Backbend to Bridge

I wrote this blog post in 2014, but still stand by it how it is. Enjoy!

Emmet Louis, January 2020

The back bend to bridge aka the dropback or the half limber is one of the big flexibility milestones for my students. To do properly it shows we’ve achieved good total range of motion over the whole anterior chain of the body as well as this range of motion we’ve also developed good active flexibility and bodily control. Once this is attained most other back bending type exercises, walk overs, limbers, valdez etc are a relatively straight forward progression.

So to learn this I generally aim to have people in a good bridge before spending a large chunk of our time on the progressions below. That’s not to say you can’t start them before you’ve got  good bridge. Progress will just be faster if you have.

I start people with the standing arch drill and we aim to have a comfortable 30 – 45 seconds before moving onto the next drill. This is definitely one of the under used bodyline drills. In general I feel people could benefit from the use of standing bodyline drills in their programs.

The next drill in the sequence is the arch back to box with head just touching. The idea behind this drill is to learn to one control the lowering by pushing the hips forward at the same time as the torso arching and two to use the abs to pull out of the arch. 5 sets of 5 reps is a good short term goal for this. Use a box just below the pec line is a good start.

Once this has been achieved the next step is to take arms over head and also to begin to let the knees bend more. 5 x 5 is once again a good aim here once you reach that then lowering the box. Sometimes I’ll just program total reps in this situation when someone is just learning the motion. ie give them ten minutes to finish 12 – 15 reps. Depends on the person and stage of their developement.

Next or concurrently I’ll start teaching the student how to transfer weight from hands to feet and vice versa in a normal bridge. This movement is not too challenging and is generally done for skill, ie work on getting it nice and smooth. It can be advanced by trying to lift the feet or hands 5cm off the ground and lowering back slow as possible. No real sets or reps I just will have a chunk of time devoted to practicing this during practice.

Once all the above have been addressed the actual movement itself is a straightforward affair. Once the student is pulling from a 20cm box for 5 reps they’ll generally be able to pull once from the floor. Some students will need hand spotting to maintain correct position when trying from the floor.

All the good contortion teachers I know recommended always training the front of the body with roughly the same intensity as the back so on days when I have bridge programmed I’ll also program Jefferson curls or a different front bending exercise. 3 – 4 sets of 5 – 10 reps with a pause in the bottom is good here.