A Simple Modification To Maximize Your Bridge Exercise for Hip Extension

Bridge ExerciseThe bridge exercise is a simple and effective exercise to begin working on hip extension and turning on your glutes.  This in itself is so important to restoring muscle imbalances of the lower extremity and core.  Common postural adaptations include excessive anterior tilting, which in turns makes it difficult to extend the hip and really activate your glutes, specifically your gluteus maximus.

However, another common finding with anterior pelvic tilting is tight hip flexors.  Early phases of rehabilitation and corrective exercise should attempt to improve hip flexor mobility, however this tightness also limits your ability to extend the hip and thus activate and train the gluteus maximus.

So what do we do?  Traditionalists will say that we need to restore mobility before working on strengthening.  I agree with this, but also think there are ways to work round your limitations to make progress with both hip flexor mobility and hip extensor activity simultaneously.

 

Modification for the Bridge Exercise to Maximize Hip Extension

There is a simple modification that we can do to the bridge exercise to maximize hip extension.  Rather than perform the exercise with our legs parallel in the sagittal plane, try putting your feet closer together and slightly separating your hips.  This puts your hips in slightly more external rotation and abduction, as seen in the below video.  Note that improvement in my ability to extend my hips:

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Why this Improves Hip Extension and the Bridge Exercise

The reason why this modification allows us to extend the hips more is due to the action and orientation of the iliopsoas muscle group.

In addition to flexing the hip, the iliopsoas group also externally rotates the hip.  This is not discussed nearly as much as hip flexion, but something to consider.

Furthermore, if you look at the picture, you can see that the orientation of the iliopsoas group is not straight in the sagittal plane, but rather, slightly abducted (something to keep in mind when stretching as well).Iliopsoas

To shorten the iliopsoas group as much as possible you need to position the hip in slight external rotation and slight abduction.

In order to maximize our ability to contract the gluteus maximus and extend the hip, we need to put our body in a position that shortens the hip flexors as much as possible.

Try this simple modification for the bridge exercise and let me know if you can achieve more hip extension.

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26 Responses to “A Simple Modification To Maximize Your Bridge Exercise for Hip Extension”

  1. Mike, I will definitely try that modification, but someone once told me to try bridging with ankles in DF (point of contact on heels) to get more glut activation. I’m not sure if you get more true activation of the muscles or not, but it does tend to be more fatiguing in the gluts when I try both flat footed and with feet in DF position and compare. Do you feel that it makes sense to get more actual activation of the gluts this way?

  2. Mike,
    You mentioned above that an anterior pelvic tilt will decrease hip extension force. I do understand that this puts the glut max in a lengthened position which may alter it’s force generating capacity. In practice though I tend to notice increased glut development with an anterior pelvic tilt (hockey players come to mind) and decreased glut development with a posterior tilt. Wondering what your thoughts are?

    • Sure this makes sense, though I do think maybe not the best example. would assume hockey players lean forward all day and drive into hip extension.

      I should have elaborated a bit, anterior tilt creates tight hip flexors, which doesnt allow full hip extension mobility.

  3. Hey Mike I like using this bridging positioning with patient/athletes as well and sometime use a elastic loop around the knees to help activate the glutes and external rotators prior to using the glute to extend the hip. Works really nice. Keep up the good work all ways like stopping in and reading some of the articles.

  4. Great modification! I notice that I recruit WAY more hamstring activity when pressing from my heel too.

  5. I like the thought process, but but putting the iliopsoas on slack aren’t you somewhat reinforcing the mechanical problem? I would think you would want to stabilize the lumbopelvic area, while still encouraging the iliopsoas to lengthen during hip extension, in order to promote appropriate balance and relative flexibility (a la shirley sahrmann)? Thoughts?

    • I think you have two options. Work on mobility and not do bridges until you get more mobility (how long will that take?), or modify your technique and work on glutes simultaneously while working on mobility. Then, when mobility increases, go back to normal technique.

  6. I like this modification; it puts the glute at a much better line of pull due to the fibre orientation, so it is a great way to isolate them further. To continue to battle against a tight antagonist ( iliopsoas) will cause the hamstrings to become more involved synergistically and lead to cramp while not fully activating the glutes. It is unlikely in my opinion that the iliopsoas will release in this exercise as the tension created by the extension is too high for them to relax. I feel that initially it might be prudent to inhibit the iliopsoas with some manual work before moving on to extension exercises.

  7. If you are treating someone with knee or back pain it is very likely they have weak or inhibited gluteal mm including abductor,extensor and ER mm. Since the glut max is an ER as well it makes sense to utilize the ER moment in addition to the extension of the hip as Mike points out.
    I will have the patients use a theraband that is tight at resting position with knees together around the knees, push out, squeeze the “cheeks” together and then have them lift and not release until they are back on the mat.
    You can usually tell if they understand what you are doing or not by asking them where they feel the work.
    If they cramp quickly in the hamstrings or complain of increased back pain their motor program will likely be ommiting the guteus maximus or they may notice that this occurs after a few repetitions indicating poor endurance of the maximus. When they fully squeeze their maximus together and push out against the theraband and maintain the tightness prior to , during, and after the lift they will feel the work in the lateral and posterior hip mm (gluteals).
    I also remember a study a few years back that said doing anterior hip mobs in prone temporarily (not sure how long) increases glute max activity. Might be useful to decrease the reciprocal inhibition that may be occuring from the tight hip flexors.

  8. Might we also consider that the joint capsule may taken out of a relatively closed-packed position also? CPP for hip is extn+IR+ABD which for some people may actually be similar to Mike’s initial bridging position. Relieving the ABD+relative IR a bit can help slacken the capsule and ligs.

  9. Good call on this modification. I feel bridging should be done directly after manual or static stretching of hip flexors. Following the Janda logic, tight hip flexors inhibit gluteal firing. Here is an interesting article from MJ Phillipon from Steadman Clinic. How to strengthen glutes without activating iliopsoas. “Rehabilitation exercise progression for the gluteus medius muscle with consideration for iliopsoas tendinitis: an in vivo electromyography study.” Am J Sports Med

  10. Brendan, Yes, that article is on my list to discuss! You’ll be seeing a post about it in the future!

  11. During the stance phase of gait with the hip is driving into extension, it is also necessary that there is hip IR acted by GlutMax, GlutMed, Adductors – does the above technique contribute towards an abnormal movement pattern such that when we get into loaded position i.e. stance phase of gait, we are not encouraging hip extension plus IR to contribute towards forward propulsion?

  12. This is one of my favorite exercises for knee, hip and low back patients. I do progress this by adding a thera-band around the hips to force the hips into ER/abd. Your thoughts Mike on adding t-band to further encourage hip muscle activity? I heard Chris Powers reference this exercise in an a lecture regarding patients with Patello-Femoral problems as needing further glut recruitment/strengthening.

  13. Mike
    I make the same adjustment on the bridge exercise and I sometimes take it a step further by having the patient use a miniband around the knees to activate the hip rotators/abductors. Many times I will have them do one set like that, then perform some trigger point release to hip flexors then go back and perform the bridge with the feet apart. Very often the range improves as well as the glute activation.

  14. I’ve played around with several modifications, if I know I’m not extending 100% I’ll switch my feet and angle of my legs to fire them and then return to a regular position; that does the trick and I’ll feel it in my glutes. After I feel the burn I go out for a 30 min easy run to help make my body remember. Has worked wonders for my running form. I almost always will do a light & short set of weighted hip thrusts or bridges before I run and always feel my butt working harder.

  15. This exercise is fantastic Mike. Thanks for the insight. Although, I was wondering whether it would still be applicable if Rectus Femoris was a contributing factor for tightness around the hip. Would this modification work to alleviate that component in any way?

  16. I get what you are doing. I am confused about how you word it. you say to shorten the iliopsoas as much as possible you need to position the hip in slight external rotation and abduction. and that we need to shorten the hip flexors as much as possible to maximize glute contraction.Yet in the video it says that the position that you are gettin into is putting slack in the flexors . To get maximum glute contraction do you not need the hip flexors to be able to lengthen, so by you saying we need to get them as short as possible has me confused. Thanks for your help.

  17. I agree 100% with Mike’s modification. I too do not encourage a heel push off. I have found that a tibial angle of 0-10 deg from vertical will also help to quiet the hamstrings. ER/ABD at the hips would also help to shorten the ITB/TFL, which all too often seem to co-exist with tight psoas. Also, Great DVD with Cressey on the shoulder, just finished watching the last DVD!

  18. I guess I also have the same question as Mike Heidinger above. I was just wandering if you could clarify what you mean by shortening the hip flexor to maximize glute contraction.

  19. Isn’t shortening the hip flexor the same as putting them on slack? Now I’m confused by your confusion! :)

  20. All good comments, I think we just have some confusion with terminology. I used the word “slack” to mean not stretched, so tension is removed. A stretched muscle that is short is going to limit movement. Getting them out of this position should allow more movement, and more more movement will enhance glute activity.

    Slack to me is just tension, not short or long.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Great workout finisher: loaded glute bridges | INTEGRATE Performance Fitness - May 31, 2013

    [...] “The reason why this modification allows us to extend the hips more is due to the action and orientation of the iliopsoas muscle group. In addition to flexing the hip, the iliopsoas group also externally rotates the hip,” says Mike Reinold (A Simple Modification to Maximize Your Bridge for Hip Extension). [...]

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