Turns out, back positioning can change the glute bridge from bootie work to a hip flexor stretch.
Ever do an exercise in a group fitness class and wonder, am I even doing this right? You have a good reason to consider your form: Even tiny tweaks can make the biggest difference in both where you feel a move and in what effect it has on your body. (Anyone who's finally mastered the barre tuck knows this to be true.)
With the glute bridge—which has countless variations, from the single-leg bridge to the band bridge kick—back positioning proves to be über important. Keeping most of your back on the ground versus lifting your back fully off the ground while bridging can transform the exercise from a booty-strengthening move to a front-of-body stretch, notes Shannon McClintock, franchise master trainer for barre3.
Both have their place in a workout. It just depends on what you're looking to do. Here's how to master both bridge variations for the best results.
Full Bridge Lift
How to do it: Bend knees and place feet flat on ground. Lift hips up to maximum level, lifting entire back up off ground. Think of extending knees forward toward wall in front of you so you can lengthen hips. Interlace fingers underneath body by rolling up onto shoulder heads to get even more release through front of body and hips. Lift high and hold.
What it does: "This is used for more of a stretch purpose than it is used for an active seat strengthening exercise," says McClintock. You'll feel it in your hip flexors as the front of your body releases, she notes.
While a neutral spine—having your shoulders, hips, ankles, and toes all aligned—is key for actively strengthening muscles surrounding your trunk, when your entire back is lifted off of the ground, your spine might go into a slight extension (it bends backward), which is fine for the purpose of a stretch, notes McClintock. That's also why you won't get too much glute work with this variation. Because that slight back extension makes it harder to find an active hip extension (which is the backward motion of the leg), it's also harder to activate your seat muscles here.
Active Bridge Lifts
How to do it: Bend knees and place feet either hip-width apart or slightly wider. Root down into feet, keeping them stacked below knees. Lift hips up. Draw ribs down and in toward mat (if you can see ribs jutting out when you look down, draw upper back further into the mat until they disappear). Shoulder blades remain on mat, relaxing shoulders away from ears. Lower hips down to ground slowly, maintaining control until seat touches floor. Then use seat muscles to lift back up to starting position, making sure upper back stays in contact with the mat as you lift.
What it does: Keeping most of your back on that mat makes this more of a strength move, notes McClintock. "Having the upper part of your back on the mat allows people to stay in a more neutral spine which is not only safer for most people, but will help more easily activate your seat muscles." Since your ribs are down and your hips are lifted, you're able to achieve that hip extension needed to fire up your glutes, she notes.
Just remember: If you're feeling a different muscle than the glutes "burning" (the front of your thighs or the front of your hips, for example) you might need to make a few adjustments—lowering your bootie or moving slower to achieve that hurts-so-good feeling.