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18. The Shoulder Bridge


I am not a huge fan of the classical version of The Shoulder Bridge for most clients. My bod does pretty well with the shoulder bridge, but this exercise can be tough on the wrists, shoulders and lumbar spine if these joints aren't stabilized appropriately. Also, the hand placement encourages extension at the thoracolumbar junction or anterior translation of the rib cage (aka rib flare), a common postural deviation that causes neck and low back pain. I am constantly trying to cue clients OUT of rib flare, so I hesitate to give out an exercise where it is difficult to stabilize the rib cage. Check out this blog post for more on the rib flare and coach's stance. The Shoulder Bridge is performed to open the chest, very necessary for all the sitting, texting, driving that occurs now days. Again, there are better ways to achieve thoracic extension and chest expansion without flaring the rib cage (see baby swan and swan). However, any Pilates/physical therapy session at Limitless Pilates involves an articulated bridge (see modifications/video at the bottom of the page). The articulated bridge is an excellent way to increase spinal mobility, decrease head/neck/shoulder tension, and open through the front of the hips after prolonged sitting and safe for almost any client. 


Click here for The Shoulder Bridge VIDEO


Classical start: raise pelvis off the floor until only head, neck, shoulders (and feet) are touching the mat. Place hands at the waist. 

Alternative start: perform rollover or jackknife to peel spine off the floor, place hands at the top of the pelvis, bend one knee to lower foot to the floor, then bend other knee to lower foot to floor. 


1. Inhale straighten knee to ceiling and flex ankle. 


2. Exhale lower foot to floor. Repeat three times each leg. (ankle is pointed in classical version). 



To decrease neck tension: soften sternum/flex at thoracic spine, bear most of the weight through tops of shoulder blades rather than neck


To improve lumbar stability: keep pubic bone tipped towards nose as much as possible (also helps to keep weight off wrists). 


To improve overall efficiency of the exercise: Press foot firmly into the floor to keep pelvis lifted, get a good handle on the articulated bridge, and single leg circle before attempting the shoulder bridge. 


Modifications/variations: Tons of options for feet placement (on bench/chair/couch as pictured, calves on exercise ball, feet on step/foam roller/orbit/arc/etc). Exhale to tip pubic bone towards nose to peel spine up off the floor to bottom/mid-shoulder blades. The higher your feet are off the ground, the higher up you will take the bridge on the shoulder blades. Stop before pop or flare through rib cage. Take a small inhale. Exhale to soften sternum and peel spine back down on the floor and return to neutral spine. Repeat 10-30 times. This should be performed daily. 


Click here for a VIDEO of the recommended version of bridge 


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