As much as big biceps, bulging chests, and ripped six-packs are appealing for many people, you can tell a truly well-trained wrestler or fighter by looking at his back. Wrestling, along with many grappling sports, requires power in pulling with your arms (e.g. grabbing legs), lifting opponents (e.g. throws to the back), bearing pressure on your neck (e.g. fighting for takedowns), and handling heavy weight coming down on your body (e.g. being sprawled on or getting out of a pinning hold); all requiring strong back muscles. But, strong muscles are no good without “mobility” (flexibility + strength). So, one of the basic exercises wrestlers perform every day is the bridge (and all sorts of variations of it).
Bridging exercises are also important for people who look at computer screens, use a smartphone, read books, or simply sit in a chair; well, that should basically be everybody! We spend so much time during the day looking down or leaning forward whether it’s typing on the keyboard, texting on your phone, or reading a book. When we sit and eat or write something, we learn forward and look down. All these activities result in the curling of the neck and back. When we spend the day in such bad posture, a lot of tension builds behind your neck and shoulders (technically, the trapezius muscles) and lower back. Such tension can also build when people focus too much on doing sit-ups or lifting heavy weights. Over-stressing these muscles combined with the lack of training of these muscles can result in stiff neck/shoulders, headaches, lower back pain, herniated discs, and more.
Here are some easy to challenging bridging exercises for flexibility and strength that can train and “mobilize” your trapezius, shoulders, lower back muscles, gluteal muscles (butt), hamstrings, core muscles, and improve the blood flow of these areas. Warning: do not try these exercises if you have any back/spinal/neck conditions or if at any point you feel pain that is abnormal. Make sure to get in a good warm up before you attempt these too.
EASY LEVEL: Short Bridge to a Shoulder Bridge
Lay down on your back. Keep your feet on the mat and bring them closer to your butt so that your legs are at a 90 degree angle at the knees. Keeping your arms down, slowly lift your hip up until your thighs and belly are parallel. Slowly bring them back down. If you can do 15 – 20 reps, that’s a good start. 20 – 30 reps would be ideal.
To make it a little more challenging for your core muscles and to engage your trapezius muscles, from the hip up position, push the ground with your feet towards your head and bridge up on one side of either shoulder. You can bring your feet closer to your butt to get more room to push and bridge deeper; the closer you bring your feet to your butt, the deeper the bridge. Bring your opposite side arm over that shoulder to give the bridge more movement. Come down and do the same for the other side. Now you can also try taking it straight over your head. Make sure you have enough hand support so you don’t hurt your neck. This is a standard bridging exercise for wrestlers.
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL: Front Head Bridge Walk Around
If you are confident with the shoulder/head bridge, try a front head bridge walk around. This works on your core muscles and their mobility. Facing up, post your head and hands on the mat so they make a triangle, almost as if you’re bowing deeply upside down. Bring your knees up in the air and start to walk around. Keep your eyes on a target and do not take your eyes off the target (in other words, do not spin your head on the mat). Once you go fully around in one direction, go in the other direction. If you can perform 3 walk arounds each way, that is a pretty good job.
ADVANCED LEVEL: Full Bridge Walk Around
You can do the same thing with the bridge walk around but this time with a full bridge. This is a very advanced exercise, so be careful not to hurt yourself. Do a full bridge (facing down, a bridge with your hands and feet; no head or shoulders on the mat). Perform a walk around without collapsing. This builds great mobility for your core muscles, works your trapezius and shoulder muscles, and is a good stretch for your back and abdominal area.
ADVANCED LEVEL: Bridge Walk Down
Find a wall. Depending on your flexibility, stand away from the wall about 4 to 5 of your feet worth of distance (the closer you are to the wall, the more flexible you are). Turn your back to the wall. Place your feet shoulder width apart and bridge back to place your hands on the wall. Walk down the wall with your hands until you come to a full bridge position. Then, walk up the wall again to come back to your standing position. To start out, being able to do this exercise once is good enough. For training purposes, it’s ideal to be able to do 5 to 10 reps.
BONUS! LEVEL: INTERMEDIATE: Partner Bridges
This one is training done with a partner. Have a partner hold one of your hands with both hands. Make sure that the partner can support your weight. From the position, bridge back until you can touch the mat with your head and quickly pull yourself upright. Try not to bend your knees too much, so that you are pretty much parallel to the floor. You should be arching back. For training purposes, you should do about 10 to 20 reps.
I hope these exercises are not only helpful, but fun too! Try them out and see how much you improve over a period of time.