Break out the beach towel and sun hats ‘cause the summer sun is here (well, between thunderstorms, that is)! Outdoor activities abound, not the least of which involve a lot more visibility of you backside – your bum – your derrière.
Workouts for toning this area of the body typically involve squats and lunges. I wanted to highlight one of my favorites – the Bridge. I love this exercise because, the Bridge as a Pilates Fundamental, makes you focus on both stabilizing through the lower body, while articulating your pelvis and spine. While it looks deceivingly simple, this really is a powerful movement that targets the abdominals, back muscles, hamstrings and glutes, while at the same time challenging awareness of the spine and pelvis.
The thing is, it’s easy to do the Bridge incorrectly and with poor alignment. So here are some key points to keep in mind:
Line up the feet and knees in parallel, placing your feet in line with your sitz bones or hips.
As you articulate the spine, keep your feet in contact with the floor as if you’re trying to make a footprint in cement. Avoid turning the feet out or lifting up parts of your feet or toes throughout.
Both when you lift and when you return the spine down, imagine moving through individual vertebral joints.
The Starting point, the Mid-point and the Ending point of the exercise should all be in a neutral pelvis position. (See in the instruction below for details).
Bridge– an Articulated Breakdown
Let’s go through it, and I’ll include specific aspects to help you better target your tough spots and improve your quality of movement for the greatest backside benefit!
Start in a neutral pelvis/neutral spine position. This means that your hips rest evenly on the mat, and that you have a little bit of air space that is the natural curve of your lower back off the floor.
Place your feet in parallel, heels aligned with your sitz bones. Rest your arms as if they are weighted in to the mat, allowing your chest to relax and broaden. Release any tension that you might be holding in your neck, jaw, temple or forehead. Inhale.
As you exhale, FIRST engage the core (rather than the glutes) to lengthen your lower back, and curl the pelvis under, pointing the tailbone to the ceiling. You could imagine your pelvis like a bowling ball that is rolling in slow-motion toward your naval.
TIP: I see a lot of people skip this very subtle movement of the pelvic curl and go straight for the glutes. Do yourself a favor and pay attention to this detail in order to gain the greatest benefit of the articulated Bridge. The reason this exercise is a Pilates Fundamental is the intention to coordinate the core with the glutes, essential to posture and functional movement.
Peel your hips, lumbar and lower ribs off the mat in sequence, as if you’re unsticking Velcro. This is where you should now feel the hamstrings and glutes kick in coordinating with your abs
Feel your footprints into the floor as your lengthen out the spine and draw the hips up.
TIP: You can place a ball or rolled up towel between the knees to keep your legs from falling or rotating away from center as you lift.
You’re now at the Mid-point of the exercise, hips raised. Pause to Inhale.
Most people know that one goal in this exercise is full extension of the hips – the job of the glutes and hamstrings. At the top, the pelvis should have returned to a neutral position – an ideal alignment of the torso to the knee. So, you should have your soft lumbar curve, the ribs in line, and the hip joint flat and open (as much as is possible). You may sense a stretch in the front of the thigh.
A second goal that is just as important, especially for the Pilates practitioner, is that of lengthening the spine. With your feet stable into the floor and your core support, you can effectively and fully recruit the backside. Use it to visualize creating space in the spine before and as you begin lowering it down.
TIP: If you have tight hip flexors, you are likely to arch the lower back when lifting the hips to the top. Use a mirror to check if you are achieving a neutral pelvis at the top or where you can modify in order to maintain neutral. Or better yet, consult an instructor to watch your form and help you position properly and safely.
Exhale as you begin traveling the spine back down in articulation.
Picture imprinting each vertebrae down a little further apart than when you first came up. Control your sequenced descent. Avoid gripping in the chest and shoulders. Feel as though your tailbone lands micro-inches closer to your feet and further from your head.
Do 5-10 reps; 2 or 3 sets with best form you can maintain. Stop if you feel that you are out of form.
If you haven’t done any other exercise prior to the Bridge to warm up the body, start out first with just a few pelvic curls, and then do the first couple reps with a little less range so that you can allow the muscles to warm up.
That’s your Bridge to a Summer Bum! See you and your bums soon at the studio!