Glute bridges are a fantastic exercise for anyone, from the elderly to the athlete. Whether you're loading up these glute bridges with a barbell, weight plate, chains, etc., or whether you're using them for a rehab exercise to increase gluteal strength and pelvic control, form is still number one! When I first started adding heavy barbell glute bridges into my training (five years ago now!), I used to get occasional low back pain. It seemed to be worse the heavier the load (from technical breakdown) and also because I'd "reset" by letting the weight plates touch the ground briefly before doing each rep, then initiated again with less than stellar form. Since I never started in the right position, every rep was set up poorly. After scaling back in weight and addressing my form, no more back pain! Here are the two quick tips I used so you can make sure those glute bridges are giving you the biggest bang for your booty.
#1. START in a posterior pelvic tilt before initiating movement.
Your hip position will determine whether you're in a POSTERIOR pelvic tilt (PPT), or an ANTERIOR pelvic tilt (APT.) Here are two demonstrations of both in your starting position.
When you start in this position, you're already engaging your abdominals and positioning your hips in their ideal position for a powerful glute bridge. The same concept applies to all exercises; would you descend into a heavy back squat limp as a wet noodle? No, of course not. You'd get as stiff as possible in the core FIRST, and then initiate movement. Do the same for your glute bridges.
What does an APT look like at the top portion of the bridge?
I intentionally tried to make this subtle, since sometimes the APT can be hard to catch. As you can see, there is a slight arch as I come up. My glutes aren't firing as hard as they should be, and I'm getting more lumbar (low back) extension than I want. This means less work for your glutes, and more strain on the back.
What does a pretty PPT look like at the top portion of the bridge?
Again, subtle differences here, but even a small difference can become a problem especially when under heavy loads. My low back has a decreased arch, my hips are in a strong PPT, and my glutes are squeezing hard to keep my hips in that position. Making sure you start and end in PPT not only helps reduce back pain, but also increases the efficiency of your glutes.
#2. Don't let the hips come up too high.
The hips can only extend so far. In fact, you only have 10-15 degrees of hip extension. Once you reach maximum hip extension, your low back will kick in to get your hips higher (lumbar extension). This decreases the load on the glutes and increases strain on the back.
My beautiful scribbles indicate the knee joint and the shoulder joint. If you run a line through those to points, it isn't centered. You'll also notice that I am back into lumbar extension, due to the fact that I ran out of hip extension going so high. My lumbar spine literally had to extend in order to get more than 15 degrees or so.
In this bridge, I maintain a posterior pelvic tilt and avoid pushing my hips up excessively. Lumbar extension is reduced, and the line from my knee to shoulder is centered down my mid-line. My glutes are firing hard and there isn't any excess stress on my back. A pretty bridge!
Try these two hacks if your back is feeling lousy with the glute bridge. And if you don't already have glute bridges in your programming, well, we're not friends. Really though, glute bridges (or some sort of glute-focused exercise) should definitely be included in your workout. Reduces back pain, increases glute strength and size, and there's a strong chance it'll help improve other lifts like the deadlift and squat. Good luck!