How to avoid cramp with the single leg bridge exercise.

Gluteal muscle strength and endurance play a significant role in injury prevention, normalising gait patterns and posture, eliminating pain, and enhancing athletic performance.  Weakness of the gluteal muscle groups tends to be a defining factor in the injury of many athletic performers, especially running based activity. Gluteus medius strengthening has been shown to improve functional recovery and pain reduction in patients following knee meniscus surgery.  It has also been shown that gluteus medius endurance and active hip abduction tests are predictive of individuals at risk for low back pain during prolonged standing. Additionally, gluteus maximus strengthening has resulted in a decrease in low back pain and disability.  The strength of these two gluteal muscles, which comprise about 33% of the hip musculature, is essential for athletic, non-athletic, and post-surgical populations.

The single leg bridge is widely known as one of the best exercises to improve gluteal strength in all areas.  It is so popular as it allows the performer to safely and maximally load the muscle without placing any external load on it and therefore reducing the chances of external causes resulting in injury.  One of the issues with the single leg bridge though is cramp in the hamstrings.  Studies have shown that performing the single leg bridge in it’s ‘usual’ position results in excess of 40% activation of the hamstring muscles.  Cramp may occur as a result of gluteal weakness and high hamstring activation but it is this cramp which often ends in the patient giving up with the exercise and therefore not developing the strength of the gluteal muscles which is so vital for hip stabilisation..

To overcome this, researchers led a small study to see if they could reduce the levels of activation of the hamstring, to prevent cramp, but also maintain the activation of the gluteal muscles which should be the focus of the exercise.  The conclusion at the end of the study was that it is possible to reduce the activation of the gluteal muscles if the knee is flexed at 135 degrees.  This also keeps the activation of the gluteal muscles in line with the original position of 90 degrees, therefore not reducing the impact on overall strength development throughout.

How to avoid cramp with the single leg bridge exercise. Bodylogics

The example here is the ‘usual/expected’ set up of the single leg bridge, with the knee in 90 degree of flexion. The athlete would then extend the hips upwards by pushing through the foot on the floor and push the hips up towards the ceiling. The activation of the hip muscles here are as follows; a) gluteus medius = 59%, b) gluteus maximas = 51%, & c) hamstrings = 75%

How to avoid cramp with the single leg bridge exercise. Bodylogics

The new position here shows the set leg at 135 degree of knee flexion. By holding this position you reduce the activation of the hamstring and focus attention to the gluteal muscle area. Research has shown that this method here has activation levels of the following; a) gluteus medius = %57, b) gluteus maximus = 47%, & c) hamstrings = 24%.

You an see from the data that there is a slight dip in gluteal activation between both exercises but the difference is insignificant. This study here, Neuromuscular activation in conventional therapeutic exercises and heavy resistance exercises: implications for rehabilitation.Andersen LL, Magnusson SP, Nielsen M, Haleem J, Poulsen K, Aagaard PPhys Ther. 2006 May; 86(5):683-97 , showed that for muscular strength adaptations to occur the body only needs to activate between 40-60% of muscle fibres. This exercise falls within this bracket and also helps reduce muscle cramps of the hamstring.

As with any exercise programme though it is advisable you seek professional help from a qualified therapist who can help guide your recovery/training plan. There may be some limitations to this exercise, for example, people recovering from knee replacements may not be able to reach 135 degree ranges and therefore this version of the exercise would not be recommended. If you are unsure of any of the points in the post above then please feel free to reach out to us at Bodylogics and ask to speak with a member of our Team.

This information here has been sourced through the publication of the paper attached here.

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