Bridging for Flexibility in Double Kettlebells Use

Open the Chest, Back and Hips with Bridging

Gymnastics bridge
Baby doing a brdige. Getty images

The Bridge, or Gymnastics Bridge, is a valuable exercise for developing the flexibility for the effective performance of many kettlebell exercises, especially for exercises which use double kettlebells. 

In the double exercises of Clean, Press, Push Press and Jerk, the powerful hip flexors and spinal muscles must lengthen in order to hold the kettlebells in the static Rack position without straining.

In addition, the upper back and chest muscles must lengthen in order to create sufficient extension of the upper body during the bump phase of Jerk and Push Press, when the kettlebells are launched vertically upwards from the torso. As well, to comfortably stabilize two kettlebells overhead in the lockout/fixation phase requires good mobility of the shoulder girdle muscles, chest, and upper back. Without sufficient flexibility in the hip flexors, chest, spinal extensors, and shoulder girdle, one is left holding the kettlebells mostly with the strength of arms, and that will only lead to rapid fatigue and poor results. Practice the Bridge regularly to learn how to extend the body under load, and thereby support the kettlebells with the high-endurance postural muscles, so that the relatively weaker arms can relax while the relatively stronger muscles of the legs and torso can do most of the work, thus granting more support and leading to more repetitions (and the accompanying higher level of fitness).

 

Since most people are quite tight in the hip flexors and trunk extensors (the muscles that run laterally to the spine), the Bridge should be performed in progressive stages, which allows for gradual, safe development of flexibility. 

Here is how to practice and progress the Bridge in stages:

Basic Bridging 

Lie flat on your back with feet flat and knees bent. Press your heels into the floor and lift your pelvis as high off the ground as you can. Press your heels firmly into the floor and aim your navel towards the wall behind you, so that your spine forms a bridge, round in shape. Avoid folding at the spine, which could cause pain and injury, as the spine should not be compressed here, rather lengthened. Form a bridge, not a door that hinges. Keep your shoulders and head flat to the floor. Hold this extended position for 30-60 seconds while taking slow, deep breaths. 

Intermediate Bridging 

To progress beyond the basic version, place the palms flat on the floor just to the outside of your head with the fingers pointing towards the wall behind you and the elbows pointing upwards to the ceiling. This will require sufficient flexibility in the shoulders and chest in order to comfortably place the hands flat on the floor. If the floor surface is hard, place a mat or other soft padding under the head for protection.

Keep the balance with your hands and place the top of the head on the floor. From this starting position, use the top of the head, the hands and the feet as wedges used to press firmly into the floor, and lift your pelvis as high as possible. As before, make sure to point your belly button towards the wall behind you to bridge, and avoid folding the spine like a door hinge. Progress to 30-60 second holds.

Advanced Bridging - the Gymnastic Bridge

To progress further, start from the intermediate bridge position, lift the head from the floor and press strongly through the hands to fully extend the arms, aiming to straighten the elbows. Use your legs to press your body back as you lift your chest and straighten your elbows. The ultimate expression of this posture is to have both arms and both legs fully extended, with no bends in the elbows or knees. It takes excellent flexibility of the spine, hip flexors, shoulders and chest to get into a correct bridge and improving in the bridge will help you greatly in finding a comfortable rack position.

Progress in your bridge training intelligently. Start with the most basic and work slowly into the progressions, never forcing range of motion and paying attention to breathing, never holding your breath. The more you can relax your mind and breathing, the easier your muscles will relax and enable you to assume the positions. With regular practice of the bridge variations, double kettlebell work will be much more comfortable and productive. 

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