Essential Exercise for a Better Bridge Practice 

by Jess Suess

There is no denying that bridge is an impressive pose. But more than making for an awesome selfie, it is an important position to master in Yoga, Calisthenics, and a variety of other mobility styles.

But many people, especially people with back problems, shy away from working on Bridge, also called Chakrasana or Full Wheel in yoga. But the reality is that people with back problems, especially work-related, are among those who can benefit from developing their bridge practice the most.

Also, while bridge certainly works the back, lack of back flexibility is not the principal reason why most people struggle with this position. Tight shoulders and a lack of strength in the legs are the two main hurdles that people face when it comes to developing a good bridge position.

In today’s post we are going to look at some simple exercises that you can do to open and strengthen the parts of your body that are essential for achieving the bridge position, so that you are more prepared to tackle the challenge.

Why Is the Bridge an Important Fitness Exercise?

Many people consider the full wheel or the bridge more of a “show-off” flexibility exercise than an essential movement in a complete fitness program. But bridges are one of the best exercises that you can do for yourself for a variety of reasons.

  • It is the perfect counter exercise to eliminate the kind of back pain that results from hunching over a desk for extended hours.
  • It works all the muscles in your back.
  • It strengthens your spine and can prevent injuries such as slipped disks.
  • It can strength and prepare the spine for heavy lifting or explosive exercises.
  • It stretches the front side of your body, which is hard to stretch in other ways.

So, rather than worrying about getting an Instagram perfect bridge, think about the process of developing your bridge posture. Working hard to improve your bridge, even if it is never perfect, offers all the same benefits as dropping into the perfect position.

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Wrist Warm Up

Bridge Wrists

If you are going to be working on backbends, take the time to warm up your wrists. This move, and many others, but a lot of weight into your wrists and can expect them to hold your weight at relatively extreme angles.

A good wrist warm up will make it easier to get into your backbend and prevent injuring your wrists as you try to evolve through the movement.

You don’t need to spend a long time on this. A few simple exercises are enough.

Wrist Circles

Start by simply circling your wrists. Close your hands into fists and hold them up in front of your chest. Then circle your fists outwards ten times, and the inwards ten times. Try to make the circles as big as possible to work through the full range of motion of your wrists.

If you are starting cold, you will want to go slow. If you are already warm, you can move through the movements more quickly.

Wrist Steps

Take a tabletop position on your hands and knees, starting with your fingers pointing forwards, and with quite a bit of weight in your hands. Now start to step your hands in circles, one and then the others.

So, lift up your right hand and move it so that your fingers are pointing outwards and then put your weight down on it. Next do the same with your left hand. Then return to your right hand and step it so that your fingers are pointing towards your legs and put some weight into it, then do the same with you left.

You will then want to step your hands back to the side, and then back to the front. You can repeat this stepping rotation of the hands about ten times.

First Knuckle Push Ups

Stay in your tabletop position and return your hands to the position where your fingers are facing forward.

Now simply push up on to your fingers where your first knuckle is, and then slowly lower your hands back down to the ground. Do this ten times.

If this is difficult, bring your knees a bit closer to your hands to take some of the weight. If it is easy, bring your chest forward to put more weight over the hands.

Elbow to Leg Press

Staying in your tabletop position, move your hands so that your fingers are now pointing towards your legs.

Choose one arm to start with and bend your elbow in the direction of your leg, trying to touch your leg with your elbow. Keep your fingers on the ground, peeling up your palm as you bend the elbow, stretching through the fingers and wrist.

Do this ten times on one arm, and then ten times on the other.

Reverse Wrist Push Ups

Now flip your wrists over on the ground so that your palms are facing upwards. Turn your hands inwards so that your longest fingers are touching one another, and then ball your hands into fists.

Bend your elbows outwards and lower your chest down towards your hands, and then push back up. Try and keep your fists balled up, but this should be quite difficult, so if they do loosen up a bit don’t worry about it.

Repeat ten times being careful not to put too much weight into your hands as you wrists are much weaker in this position than when they were in the first knuckle push up position.

Shoulder Opening Exercises

Bridge Shoulders

While a flexible back can make doing a beautiful bridge much easier, to get your head and arms in the right position relies principally on shoulder and upper back flexibility. Tight shoulders are one of the main reasons that many people can’t push up into a full wheel.

So, it is a good idea to do some shoulder opening exercises before you jump into your bridge practice.

Arms Up Stretch

Sit down with your bottom on top of your heels and reach your arms up towards the ceiling. Now arch your back as much as you can in this position and try and reach your arms back behind your ears, while keeping your arms straight. They will probably only extend an inch or two behind your ears, and that’s normal.

Now, tuck your pelvis under to return your back to a straight position, but at the same time try and keep your arms where they are. This should feel quite intense in the shoulders and is a great way to warm them up and strengthen them.

Hold the position for about 20 seconds, and then have a break. Repeat three times.

Floor Shoulder Opener

Start on the floor with your knees under your hips and your hands stretched out in front of you. Tuck your tailbone under and suck your belly and back up into the air to maximize the space between you and the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds.

Next, arch your back and try and drive your chest into the floor. This is where you will feel the most intense shoulder opening. Again, hold for 20 seconds.

Finally, return your back to a neutral position and rest there for ten seconds. You might want to repeat this exercise five times.

Wall Shoulder Opener

Next, do a very similar shoulder opener on the wall. Stand facing the wall with your feet about a foot and a half away from the wall. Reach your arms up above your head, and then place them on the wall in front of you. Now try to touch your chest to the wall. Hold the position for about 20 seconds and then take a break. You can do this three times.

Now, move a little bit further away from the wall, so that your toes are about two inches from the wall. Put you hands on the wall and enter into the same position.

But this time, bend your knees a little bit so that your hands slide down the wall a few inches, while keeping your hands and chest on the wall. Once you have found a good position, try and straighten your legs without taking your chest off the wall.

This is an intense stretch for the shoulders, so hold for as long as you can for up to 30 seconds.

Leg Strengthening Exercises

Bridge Legs

Another often overlooked part of the full wheel is the strength that you need through your glutes, quads, and hip flexors to push your pelvis up into the air, hold it there, and simultaneously push your weight forward towards your hands to make the perfect bridge.

A few simple leg exercises can help stimulate and strengthen the muscles that you need for that exact movement.

Hip Flexor Lunges

Get yourself in a short lunge position, with your knee directly over your front foot, and your other knee directly under your pelvis.

While you are in this position, actively think about tucking your bottom under and pushing your pelvis forwards. Already in this position, you should start to feel a stretch through your hip flexors.

To intensify the stretch, try and push your back heel down towards the ground. If you are in the right position in the lunge, you shouldn’t be able to put your heel on the ground, but you should be able to feel an intense stretch through your hip flexor.

Hold for 20 seconds and rest for 10 second three times on each leg.

Leg Powered Bow

Next, come down onto your stomach, laying flat on the floor. Bend your legs up behind you and grab your ankles with your hands from the outside.

From here, you are going to move into a bow position, but rather than actively lifting your chest, you are going to let the legs do all the work.

All you need to do is pull your feet away from you with as much force as you can. Since you are holding on tightly with your hands, this should lift your chest up off the ground.

Repeat the exercise three times, lifting for 20 seconds and resting for 20 seconds.

Full Wheel Exercises

Full Wheel Exercises

Once you have worked the wrists, shoulders, and legs, you will be ready to engage in your full wheel exercise.

You probably already have a bridge practice, but here are two exercises that you can add to enhance your full wheel.

Dynamic Bridge Entrance

In most yoga practices, you will enter in the wheel by lying on the ground with your feet close to your bottom, and then put your hands on either side of your head and push up into a wheel. But you can also enter your full wheel position from the side, which is easier for some people, and lets you work your back flexibility from different angles.

Start in a low squat with your heels open and your knees apart. Start by placing your right hand behind you in the position to enter the bridge. You will want to try and point your fingers towards your bottom, as you would in the ultimate bridge position. But in this position, you will probably angle your fingers towards your bottom, rather than being in the full complete position.

Now, push up through your hips, and circle your other arm straight in front of your chest, past your shoulder and face, until it is stretching beside your left ear. The first few times you do this, there is no need to touch the ground with your second hand. Just hold in the half bridge position for a few seconds and then go back the way you came.

Proceed to do the exercise on the other side, alternating sides until you have done each side three times.

The next time you are going to want to put your second had down on the ground to let you enter the full bridge position. To make this happen, as you reach the second hand over, you will need to pivot in the heel of the hand that is already on the ground until your fingers are pointing in the right position. This will let you open your shoulders and drop into the full wheel.

Hold your wheel position for as long as is comfortable for you as part of your practice, and then exit the same way you entered. Make sure to do this complete dynamic entrance on both sides to keep your practice even.

Bridge Weight Transfers

This is an exercise that you can do while you are in your full bridge position to strengthen your backbend form.

It is very simple. Slowly rock your weight between your hands and your feet. First push back through your palms so that your knees go further over your feet without letting your pelvis drop. Then push through your heels to move your head further in front of your shoulders and really open up your shoulders. Hold it there for 10 seconds if you can. Repeat this three times.

If you can straighten your legs as you rock forward over your shoulders, that is perfect. If it is too easy, make sure that your hands are close together alongside your ears. This will work into your shoulders more, while widening your hands will make it easier.

Another way to make the exercise a bit more difficult and to challenge yourself is to bring your hands and feet closer together if you can.

The Verdict

Bridge is one of the best exercises that you can do to strengthen and release your back. The mobility it supports can help reduce and prevent back pain, and it can prepare the back for heavy explosive movements used in calisthenics, weightlifting, jujitsu, and many other sports.

But while the backbend certainly does work the back, a lack back flexibility isn’t the reason why most people struggle with this position. It is rather the shoulders and legs that lack the strength and flexibility to push the body up into the right position and hold it there that are the most common problems.

We have suggested some simple exercises to prepare the legs, shoulders, and the all-important wrists for bridge. Doing these exercises on a regular basis should have a transformative effect on your bridge practice.


About the author 

Jess Suess

Jess is the yoga and fitness editor here at The Fit Brit. She is a qualified yoga teacher and semi-professional capoeirista, and currently lives in Brazil.

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