realize that bridges rock. Here’s why:

Why bridges are so awesome

Forget deadlifts and roman chair extensions. If you want one exercise to give you a strong, flexible, injury-proof back, master bridges instead.

Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning and calisthenics master, says this of bridges:

“If I had to name the most important strength-building exercise in the world, it would be the bridge. Nothing else even comes close.”

Practicing bridges consistently will:

  • Help get rid of back pain caused by sitting hunched over all day long
  • Bulletproof the spine in preparation for heavy or explosive movements
  • Strengthen your spinal muscles, which can prevent slipped discs
  • Give the entire front of your body an incredible stretch
  • Result in extra endurance in sports and life
  • Work every single muscle in your back—as well as nearly every other muscle in your body

I could go on, but you get the idea.

So now that you know how awesome bridges really are, it’s time you got started doing them.

Here’s a dorky video where I explain how to do different bridge progressions:

Or, if you prefer to read instead of watch, here’s how to get started:

Getting started with bridges

Start wherever your current level is, then work up to the more difficult variations as your strength and flexibility increases. Aim to train bridges 2-3 times a week—but even once a week will make you stronger and more flexible.

Short bridges

bridge exercise

Short bridges are great for beginners or people with previous back injuries. They gently work your back, butt, and hamstring muscles and are a great starting place.

How to do them:

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your butt and abs and raise your butt and hips as high as you can while still keeping your shoulders on the ground. Hold for one second, then lower down.

Do it: Two sets of 20-25 reps 2-3 times a week.

Straight bridges

bridge exercise

Straight bridges are the next progression in the bridge exercise, and will start working your shoulders as well as your back, butt and leg muscles.

How to do them:

Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place your hands on the floor on the outside of your hips, pointing your fingers toward your toes. Push yourself up onto your hands, lifting the hips up and squeezing your butt as you do so. Hold for a second, then lower back down.

Do it: Two sets of 20-25 reps.

Elevated bridges

bridge exercise

Elevated bridges are the next step to help you ease into doing full bridges. These really start to work your shoulders as well as your back, butt and leg muscles.

How to do them:

Find a bench or elevated surface that’s about knee height or higher (make sure it’s sturdy) and sit in front of it. Face away from the bench, then place your hands by your head with your fingers pointing toward your feet. Press through your hands and raise your hips, arching your back and straightening your arms. Raise your hips as high as you can, then lower back down.

Do it: Two sets of 15 reps.

Full bridges

bridge exercise

Full bridges work nearly every muscle in your body, and will get you a crazy strong and flexible back. Plus, they’re just fun.

How to do them:

Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and your hands on the sides of your head, fingers pointing toward your toes. Push your hips up, rounding your back and squeezing your butt, abs and leg muscles as you do so. Push through your shoulders so everything gets a good stretch, and breathe deeply. Hold for one second, then lower back down.

Do it: Two sets of 15 reps.

Bridge walk downs

bridge exercise bridge exercise

Bridge walk downs are the first step in the progression toward stand to stand bridges. They can be a little scary at first, but you’ll soon learn to trust yourself enough to know that you won’t fall!

How to do them:

Stand a few feet from a wall with your back facing toward the wall. Lean backward, rounding your back and squeezing your butt until your hands hit the wall. Slowly walk your hands down the wall as far as you can. Your goal should be to reach the ground to get into a full bridge. Once you reach the ground, simply sit down, stand back up and do it again.

Do it: Two sets of 10 reps.

Bridge walk ups

bridge exercisebridge exercise

Bridge walk ups are significantly harder than walk downs, so don’t get too discouraged the first time you try them. Walk ups are a necessary step in training for stand to stand bridges.

How to do them:

Stand a few feet from a wall with your back facing toward the wall. Lean backward, rounding your back and squeezing your butt until your hands hit the wall. Slowly walk your hands down the wall until you’re in a full bridge. Use your hands to walk back up the wall, squeezing your butt and pushing your hips slightly forward to get you away from the wall and standing up again. That’s one rep.

Do it: Two sets of 8 reps.

Stand to stand bridges

Stand to stand bridges are the ultimate test of back strength and flexibility. If you can do even one, you’re a total badass. If you can do 10 in a row… you’re amazing.

Why no photo of this one? Because I can’t do them quite yet! But with practice and consistency, I’ll get there.

Now go do some bridges!