Pilates Students' Manual

A Closer Look at Bridging

October 29, 2020 Olivia Bioni Season 2 Episode 8
Pilates Students' Manual
A Closer Look at Bridging
Show Notes Transcript

What three exercises would you take with you on a deserted island? I'd definitely bring this one. Today's episode is an exercise breakdown of bridging, or the pelvic curl. I share why it's so good for your body, tips to bridge your best, and share where bridge fits in the spectrum of Pilates exercises. Tune in to learn more! 

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Show Notes: 

You might want to check out these two episodes from Season 2.

All About the Hip: *http://bit.ly/PSMs2e5

Am I Progressing in My Pilates Practice: *http://bit.ly/PSMs2e2

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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today I'm going to be sharing with you a deep dive into one of my absolute favorite Pilates exercises, and that is [00:01:00] bridging, also known as the pelvic curl. This is definitely an exercise that if I could only take three Pilates exercises with me to a deserted island, this is on that list.

So today I'm going to be sharing with you why I love it, why it's so great for your body, some of my tips based on common errors that I see when I'm teaching bridging, and also how bridging fits into the tapestry of Pilates exercises. 

I do want to differentiate bridging and pelvic curls from the Pilates exercise shoulderbridge. They have a lot in common, but when I say bridging or pelvic curl- which I'm going to be using pretty much interchangeably in this episode- Shoulder bridge is the Pilates mat exercise where you're in a bridge and you take your hands to your waist and your forearms help support the weight of the [00:02:00] pelvis and legs while you do things like high scissors or bicycles, where your hips are lifted and then you're doing some leg choreography with both legs lifted. So when I'm thinking about a pelvic curl, or a bridge, I'm thinking that, for the most traditional most standard option, both of the feet are down. You're lying supine, so lying on your back. Head and shoulders are down. Arms are alongside the torso. Knees are bent, soles of the feet on the floor, feet about hip width distance apart. Thighs are parallel and we start in a neutral spine. With your exhalation, you tuck your tailbone, coming into that pelvic tilt a posterior tilt. And then rolling your hips up towards the ceiling, lifting the bones of the spine one bone at a time until you arrive at a point where knees are in line with your hips and shoulders in one long diagonal line. I usually take an inhale at the top and then exhaling I like to roll down for an articulated bridge.

It [00:03:00] is my favorite exercise. Definitely top three, if not most favorite exercise ever. It's just a feel good movement for me. My spine loves to do it. My glutes and hamstrings really enjoy it. I love the integration of your front body and back body working together to perform an extension exercise. When you articulate through your bridge, it's a really nice way for me to feel into my body.

When I talked about a couple of weeks ago, listening to your body, what does it mean to listen to your body? Having this contact of your spine peeling off of the mat and then coming back to the mat, sequentially one bone at a time, it really helps me feel my spine, feel my body in space. 

There's also infinite variations of bridge to explore. One of my favorite variations is typewriter bridges, [00:04:00] where you lift your hips into your bridge. Take a lateral shift, taking your pelvis, maybe shifting it an inch to the right back to center and inch to the left, back to center, just like the carriage of a typewriter or an inkjet printer might do. And then you roll down one bone and then we take that side to side slide action again. 

Which feels really nice because in between each of the bones of our spine in between the vertebrae, we have those disks and we can move a little bit at the discs. We can rotate, we can laterally translate. We can flex, we can extend. And so that lateral movement, I really enjoy exploring within a bridge. 

I love that you can do your bridges with a single leg, with one hip lower than the other. Maybe your legs are an external rotation. Maybe you add props, or maybe you do it on different pieces of equipment. You can also do your bridge in a neutral spine. So for people who dislike extension, maybe if they have anything going on, spinal fusions or spondylolisthesis where extension [00:05:00] is not on the menu you can keep your spine in neutral and just hinge at the hips at the shoulders sometimes called a hip hinge bridge, or a neutral bridge as well. 

I love bridging because it's the opposite of sitting and sitting is something that I personally do a lot of, even as an active person. If I'm not teaching or doing Pilates, I am sitting. When we sit, we learned from that All About the Hips episode, we're in hip flexion. The tops of our thighs are coming closer to our torso. And when you're sitting, you're supported by the chair. So you're just passively hip flexed for long periods of time while we sit. 

Bridging works the posterior chain, so your glutes and your hamstrings and your spinal extensors, all of the muscles that can get overstretched or even fall asleep and we lose kind of connection to them while we are sitting.

I remember reading an article a while back saying that sitting is the new smoking. And part of it's because when our body doesn't move for a long period of [00:06:00] time, we lose the brain connection, like the neural connection to our muscles, the same way you do when you're sleeping. Your body just assumes if you're sitting here for, you know, hours and hours on end, then, you know, you must be asleep, I don't need to pay attention to the feedback that I'm getting. 

Chairs also are really not helpful for our posture or correct alignment. 99 times out of a hundred, when we're sitting in a chair we're in a slight posterior tilt, unless you are sitting with much better posture than I usually do. So bridging really helps strengthen the muscles that can be weakened by lack of use or an excessive amount of stretching while we are hanging out in not the greatest posture while we sit. 

The pelvic curl or bridging is the foundation for all of the fancy pants extensions that you're going to do in your classes, whether it's equipment or mat classes. The pelvic curl is actually a pre-Pilates exercise. It's not one of the 34 mat [00:07:00] exercises, but it's incredibly important because it prepares you for that shoulder bridge where your hands are at your waist, and you're using the forearms to support the pelvis while you do stuff. Helps prepare you for swan dive, for rocking, for single leg kick, double leg kick. On the equipment as well, grasshopper or pulling straps, all of the things where we're going to ask our spine to extend. We can learn how those muscles work in a much more stable way when we do a pelvic curl or bridge. 

Another thing that's really neat about bridging and something that I share with my classes a lot is this combined effort of the hamstring and abdominal force couple. And force couple is a phrase that I learned from Rael and Karen's Pilates anatomy book. And the idea is there two sets of muscles on opposite sides of a joint. And usually when muscles are, you know, on opposite sides of the joint, they do opposite things. Right? So our hip extensors, [00:08:00] which are like our glutes, work opposite of our hip flexors, which is like our quads, right? Our hamstring abdominal force couple our muscles on opposite side of the hip joint, but they do the same action. 

So your abdominal muscles, specifically, your rectus abdominis, when it contracts, it pulls on the front of the pelvis. And when your hamstrings contract, they pull on the back of the pelvis. Both of those together, help create a lovely pelvic tilt, which gets us into that posterior tilt and helps us mobilize through our lumbar spine and really lengthen through that low back area and really create space at the front of the hips for us.

Anytime we can work the hamstring and the abdominal force couple together, and again, bridging is a really nice, supported way that you can kind of play with that action, that's going to really create some strength for us to do those, again, more complicated, more advanced choreography and Pilates. 

So coming up after the break, I'm going to tell [00:09:00] you a little bit more about common errors that can happen in bridge as well as some tips for executing your most gorgeous bridge, some ways that you can play with bridge. If you are an avid bridger, there are things that you can do to make it more interesting for yourself and also more supportive if you need that. And then lastly, how does bridge fit into the wide world of Pilates? That's coming up next.

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As always, I want to share with you in this podcast things that you can take with you into your Pilates class and really apply to the tangible work that you do in your body when you do Pilates. So a lot of the cues that you might hear your teachers say when you're doing a bridge are going to be usually based on the common errors that we as Pilates teachers see when we teach bridging.

So the error of, you know, not activating your glutes and not really finding that [00:11:00] lift in the pelvis. You might hear your teacher say something like engaging the glutes, lifting the pelvis, pulling the pelvis forward and up using your legs, things like that. 

A common error is rolling to the outer edges of the feet so that your thighs are no longer parallel, but your legs are a little bit externally rotated. So what a teacher may ask you to do is press more through the big toe side of the foot. All of these things, helping you come into parallel. Imagine you're holding a magic circle between the thighs. Imagine you're holding a stability ball or a fit ball between the thighs. Sometimes depending on the class, the teacher may actually give you that piece of equipment to help you find parallel so that your external hip rotators don't do more work than they need to.

If the teacher is asking you to articulate through your bridge and really lift one bone at a time lower one bone at a time of your spine, as you're lifting and lowering, they may ask you to do things like, you [00:12:00] know, peel the spine up like a sticker, or imagine that you're planting the bones of the spine down one at a time. There was a really nice visualization about the pearl necklace that you're trying to let one pearl come down at a time as well, that sort of sequential movement. And they may say that if you are hinging at the hips and the shoulders and not articulating through the spine. 

The cue of lengthening your tailbone towards your knees is one that's going to address that hamstring abdominal force couple, and trying to find that slight posterior tilt of the pelvis so that you can access the lumbar spine. If you get a chance, you can try to bridge and roll through the lumbar spine with your pelvis in neutral. And I highly doubt that you'll be able to, I do not think that it is actually possible to do that. You need to move the pelvis to give that lumbar spine a little bit of slack to articulate. 

If you're doing a bridge on the reformer, the [00:13:00] teacher will likely ask you to keep the carriage closed. That's because when we use the tops of our thighs, our quads to push and like press out the same way we would for foot work, then we're not accessing that back line of the leg, your glute max, and those hamstrings. 

Another thing that I see that I want to mention briefly is like overextending the spine, where instead of having this long line from your shoulders to your knees and your hips are kind of in the middle of that line, it is possible to lift your hips higher so that it's actually above the diagonal line created by your shoulders and knees. It's not wrong to do that. Like no movement is wrong. It really just depends on what you're focusing on. I would say, though, if you're going to be going into things like single leg bridges, or if you're going to be adding some arm or leg choreography when your hips are lifted, your back muscles are [00:14:00] working harder and you may not have as much support to do that choreography.

But again, it depends on what you were focusing on. If you're focusing on getting that extension and your goal was just the most extension possible then yeah, you would be accomplishing that by lifting your hips higher. In a traditional pelvic curl, we do have our hips in that same diagonal line for support reasons, so that might be something that if I saw someone extending beyond what was necessary, I might ask them to lower the hips a smidge actually. 

And with any inversion exercise, and bridge is an inversion, we always want to make sure that our head and shoulders stay down, or our head stays down. That means if you're on the reformer, we want to make sure that that headrest is totally flat and not lifted and if you're on the mat and you were using like a blanket or a pillow or anything under your head, you want to remove that before you bridge. Because there is a point of flexion, right where our thoracic spine meets our cervical spine, where [00:15:00] our upper chest meets our neck. And we don't want to create more flexion there by having the head elevated.

There are lots of ways to make bridge supportive, which I love. And if you are predominantly looking for just plain hip extension and not really interested in strengthening the glutes or working the hamstrings, a supported bridge option could be having the back of the pelvis on a foam roller or on a yoga block, or even on a folded blanket. Just something where your hips are elevated. And then maybe you take one leg long, maybe take both legs long, and you're in this really supported shape that allows you to stretch that front of the hip. That's fabulous. 

You can use props like I mentioned, like the fit ball, like the magic circle, like a yoga block if you can hold that between your knees and then hug into those inner thighs, that'll help you find parallel for the legs. 

And you can also make that same bridge very challenging by having a narrower [00:16:00] base of support. So maybe you lift the arms towards the ceiling. Maybe we do our bridge on a single leg. We can add instability by having maybe one foot on the stability ball or both feet on the Bosu, or one on the Bosu, feet on the foam roller, anything where there's some instability. 

We can lengthen the levers, you know, maybe you lift your arms, and we have weights in the hands. Maybe we have the leg and tabletop or leg straight to the ceiling. We can add some choreography. So maybe we're marching while we're bridging, maybe we're lifting opposite arm, opposite leg into like a dead bug bridge hybrid. 

Like there's so much that you can do in a bridge that's just fun, and like fun things that you can do and explore while building strength while improving that sense of stability as we, you know, change the multiple variables that we can change. I talked about in the Am I Progressing in my Pilates Practice episode, that those are all things that we can dial up and dial down depending on how you're feeling, [00:17:00] depending on what your goals are. 

Lastly, talking about bridge in the spectrum of Pilates exercises. Doing bridge or doing these pelvic curls is really important because there is so much of the Pilates exercises that are dealing with spinal flexion. And spinal flexion is amazing because we do spinal flexion passively, as I said, when we're sitting, when we're slumped just during the day. So having that active spinal flexion, that can be a really big part of the traditional Pilates exercises and is definitely interwoven to much of Pilates. It's great to do that spinal flection actively and, you know, understand that spinal mobility, but just like everything, we don't want to do the same thing all the time.

So really working our extension helps balance out our flexion in some ways. It helps create space and strength that will support your spinal flexion. And the work that you do in spinal flexion will help your spinal extension because one of those [00:18:00] great things about bridges that you're using the front body and the back body together to lift yourself up.

I mentioned that one of the reasons I love bridges, I do think it's such a great exercise for body awareness because you're having a fairly stable surface. You have your arms down. Maybe you have both feet down. So you are pretty steady in terms of, you know, instability and like the most traditional version of the exercise. 

So you can really experiment with how your spine feels, how your spine moves, linking your breath and your movement in a slightly lower intensity way. You're not really concerned about balance. Other things aren't really detracting your attention. You can really focus on what's going on in those points of contact between your body and the mat. And we can learn a lot about our spine by paying attention to the way it moves and pelvic curl is an excellent way to do that. 

I'd love to hear from you. What are your three Pilates [00:19:00] exercises that you would take with you to a deserted island? Did bridging make the cut for your three? And also if there's anything that you love about bridging, if bridging also speaks to you, I'd love to talk about that. You can reach out on Instagram or send me an email. 

I do want to give a great big shout out and humongous thank you to two new members who are supporting the podcast, Vanessa and Ty. Thank you so much for your support, for visiting that Buy Me a Coffee page and then choosing to have a recurring donation to support the podcast. Huge thank you to all of my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. The contributions that you make go right into the podcast and supporting this work. So thank you for appreciating and seeing the value in what I do, and hopefully it is supporting your Pilates practice as well. As always, really big thank you. 

I hope you have a great week and I'll talk to you again [00:20:00] soon.

Thanks for tuning into this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

I hope to see you next episode. Until next time. [00:21:00]