How to Do Shoulder Bridge in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

A pilates teacher doing shoulder bridge pilates move
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Targets: Hip and back extension, abdominals, and hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Advanced

Shoulder bridge is a Pilates mat exercise that calls on strength from the abdominals and the hamstrings. These muscle groups will need to fire up in order to prevent the pelvis from dropping down as the extended leg moves. Since it's an advanced exercise, it may be a good idea to review the Pilates principles. In a classic Pilates class, shoulder bridge usually comes after the bicycle and is followed by spine twist.

Benefits

As a hip and back extension, shoulder bridge is a counter move to flexion exercises and to the hip flexion found in seated positions. It can help you increase your spinal flexibility.

The shoulder bridge prep is similar to the bridge exercise recommended for physical therapy for a weak or injured back. You master this move before progressing to extending one leg at a time for a further challenge to the abdominals and hamstrings.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need an exercise mat and will begin lying on the mat. The first three steps are shoulder bridge prep and can be practiced until you develop the strength to go on to raise your leg. The final progression is to adding an upward kick, which is done after mastering the leg extension.

  1. Lie on your back in neutral spine, with your knees bent and feet on the mat and your legs hip distance and parallel. Extend your arms alongside your body palms facing down. Press the backs of your arms into the mat.

  2. On an inhale, press down through your feet to lengthen your spine and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling. Come to a bridge position on your shoulders with your knees, hips, and shoulders in one line. Firm your abdominals and hamstrings.

  3. Pause at the top of the bridge to practice lifting one leg, then the other, off the mat. If you can remain stable while doing this, move on to extending and lifting one leg. If not, practice this part of the exercise until you've built more strength in your core and the backs of your legs. 

  4. From the shoulder bridge prep position, inhale and bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest, and then extend your right leg toward the ceiling. Engage your abdominal muscles and your hamstrings; they should be doing the work of keeping your pelvis stable and lifted. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.

  5. Exhale and lower your right leg, going for as much length as you can manage, until your knees are aligned. Reach toward the wall in front of you with the knee of your supporting leg, your extended leg, and your tailbone while at the same stretching the back of your head in the opposite direction.

  6. If you feel strong and your position is stable with your chest open, hips even, and pelvis lifted, go on to the next step. If you are getting a little shaky here, this is a good time to fold your working leg down to the floor, rest, and repeat the shoulder bridge prep and leg raise with your left leg. 

  7. On an inhale flex your right foot and kick your leg up toward the ceiling. Keep your hips even. Don't allow the hip on the side of your working leg to lift up as you kick.

  8. Exhale and return your foot to a slight point, bend your knee toward your chest, and then lower your foot to the floor. Roll down through your spine to return to your starting position.

  9. Do up to 5 repetitions with each leg.

Common Mistakes

You want to keep your back lifted and long, not allowing it to either arch or sag. It's important to recognize when you aren't ready to do the full movement. Don't go forward from the prep position unless you are able to hold the bridge stable. Don't go on to the kick unless you are stable with your leg extended.

The movements during shoulder bridge should be controlled, continuous, and coordinated with your breathing. As you progress from the prep to the leg extension to the kick up, remember that one or two moves with proper form are better than several with sloppy form.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

You can develop the skills and the core strength you'll need for shoulder bridge in stages. Start by practicing just the hip lift (the prep), before moving on to lifting one foot off the mat. As you build muscle strength and stability you'll be able to execute the entire move. Doing pelvic curl is a good way to warm up for shoulder bridge.

Up for a Challenge?

For a fun variation, try shoulder bridge with feet on a medicine ball or on an exercise ball.

Safety and Precautions

You should use caution or avoid this exercise is you have an injury to your back, wrist, knee, or elbow. You will feel the stretch of the extension, but if you experience any pain, gently release the move back to the mat.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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