HOW TO DO A BRIDGE, PROPERLY
by Elise Wilson
Fixing your bridge will do much more than improving your bridge shape: bases with restricted movement in the shoulders and thoracic spine will see improvements in their extended stunts and less pain through their lower back. Flyers will be able to pull back lines (scorpions, scales, arabesques) with less restriction. Tumbler technique will improve through roundoffs, front and back handsprings and walkovers.
When we say bridge, i’m of course referring to the ‘back bend’, whatever you call that position you find yourself mid backhandspring or walkover. We should be hitting this position many times in cheerleading practice (*ahem* and all that stretching you do at home), but aside from the ‘flexibility freaks’ it is not efficient or effective to simply do a bridge to get a bridge.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A BRIDGE
Arms straight, shoulder-width, fingers pointing toward the heels or slightly inward
Armpits continuously pushing forward
Those two frontal hip bones pushing upward toward the ceiling, squeezing that butt!
Legs as straight as you can, knees and ankles touching
Heels are working to push your knees back and straight
You are still BREATHING!
It’s a lot to remember and one thing you may have thought I missed a trick arch your back? While the name of the skill implies that is what we should do, if we focus on the cues above this is naturally what we will achieve.
Why would we want you to train a bridge without asking you to arch your back? We don’t want you to focus on putting all their energy into bending through the main part of their spine (the lumbar) because over time it can cause injury and chronic pain as well as neglecting some very important joints which are need to be limber in other skills.
What should we focus on when working on our bridge at all levels? Let’s break this down into 5 main parts:
Under pressure, how far back can your wrists extend? With palms touching pull your elbows up and ensure this is slightly more than 90 degrees, any less and another joint needs to pick up the slack to achieve a bridge (the shoulders, thoracic spine and the lumbar arch more, elbows bend).
If this happens, it’s not good news for your poor body. When the wrist is not fully on the ground, the amount of pressure pushing through your hand is completely unsupported and dangerous. You can encourage your wrist extension by getting on your hands and knees and adding pressure over the wrists as you rock back and forward.
With arms straight and wrists extended, how far back can you push your arms without bringing your chest forward or arching your back? Often shoulders are tight because of constant pushing, carrying (or holding flyers in prep) in front of the body over time. We need to open those shoulders up in order to build a better bridge. Shoulders should be able to extend behind the ears with minimal pressure without any other body part helping out.
Often we forget to stretch the chest and shoulders at the end of training but it’s probably one of the main areas that need our attention. There are various behind-the-head shoulder stretches that you should know (ensure the shoulder is doing the stretching and not the lower back!) Our favourite shoulder and chest stretches are the lazy dog stretch and leaning against a partner or a door frame with your elbow up, stretching away from the arm to stretch out the pec muscles. Regular use of stick rotations are also beneficial and you can see clear progress over time as your hands get closer and closer together.
Your thoracic spine connects to the rib cage, so it’s much less mobile than the lumbar spine. This are can become fixed and tight without regular movement, twisting or arching and due to constant rounding of the shoulders. The thoracic extension is closely linked to the shoulders (as you will see it’s quite hard to extend the shoulders without the chest popping out), indicating the thoracic spine is also trying to extend a little. Not being able to achieve a good thoracic extension will result in compensation further up and down the line in the shoulders, wrists and lower back, and/or closing of the knees and hips. You can improve your thoracic mobility by regular bending, twisting and arching to loosen the small muscles which create tightness in that area. In addition, stretch the thoracic arch by flopping backward over a soft cylinder or block, or get a coach to show you how to add an external resistance from either a partner or weight.
HIPS AND GLUTES
The hips and glutes will collapse under pressure and you will end up with a saggy bridge if you don’t have good flexibility further up the chain. Glutes need to be strong enough to contract and hold the middle-part of the body upright. Glute bridge lifts can help train this muscle action.
If the hip flexor is tight it might make things hard for you. So floor lunges, making sure you push the weight forward to stretch through the back hip flexor is just one way to help alleviate this tension.
KNEES AND ANKLES
The knees and ankles are the last line of defence in the bridge. The heels need to push down into the floor to stop the bridge from slowly collapsing. If your bridge is not quite there yet, try slowly pulsing your knees towards being straight and try to feel which joint further along the body is feeling added tension - This is a sign there is a little more work to do in that area before the ‘optimal’ bridge is achieved.
Training flexibility here is not essential, instead we need train contracting the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and tibialis anterior and ankle stabilisers which will hold these two joints in place and push up instead of giving in.
CONDITIONING FOR BRIDGES
Above are some exercises to improve all common issues in a bridge, which does not require specialised equipment. For the full video and tutorial, you can join the CheerConditioning.Academy and access the full video HERE. For more information on how to join, see below.
These drills are suitable for cheerleaders of all ages and levels, but please always have an adult supervision you.
Perform 2-3 rounds, 4-6x a week for best results.
This will take 10-25 minutes each time depending on how much rest and how many sets you perform.
Feel free to only focus on the select exercises you require improvement on.
Wrist pulses on hands and knees, 30sec
Stick rotations, 30sec
Slow glute bridge pulses, 30 sec
Raised lazy dog stretch, 30sec
Slow wall squats, 30sec
Supine flop (with or without resistance), 30sec
Relax the spine 10-30sec
Raised bridge, aim for 10-30sec, continuously pushing for the cues outlined at the start of this article.
Within a month, if you have a restricted bridge you should be able to see an improvement. Make sure to keep track by taking a before photo of your best bridge and then once a month thereafter.. you can always tag #bodybeforeskill on Insta to show us your progress!
DISCLAIMER: In some instances there will be athletes with more complex mobility issues and restrictions that theses simple exercises will not remedy. If you believe an athlete requires further attention to a particular joint do not be afraid to refer them to a qualified allied health professional.
The bridge, like a straight jump, accounts for most of our physicality in cheerleading and gymnastics. If we break down each element to the smallest part, condition it, we can put ourselves back together better athletes than before.