Shoulder Bridge Exercise

Shoulder Bridge Exercise

Shoulder Bridge is an intermediate Pilates exercise. It strengthens the buttocks and the core, and practices stabilization of pelvis and control of legs. It requires a lot of strength from the abdominals and hamstrings as they stabilize a lifted pelvis against the movement of a fully extended leg. There are variations to the shoulder bridge exercise. The easiest is to start by practicing just the hip lift, then move on to lifting one foot off mat, and finally to the extended lowering and lifting of the leg.

To do the basic shoulder bridge, lie supine on the floor in the relaxation position with the knees bent, pointing to the ceiling, placing the legs hip-width apart, feet flat on the floor and parallel to each other. The spine is neutral, the core is engaged. Inhale to prepare. Exhale to engage the core abdominals and tilt the pelvis into a posterior tilt and gently peel the spine off the floor, one vertebra at a time until a neutral bridge position is achieved (i.e. knee, hip and shoulder form a diagonal straight line with the lumbar spine in neutral). Put the hands on the hips to check that pelvis is stabilized and hips are even. Place hands on to mat, and hold the position for five breaths. On the next inhalation, lengthen the spine, and exhale to slowly lower the spine, vertebra by vertebra down on to the mat, ensuring that spine and pelvis are stable.

To add movement to the exercise, as well as increase the difficulty, extension of the legs one by one can be added to the exercise. Following the execution of the earlier exercise, bring the hips up once again. Inhale, extending the right foot up to the ceiling with the toes pointed (plantar flex). Exhale to bring the leg down towards the mat, foot down in a dorsi flex position. Repeat five times. Exhale to touch the foot down on the floor gently. Repeat on the left leg five times. When the exercise is completed, it is important to ensure that the hips and pelvis do not release suddenly down to the mat to rest. Inhale to lengthen the spine, and exhale to slowly lower the spine, vertebra by vertebra down on to the mat,

Key points
Use the gluteals to keep the pelvis at a constant height to avoid dipping and sagging of pelvis when extending the leg.
Ensure that the lumbar spine remains in a neutral position throughout.
Ensure that both hip bones stay level to avoid the tendency to drop one hip bone below the level of the other hip bone, or rocking of the pelvis to the left and right, as each leg is extended.
Maintain equal length on both sides of the waist to avoid shortening on one side
Ensure the back of the neck stays long and the shoulders stay away from the ears, so there is no tension in the neck.
Ensure shoulders are not lifted off the mat.
Check that feet are not too close to the hips, so that the spine can lengthen.

Contraindictions
Avoid “bridging” (i.e. arching the back by lifting the spine too high), as this will place stress on the lower back. In some cases, even a neutral position of the lumbar spine can cause discomfort. In these cases, the exercise may be performed with a posterior pelvic tilt rather than in a neutral position. More of the thoracic spine will be in contact with the floor in this instance.

Main muscles engaged
Posterior spinal stabilizers: Erector sinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group
Anterior Spinal stabilizers: Rectus Abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis
Hip extensors: Gluteus maximus, hamstrings( semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris)
Hip flexors: Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, Sartorius, tensor fascia latae, pectineus

Accompanying muscles engaged
Knee extensors: Quadriceps femoris
Ankle-foot plantar flexors: Gastrocnemius, soleus
Shoulder extensors: Latissimus dorse, teres major, posterior deltoid
Scapular adductors: Trapezius, rhomboids

References

Ewing, E. (2010). Exercise of the Month – The Shoulder Bridge from http://headsuponyourbody.blogspot.sg/2010/09/exercise-of-month-shoulder-bridge.html
Isacowitz, R., & Clippinger, K. (2011). Pilates anatomy Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Pilates Union (2013). Pilates Exercise of the Month: Shoulder Bridge, from http://www.pilatesunion.com/exercise-of-the-month/14/

Yi Jin