Bridges: The Best Back Exercise You're Not Currently Doing

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!

36 thoughts on “Bridges: The Best Back Exercise You're Not Currently Doing

  1. Hey Krista,
    This info is extremely helpful….
    I’ll start doing these this week….I’m psyched!!!
    BTW…
    You’re one of the most beautiful women I ever saw!!!!

  2. This is one of those exercises I thought I could never do because of scoliosis and severe back pain a few years ago. I was SO wrong! Yoga found me and now “full bridge” (I call it full wheel or chakrasana, btw) is actually a lot easier and more fulfilling than “short bridge” because it extends rather than compresses the spine, and it opens the chest and creates a surge of energy and creativity and just pure YUM. It’s all about finding courage, strength and freedom inside to do it! Even more flavor: Try sticking one leg in the air at a time to work on core balance. Oh, and you can SO hold it more than a second 😉
    Thank you for all the amazing inspiration in 2013, Krista! I’m literally on an island far, far away (Bear Island in the Barents Sea, actually) and your workouts are what I call my “pre-dinner snack”! Moahaha.
    I think I’m going to invest in Fitter Faster Stronger, simply because I think YOU deserve that I pay for all the amazingness you put out there.

    Happy strong, flexible, capable and awsome new year!
    You rock!
    -K

    • So cool Kari! Scoliosis runs in my family so I can understand where you’re coming from, and am so impressed you’ve been able to exercise in spite of it. Keep up the awesome work! And enjoy island life 🙂

    • I actually had scoliosis as well (back in high school), but my chiropractor was able to minimize the curve in my spine. This is a very nice video Krista! I think this is all of the progressions from Convict Conditioning. Personally I found holding the gecko bridge (one arm/opposite leg) for time to be an exceptional training tool for the stand to stand bridge. I found that once I could hold a gecko bridge for 30 seconds on each side (touch wall or floor with nail side of pinky finger on free hand for spotting the balance), I was strong enough for the stand to stand bridge. The wall walks really focus on the shoulders more, I find. The gecko bridge requires more strength and stability in a bridge, both of which are important for the stand to stand bridge. Furthermore, there is a greater focus on the efficacy of the lower back. Nowadays I do sets of stand to stand bridges in my workouts.

  3. I am Suffering right now from Lower Back Pain because of Dancing. my back hurts and i want to ask if i can do Bridges to ease the pain , or is it more likely to sore more if i do?? Please Reply back.. thank you ^_^

  4. Awesome article! I’ve just moved from weight lifting to calisthenics, and the age-old question: What to replace the deadlift? (Hint: It’s the bridge.)

    I’m curious as to whether or not you would program unilateral bridging (i.e., single-leg versions of these progressions). If so, WHERE might you program them? Would a single-leg short bridge be easier than the straight bridge, the single-leg straight bridge easier than the elevated bridge, etc.? Or would the programming of unilateral bridging be more complicated than that?

    Again, loved the article!

    • Unilateral bridging isn’t really necessary, but it can be helpful. I would contend that your primary focus should be on developing a solid full bridge with all 4 limbs on the ground. Build up your time to at least a minute rather than doing single limb progressions of easier variations because the shoulder activity in the full bridge is very beneficial yet not seen in the easier variations. Once you can do that, then experiment with lifting a leg or an arm off of the ground. Once that gets easy, try to have only one arm and the opposite leg on the ground. This is referred to as a gecko bridge and is substantially more difficult than any other variation I’ve mentioned so far. Once that’s easy you can start working toward transitioning between a bridge and a standing position. Once that’s easy you can work toward transitioning between a bridge and a handstand…yikes! There is always another plateau!

      • Thanks Robby!

        I didn’t know you ventured outside of Alkavadlo.com. Thanks for spreading your wisdom so broadly.

  5. Though, I do not see any good transition tips from straight bridge to elevated bridge. I mean tips for the flexibility of the core, otherwise the transition is too hard. Sorry, English is not may native lang.

  6. Hey Krista, thank you so, so much for this progression. I really didn’t know where to go after the short bridge. After working on these for a few months, I was finally able to do a full bridge this week for the first time in 8 years, since I sustained multiple stress fractures in my lower spine playing basketball. My family didn’t really get why I was so stoked!! Looking forward to keeping up with these and (one day) maybe doing bridge to handstand!

  7. Hi krista ,
    This article is very good. I am suffering from slipped disc ( herniated disc) in my back. I even have disc bulge in my neck. I need tips to strengthen my core muscles so that my discs heals faster and my back pain goes away. Please help. Awaiting your reply.

  8. I tried a full bridge a few times, and it was almost all the time after I did it that I would feel pain in my lower back. I felt the pain only when I tried to bend just slightly backwards, and the pain would stick around for days. Is this something I should be concerned about? Cuz I don’t want to keep doing the bridge the wrong way and end up with spinal problems a few years from now :/ (Ps. I also was born with overflexibility or hyper mobility in my joints, so when I do certain moves, I have to be more careful than usual cuz I’m at a higher risk of injury than normal people…Could this be a reason for my pain?)

  9. I’m a gymnast and at my gym we call stand to stand bridges backbend to stand up. I can do them but I have no clue if I can do 10 in a row. I will have to try that later.

  10. The first bridge that I ever did was stand to stand bridge. But it’s been years and I’ve realized I can’t do it anymore… So more power to those who made it step by step!

    • Hey Diana! Yes, just like with everything, you need to practice consistently to keep it up. But it’s never too late to get back to it!

  11. Hi there,

    I find when I do the short bridge, I aggravate my neck each time, bear in mind I did injure my neck many years ago and have always had issues with upper body exercises.

    I currently do approx 100 short bridges 4 times a week 75 normal and 25 consecutive pulses.

    Next day I can hardly move my neck and shoulders, have tried to support neck with a heat pack neck support but doesnt always work.

    I know someone will say, (don’t do them”) but I really enjoy doing them as its greatly helped my hamstrings lower back and glutes

    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your reply. Even if bridges are good for your lower body, such an intense pain in your shoulders and neck doesn’t sound good. Maybe adding a 10-minute upper back & shoulders stretching routine at the end of your practice would help?

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