How to Do Shoulder Bridge in Pilates

Step-by-step Instructions for this advanced exercise

Shoulder bridge is a Pilates 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. In a classic Pilates class, shoulder bridge usually comes after the bicycle and is followed by spine twist. 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.


Shoulder Bridge Prep

Women in Home Stretching back on exercise mats. See more from this series:
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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.

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.

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. 


Step 1: Extend One Leg

Shoulder Bridge with Leg Extended picture
copyright Marguerite Ogle

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.


Step 2: Lower One Leg

Shoulder Bridge With Leg Extended
copyright Marguerite Ogle

From step 2, 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. 

If you feel strong and your position is stable with your chest open, hips even, and pelvis lifted, go to step 3. 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 steps 1 and 2 with your left leg. 


Step 3: Flex Kick Up

Prepare to Fold the Leg Back to Starting Position picture
copyright Marguerite Ogle

From step 3, 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.

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.


Shoulder Bridge Notes

Shoulder Bridge Notes
copyright Marguerite Ogle

The movements during shoulder bridge should be controlled, continuous, and coordinated with your breathing. Since it's an advanced exercise, it may be a good idea to review the Pilates principles. For a fun variation, try shoulder bridge with the medicine ball.

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