Side Bridge

Q: I've implemented the side bridge in my workouts for my lower back. Truth is, I suck at this exercise! I can't hold it for too long. How can I make it easier?

A: Well, you can start by bending your knees to decrease the lever arm and thus the loading. If it is still difficult or the supporting shoulder cannot take the load, then there is a way to perform this off of an adjustable bench as outlined in the book Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance by Dr. Stuart McGill. But unless you are a 90 year old grandmother who considers walking as exercise instead of basic locomotion, then there is yet another method…

The most appropriate name for this exercise is the side bridge lateral raise but you can also call it a Sicilian lateral raise if you consider the mafia analogy I gave from one of my first articles. This is basically a hybrid movement that combines two movements: the side bridge with a lateral raise.

Simple right? Yes and no.

The paradox with this movement is that it makes the exercise more challenging while making it easier. What do I mean by that? Well, many people struggle to keep their hips up and torso straight. I have found that if you add the lateral raise movement to the side bridge, it actually diverts one's attention to try to complete a prescribed number of repetitions with the lateral raise… they don't realize that they are conducting a side bridge at the same time. The time under tension often increases by adding the lateral raise component!

McGill's camp has shown that endurance as opposed to strength is important for low back health and the side bridge imposes modest lumbar compression with a high muscle challenge.

As outlined in my Lateral Thinking for Wide Shoulders article, the first 15-30 degrees of shoulder abduction targets the supraspinatus – one of four muscles that make up the rotator cuff and thus contribute to shoulder stability. So here's a way to primarily hit the quadratus lumborum and obliques statically while working the supraspinatus and medial deltoid dynamically. In other words, this is a method to work on both shoulder and core stabilizers at the same time. It makes for a great finisher.

By the way, two similar movements that I often prescribe are the side bridge external rotation and the side bridge rear deltoid raise – refer to my article On The Road To Inactivity for a demonstration of these exercises. Try one of these versions at the end of your workout and let me know how it goes.