Moving on, let's go to an exercise commonly known as the bridge. It is taught lying on the back, with the knees bent vertically and the feet close to the hips, arms at the sides. The subject engages the butt and lifts the back off the floor, supporting with the shoulders and feet, perhaps holds for a breath or two, and brings it back down.
As far as that goes, that's fine. But, consider a moment: there are 29 vertebra in the spine. The bottom five, below the pelvis, are fused together and have very little movement. Likewise, the top two (the one connected to your skull and the one immediately below it) are also fused together. That leaves 23 joints in the spine, between the head and the hips, capable of considerable movement.
When you do the bridge as described, most of these joints move little or not at all, as the related muscles serve a primarily stabilizing role. The only considerable movement comes at the hips, shoulders and knees. Furthermore, in many cases, doing the bridge in this manner leaves too much of an arch in the lower back, which can be fine if you're standing upright, but can cause problems when your lower back is taking the stress at the center of a bridge.
Still, one may argue that, as spinal stability is a big part of the reason for this exercise, the lack of movement in most of the vertebra is a good thing. Teach them not to move, and they'll hold more steadily in practical application-that is, daily life.
I feel differently. I suggest that the more specifically one develops the joints in the vertebra and the related muscles, the better they will be at whatever task they're assigned. The more they are put through their motions, the more aware the muscles become and the greater the health benefits to them and the discs (between the vertebra), which tend to compress over time in an unaware spine, causing all kinds of pain.
Also, many people with back problems will find it difficult (painfully so) or impossible to do the bridge as described. I know. I have been one of them.
To my mind, just teaching the vertebra to hold still as a group does not lead to much individual understanding. Why not get to know them individually while using them as a group at the same time?
Starting with a variation that I learned from an excellent dance teacher, Ms. Thelma Hill, I expanded upon it to create a safer and more comprehensive format for the bridge, one beneficial to spines healthy and injured. I call it the Pelvic Curl. It has proven immensely helpful in rehabilitating my lower back, as well as the lower backs of several of my clients.
Now, let's get specific in the set-up. Yes, lie on your back. Yes, bend your knees and bring your feet toward your hips, and make a point to bring them as close to the hips as they will comfortably go.
(However, do not wiggle or lift your back to try to scoot the feet in closer. If you do, your back will not be able to move properly in the exercise. The flexibility at the knees and hips determine how far the feet come in.)
When the feet are close to the hips, the thighs get less involved, which better isolates the spine and seems to create a less stressful angle from which the lower back can work. If you are more comfortable with the legs farther out, and some people are, leave them farther out, but never with more than a 90-degree angle at the knees, as an angle greater than that can cause undue stress in the knees themselves (Photo 10).
Make sure to line up your hips, knees, ankles and toes, hip-width apart, in straight lines from the hips down (Photo 11).
Be sure to keep your knees properly centered throughout the exercise and your feet forward, not turned in or out. Failing to accomplish either of these diminishes some benefits of the movement.
Place your arms