In this hemisphere, the bridge is often thought of as ostentatious display reserved for gymnasts, ballerinas and yoga enthusiasts. We used to feel the same way. But we recently discovered that the bridge is regarded as one of the greatest fitness movements and known as the “king” of exercises in the East. In addition to gymnasts, many world class powerlifters and wrestlers recognize its tremendous benefits. In fact, Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning, stated that it is “the most important strength building exercise in the world.” “Nothing else even comes close,” according to Wade.
In addition to working the glutes (butt), hamstrings and abs, the bridge trains the muscles surrounding the spine, particularly the erector spinae, like no other exercise. These muscles are involved in virtually every physical activity you could perform and more importantly, they protect one of the most important organs in the human body, the spinal cord.
A strong spine is critically important to becoming a strong athlete. It’s also essential to preventing injury. Ever hear how humans today are suffering more from back problems than at any point in the history of our species? This is because we are spending more and more time slumped over our desks with horrible posture. Also, the ‘bodybuilding’ culture has resulted in people neglecting functional exercises that strengthen the core and back in favor of machines that isolate and build the glamour muscles (like biceps and pectorals).
Yes, deadlifts will give you a good back workout, but according to Wade, the bridge is a safer position because the muscles are worked when the spine is arched back, which closes the joints. Deadlifts, particularly with heavy loads, can result in rounding the back which opens the vertebrae and makes discs vulnerable to slipping.
No one without bridging experience should jump right into a full bridge, but you can practice it safely through progressions. Coach Carl Paoli of gymnasticswod.com has some good videos on these progressions. You can even start with a short bridge which involves your feet and shoulders on the floor with your thighs and torso forming a straight line with no hip sagging.
Like so many bodyweight movements, you can continue to challenge yourself no matter how great you think your bridge is. Try walking your hands down a wall into the bridge position. Or better yet, try the spider walk made famous by Regan MacNeil in the Exorcist.