The gluteal bridge is an exercise that spans both the fitness and rehabilitation industries. In fitness it is used to shape and tone the posterior bump while in rehab it focuses on improving pelvic movement & awareness and core muscle activation. Regardless of the focus the gluteal bridge is often performed improperly leading to excessive tension on the low back. In this article we will discuss proper muscle synergy, how to recruit these muscles, common compensations, and exercise progression to strengthen and shape your glutes to perfection.
Synergistic Muscle Involvement
The following muscles work together to produce concentric and eccentric movement during the gluteal bridge. There are additional muscles that may play a role in producing movement but we will only focus on the following three primary movers:
Gluteus Maximus – The one muscle to rule them all. The glute max has prominent attachments to the pelvis, sacrum, and femur. It is hypothesized that human development of the gluteus maximus allowed for long distance traveling and the ability to stalk and hunt prey. Learning to actively contract this muscle during a gluteal bridge is crucial in facilitating a posterior pelvic tilt and preventing low back compensation.
Hamstrings – The “hamstrings” consist of three independent muscles: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. The group attaches to the ischial tuberosity, or “sit” bones, and works together to extend the hip which is the driving, upward force during the bridge. They also play a role with internal and external hip rotation which must be stabilized during movement. Fact: The hamstring muscle got its name from 1800’s butchers who hung their pigs by the tendons of their back legs. Hence the word “hamstrings.”
Abdominal Complex – Consisting of several different muscles the focus during a gluteal bridge is to contract the rectus and transverse abdominals. The transverse abdominals aid in providing pelvis and spinal stability while the rectus assists the glutes and hamstrings in producing movement. With the trunk/spine locked in a fixed position on the ground the rectus will in turn produce movement at the pelvis instead of flexing the trunk.
Joint Mobility vs Stability
Movement should be produced solely through the pelvis and hips during a gluteal bridge with passive movement through the lumbar spine. Specifically, the goal is to posteriorly rotate the pelvis. Imagine the pelvis as a bucket filled with water. Tilting the bucket and dumping water out of the back is a posterior rotation and dumping water out of the front, an anterior rotation. Another way of visualizing the movement is to focus on the low back. Rounding the low back is a posterior rotation while arching is an anterior rotation. Learning to isolate this movement in several positions will improve form and function of several other exercises including the squat and deadlift.
Following the law of stability and mobility, if the pelvis, sacrum, and hips are the primary moving joints then the joints above and below need to stabilize. This would focus primarily on the thoracic spine and knee joints. By maintaining abdominal engagement and scapular retraction the thoracic spine will remain stable. Maintaining hamstring activation will stabilize the knee joints. A monster band around the knees for feedback is a great tool to maintain additional stability.
Common Compensations & Corrections
Low Back Arching
The most prevalent joint compensation during a gluteal bridge is through the lumbar spine. Hyper extension through this region can produce undesirable results. For starters it decreases the efficiency of the primary mover muscles. Additionally, it can cause compression through the facet joints leading to dysfunction. This is concerning for individuals with prior low back injury. The lumbar spine should passively flex, or lengthen, during a properly performed gluteal bridge.
Verbal Cues: Push Low Back Into Ground | Draw Belly Button to Spine | Tuck or
Scoop Pelvis | Lift Sacrum Towards Ceiling
During previous discussions it was demonstrated how ankle involvement plays a role in producing activation patterns up the chain into the hips and pelvis. During a gluteal bridge pay attention to the ankles. There is a tendency to point the toes down and rotate in or out relative to one another. Maintaining a neutral, parallel ankle position will increase hamstring activation and promote proper posterior pelvic movement. Try squeezing a yoga block between your toes.
Verbal Cues: Pull Toes Up to Face | Rotate Pinky Toes Outward
Lower Body Pushing vs Pulling
Engaging the hamstrings can be uncomfortable. During the concentric phase of the gluteal bridge it is common to produce a pushing effect through the lower body. This recruits muscles like the quadriceps and lumbar paraspinals to assist with the movement. Similar to the low back arching recruiting compensatory muscles decreases the efficiency of the prime movers (gluteus maximus; hamstrings; abdominals). A technique to verify this compensation is to perform a gluteal bridge with suspension straps. If the feet drift away from the pelvis then a pushing compensation is prevalent. This must be retrained into a pulling movement to properly recruit the hamstring muscles. Applying proper ankle positioning will directly assist with correcting this compensation. Try the following exercise to learn how to "pull" through the hamstrings.
Verbal Cues: Pull Pelvis Towards Heels | Pull Heels to Pelvis
1.) Hooklying Gluteal Bridge
2.) Table Top Gluteal Bridge
3.) Elevated Gluteal Bridge
1.) Gluteal Bridge March
2.) Gluteal Bridge Leg Kick
3.) Full Body Bridge
4.) Full Body Bridge March
1.) Straight Leg Full Body Bridge
2.) Table Top Gluteal Bridge Leg Kick
3.) Suspension Straight Leg Gluteal Bridge
4.) Suspension Gluteal Bridge Hip Abduction
1.) Straight Leg Full Body Bridge Hip Lift
2.) Suspension Gluteal Bridge Alternating Hip & Knee Flexion
3.) Suspension Gluteal Bridge Bilateral Hip & Knee Flexion
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