Discussions about the role of the glutes in reducing back pain are an endless commodity on the internet. Still, I see a lot of patients that do glute bridges until they pass out. Hoping each day that their next glute bridge will be the one that changes their life! Unfortunately, a basic understanding of exercise prescription will leave most scratching their heads. Some may argue that a bridge alone is helpful for reducing pain; similar to using a hot pack. For some this may be true, but similar to a hot pack it is temporary relief. If you aren’t learning how to incorporate a bridge motion into daily activities you are being short changed. On top of that, you are doing very little to actually develop strength.
If you have ever been told that your glutes are weak or that the front of your hips are tight please raise your hand. One of the primary reasons for this is:
- We sit… a lot.
- We don’t use them.
We find other ways to get from point A to point B or pick things up without relying heavily on the glutes. We rely on other muscles to get the job done.
Whenever you see a smaller sized booty you can count on the fact that this is not their muscle of choice with most activities. The real magic of a bridge comes when we incorporate it into other movements. Learning how to use your glutes with walking, running, lifting and even stairs can dramatically improve the value of this exercise. Once we know how to use them it becomes hard to… you guessed it, lose them! Once you can perform a good glute bridge we will transition to some more challenging movements. From there we add a pinch of endurance, a spoon full of strength and send you on your way.
WHY Am I Doing Glute Bridges?
Many people fault by letting the knees cave in when squatting and using the stairs. Others arch at the back as they try to lift something heavy. These faults end up straining the knees, hips and low back more than necessary. Remember, backs, hips and knees are STRONG. They were built to take compression and strain. However, if we can learn how to call on different muscles we can reduce pain and increase strength.
Instead of going into automatic fear mode when pain sets in, how great would it be to just call on some other muscles for support? You may be walking down the road with some back pain and think, “My back is really acting up. It doesn’t feel like my right glute is being a team player this morning.” From there you can consider the education you received to quickly adjust the problem. Similar to making some minor cock pit adjustments while flying your private jet from Baltimore to your private beach home on the Amalfi Coast. Can I get an hallelujah? Doing some isolated contractions of the glute and incorporating it into the movement you are doing could be your saving grace.
Reset, Reinforce, Reload.
Gray Cook, world renowned Physical Therapist, said it best. “Reset, Reinforce, Reload.”
When considering the glute bridge we need to make sure you have proper flexibility at the front of your hips. Tightness in the front of the hip can keep your glutes from working at full capacity.
This means making sure that you are performing the movement correctly. In another article we discuss the importance of proprioception. Proprioception is an understanding of where your body is in space. What you feel is not always real so begin each exercise using a mirror until you enhance your body awareness. Then get rid of it.
Lastly, we reload. We transition the exercises on the floor to a standing position that looks like something you do on a regular basis. Walk, Lift, Squat. We aren’t that complex…
Remember, use a mirror when first beginning new exercises to ensure proper form. Get rid of it when you feel confident that “what you feel is real.”
1. Glute Bridge + Brace
- Raise your hips inline with your trunk while pretending you are cracking an acorn between your glutes.
- Feel as if your tail bone is tucking between your legs into your belly button (weird visual, sorry). If you can’t isolate the glutes try pushing more through the heels. Doing some stretching for the front of the hips before bridges may make this easier.
- Make an effort not to arch at the back. Once in position, lightly brace your trunk muscles. Tense your muscles in a corset like fashion at about 20% effort. Don’t suck in and don’t push out. Pretend that Rocky is about to throw you a couple soft jabs to the stomach, sides and back muscles.
- Last, but not least ensure that you can breath in this position. If you are holding your breath and turning red you are not ready to progress.
Rx: Perform 10 second holds x 10 reps. If you can do this then move on!
2. Single Leg Glute Bridge + Brace
Instructions: Perform your bridge considering the previous cues. Once your hips are inline with your trunk and your trunk muscles are braced, straighten one knee. Making an effort not to let either side of your pelvis dip.
Rx: Perform 10 second holds x 10 reps. If you can do this on each side with great form move on!
3. Abdominal Roll Out
Instructions: Initiate this motion by leading with the hips. Similar to the bridge, you should feel your glutes and trunk muscles working to maintain neutral alignment at the spine. You should also get to a point where you feel comfortable breathing while in this position.
Rx: Perform 10 second holds x 10 reps. If you can do this with good form move on.
4. Kettlebell Deadlift
Showtime! The deadlift replicates the act of picking something up. Similar to picking up groceries, taking the garbage out, picking up luggage or your dog. This is not reserved for the young and agile. Regardless of age, we need to make sure you can do this motion well.
- Start in a good position. Before bending down to pick up your furry friend, or in this case a kettlebell, get the pelvis and spine in a neutral position. This will help prevent you from creating a big arch in your back when you first drop down to pick up the weight.
“I thought arching your back and sticking your chest up were good.” Response: It isn't necessarily bad. However, it can limit how low you can bend and increase some back discomfort.
- Bend down to pick up your weight while keeping a neutral spine position. Keeping a light brace as we discussed earlier can help with this.
- Just like your bridge, come back to your starting position by cracking an acorn between those buns.
Rx: Attempt to lift at least 30% of your body weight for 20 reps without failure in form or pain.
5. Kettlebell Swing
If you have ever tried to throw a heavy bag up on your shoulder or a box on a counter top you have performed a kettlebell swing. This motion teaches you how to move heavy weight more efficiently by using speed. Knowing how to use the work horse known as your glutes, while maintaining good alignment is a back savor.
- Similar to your deadlift, start in a good position.
- As you lift the weight perform your bridge with some speed. Basically, a quick pelvic thrust. This quick thrust is what swings the kettlebell into the air.
- As you attempt to slow the weight down ensure that you are maintaining good alignment at the lower back. Being able to maintain good alignment when speed is added to any movement helps create a strong core.
Rx: Attempt to lift at least 30% of your body weight for 20 reps without failure in form.
Bridges are great. They can help temporarily relieve pain, improve hip flexibility and teach you how to create a strong back. Not learning how to incorporate the glutes into your daily activities will limit how much return you get on your investment. If you need some help seek out a medical provider or fitness professional that is knowledgeable in back pain and exercise prescription.