The bridge exercise is one common to many varied forms of exercise. Put basically, the bridge is where you lie on your back and lift your backside up in the air. Apart from all of the benefits that will be discussed, the great thing about this exercise is that anyone can do it and no equipment is required. You can find variations on this theme in pilates, yoga, rehabilitation and strength training. In pilates, yoga and rehabilitation you will “roll” your spine to get up into this position. In yoga you will often then extend further into an arched position. There are also one-legged and elevated versions which subtly change the stimulus and therefore benefit provided by the exercise. In strength training you will typically maintain a neutral position with your lumbar spine throughout the entirety of the movement, often with a weight added to your pelvis, for example a weighted barbell. This variation is known as the hip thrust. All of these variations have their rationale and provide a variety of benefits. Recently there have been several new peer-reviewed articles published on the topic looking at which exercises target the glute muscles the best, and guess which exercise won?
Cochrane, D. J., Harnett, M. C., & Pinfold, S. C. (2017). Does short-term gluteal activation enhance muscle performance? Research in Sports Medicine (Print)
Andersen, V., Fimland, M. S., Mo, D. A., Iversen, V. M., Vederhus, T., Hellebø, L. R. R., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2017). Electromyographic Comparison Of Barbell Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift And Hip Thrust Exercises: A Cross-Over Study. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research
The hip thrust created greater gluteus maximus activation (20-28% higher) than squat and deadlift when matched for weight. This is possibly due to less complexity as the hip joint is the main moving joint whereas the other two exercises involve a large range of motion from the knee joint.
The glute bridge won out over six other ‘glute activation’ exercises in its ability to increase the ability of the glute muscles to engage. Using cues that encourage you to push your hips up and rotate your knees out also further increase this activation. This also suggests some benefit to performing bridges early on in your workout.
If you only had one exercise, the bridge would go close to being your choice.