The ‘bridge’ exercise in its many forms can be an excellent exercise choice for the majority of runners as it allows progressive strengthening of the muscles on the back of your legs (posterior chain), in particular the hamstrings and the glutes
Target Muscle/s: Glutes & Hamstrings
Sets & Reps: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Frequency: Include in your two strength sessions a week
Contrary to popular belief, lack of flexibility is NOT the most common cause of hamstring injury in runners; it is more typically lack of eccentric strength (contraction whilst a muscle is lengthening), specifically when the hamstrings are working hard to control and decelerate the straightening of the knee prior to each initial contact of the foot. If your hamstrings are not strong enough to control the straightening of this leg during every step, risk of a hamstring strain is increased.
The ‘Bridge Heel Walk’ provides an excellent progression to the basic static & dynamic bridge versions as it loads the hamstrings as they are lengthening, hence replicating the demands of running. The further you walk out, the harder the hamstrings will be forced to work, so do be sure not to walk out too far when you first attempt this exercise, and make sure you have developed foundational hamstring strength by pursuing the static & dynamic bridge versions first of all.
Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground.
Tilt your pelvis backwards so your lower back touches the floor and continue this rolling motion so that the spine ‘peels’ up & away from the floor
Raise your toes off the ground so that your body weight is now on the heels.
Keeping the hips high and lower back flat, start walking outwards on the heels keeping pace slow and steps short. Make sure you do not walk out too far, especially for the first few repetitions.
Once you have reached a suitable distance, slowly walk back to your start position and then repeat; aim for 12-15 repetitions (out & back).
Your goal is to fatigue the hamstrings sufficiently so that you cannot do more than 12 repetitions (out & back). Once you can exceed this, progress the exercise by holding some resistance (e.g. a barbell or medicine ball) across the hips. Choosing the right intensity is key to getting the most out of this exercise, especially if you are using it in the latter stages of a rehab program.
Pain in the lower back suggests you may be allowing the pelvis to drop forwards during the exercises and are in effect arching the lower back. Try tilting the pelvis backwards slightly to reduce arching. If you cannot maintain this position, try a less demanding version of the exercise (e.g. not walking out so far) or go back to the basic static & dynamic versions of the bridge for a while to improve foundational hamstring strength. As always, if in doubt seek help from an exercise professional.
Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex
Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt