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This 1 move will stretch your shoulders, tone your butt and improve posture

To reap all the benefits of the bridge pose, you need to slow down.
The bridge pose opens the chest and shoulders and engages the abdominals, helping to improve poor posture.
The bridge pose opens the chest and shoulders and engages the abdominals, helping to improve poor posture.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

We are all strapped for time. That’s why I love any exercise that works double duty — or in this case triple duty! Upon first glance the bridge pose works your glutes. But at the same time, it is also opening the chest and shoulders and engaging the abdominals, helping to improve poor posture.

However, as a yoga and Pilates instructor, I often see many of my clients moving too quickly through the bridge pose to reap it’s benefits. For this exercise, slow and steady wins the race.

What does bridge pose do for the body?

Bridge pose works the quads, glutes, low back, and transverse abdominis. Strengthening these muscles, and more importantly getting them to work together as one unit, improves balance and stability in the pelvis and core. When you move into the final expression of the pose with your hands clasped underneath your lifted glutes, you’ll also be opening up the chest and the shoulders to combat poor posture.

The common mistakes people make when doing bridge pose

Part of the goal of bridge pose is to stabilize the core, but when the knees splay open wider than the hips, that stability begins to fade. So it’s important to keep the knees open only as wide as the hips and the feet closer to the glutes as opposed to further forward on the mat.

Another mistake is not engaging the core by pulling the naval in toward the spine. This is supposed to feel like a rest for the low back rather than a strain. Follow these tips to help avoid common mistakes:

  • Engage your abdominals throughout the entire bridge pose.
  • When setting up for the bridge pose, bend your knees with your feet flat on the mat and make sure you can reach your heels with your fingertips. That’s how you’ll know that your feet are close enough to your butt.
  • Press your feet down into the ground and keep your knees in line with your hips as you rise up into bridge pose.
  • Tuck your shoulders under as you clasp your hands to really open up the chest.

How to do a modified bridge pose

In order to reap the benefits of the pose, it’s important to be able to engage all of the proper muscle groups. If you’re struggling with the traditional yoga bridge pose, it’s okay to perform a modified version. In doing so, you’ll work your way up to the full move.

Instead of lifting your hips up as high as you can go, only lift them up halfway. Then, instead of clasping your hands underneath you, keep your arms straight out from your shoulders with the palms and arms flat on the floor.

After some practice, you’ll be able to lift your hips up higher and the shoulders will open up more so that you can clasp the hands underneath you.

How to perform bridge pose correctly

Bridge pose is a great chest opener that really works the glutes and core. If you’re ready to conquer the move, follow these 5 steps:

  1. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground as wide as your hips. Reach your fingertips toward your heels so that they’re able to graze the back of you heel.
  2. Press down through your feet and pull your naval in toward your spine to lift up into bridge pose.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and make sure your knees do not open out wider than your hips.
  4. Clasp your hands underneath you and tuck the shoulders underneath your upper back. Pretend that there’s an egg between your chin and chest and you don’t want to crack it!
  5. Hold here for 5 slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Then release the clasp and slowly lower down to the starting position. Repeat 2 more times.

4 exercises that will help you perform bridge pose better

You can work your glutes and core in other ways to help you prep for bridge pose. Here are some exercises that will help:

Wall squat

Standing with your back to the wall, walk your feet a few feet forward from the wall. Rest your back against the wall. Bend your knees so that you lower down into a squat with your quads working towards a 90-degree angle (parallel) with the floor. Make sure your knees stay tracking over your feet and that they do not open to the sides. Press down through the feet to come up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

Pelvic tilt

Lie down on a mat with your hands at your sides. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the ground. Inhale and fill your stomach up with air. As you exhale, tilt your pelvis forward so that your low back is pressing into the ground with the abdominals engaged. Inhale and release. Repeat 10 times.

Chest opener

Standing up straight, clasp your hands behind your back. Bring your shoulder heads back and open your chest as you pull your arms away from your back. Hold for 5 breaths, and then release.

Leg lift to the back

Standing up straight with your feet as wide as your hips, reach your right leg straight out behind you. Squeeze the glute to lift the right leg up toward the sky. Hold for a second and then lower it down to the ground. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.

More ways to master the move