Preschoolers and Backbends/Bridges

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May 20, 2009
I know I've read a lot of stuff about how preschoolers (under 5) should not be put in backbends/bridges because it can result in long term spinal damage. I have never put my 3 1/2 year old in one and at her gymnastics class all the instructor does is have them lay on their back on the floor, bend their knees and put their hands by their ears on the floor. If they push up, they do so on their own. The instructor does not pull them into a backbend/bridge at all. However, my daughter has figured out how to do it and can pretty much do a full backbend by herself, head off the floor and everything.

Should I stop her from doing this, or since she can do it on her own does it mean that it's ok? Is it more of a problem to pull them up in one before they're ready? I'm not sure I can fully stop her since she runs around doing somersaults and stuff all day long, but if it's something I should be concerned about I'll definitely try.

I guess I just wanted to find out if it's more of a concern putting a child in a backbend/bridge before they're ready and can do it on their own, rather than the child just learning it and doing it on their own by themself. (Did that make sense?)

Sorry if this was longwinded. :)


Proud Parent
Proud Parent
Sep 25, 2007
I am putting off putting my 3 year old in gym because they do let the little ones bridge up and I think I have seen some actually help some 4 year olds into bridges at DDs gym. I have freaked myself out too much to let her do that and have forbidden her big sister "coach" from letting her do them. She is allowed to do tables and table walks when they are playing gym.

I did not know anything about the recommendation to not have them do bridges until after 5 years old with my first daughter, by the time I had come here, she was 5 1/2 and already doing kickovers, etc. Had I known, I don't know what I would have done.

Here are some good threads on bridges and preschoolers from way back. :)
Jul 26, 2008
My 3yo ds is in a preschool class. They only do tabletops until they move up to "regular" class.

That said, my now 6yo dd was doing bridges on her own at 4. She was not TAUGHT to do them but figured it out on her own because she is just that way, kwim? I had NO idea it could cause spine issues, but it was never really a concern (to me) either. I just figured it was another KID thing, kwim?

Off to read the links from mariposa!
May 20, 2009
Thank you Mariposa for your response. I checked out those threads and I'm going to try to not let her do bridges at home anymore, just to be on the safe side. We're moving out of state in a couple of months and they only do bridges at her gym every 2-3 weeks, and really just for a second if they push up at all (again, the instructor just puts them in bridge position, does not ever pull them up) so I'm not going to worry about that or bring it up with the coach. Thanks for those links though. They were very helpful! :thumbsup:


Jul 5, 2007
It is more of a problem to pull them up, IMO, although I don't do any bridges at all with any preschool classes.

I think the recommendation is a good one, but at the same time I think it's mainly aimed at preventing the smaller kids from actually doing bridge work and working on unsupported bridging skills (walkovers, handsprings, etc) when there are other skills, drills, and fun things they can do more safely to develop strength, flexibility, and coordination.

It's also a broad recommendation and personally I feel that some kids who have reached the fifth birthday are not ready physically. With my youngest level classes, I will avoid extensively assisting a child with a bridge if I think they don't seem stable enough. In fact I rarely assist bridges at all...just have them do elevated bridges (feet up higher) so they can assist themselves. My assistance is usually limited to making good bridges better - legs straight and together, correcting head position, etc

If I was in your position...I probably wouldn't be happy, but I don't know if I would be that concerned (provided that the bridge work does not increase). Certainly I'd probably discourage it at home.
May 26, 2008
I'm not a doctor or gymnastics coach so my opinion really means nothing, but I'll share anyway.

I too was concerned with my DD who was probably 3 at the time I read the other thread. She bridged on her own. They did a little in her class, but no forcing. Her dad is a gym coach and said it was fine as long as she did it on her own and wasn't being stretched or pushed. That wasn't very reassuring though because he could be wrong.

I finally asked my pediatrician about it. He seemed to think it was perfectly fine as long as she wasn't doing bridges excessively. He didn't feel a few minutes daily was anything to worry about.

She's 4 now and still does them. She goes 2 hours twice a week. They do bridges from laying down and from a standing position and then kick-over. She also works on backhandsprings, backwalkovers etc.

I admit I'm still concerned at times because if it is hurting her back it won't be until later that we'd know anything. Overall of her 2 hour practice they don't spend a lot of time doing these skills. There's plently of work on bars, beam, vault, dance and conditioning.
May 25, 2009
We do not let preschoolers do bridges at my gym. I know that just a few bridges here and there that are only held for a few seconds may seem harmless, but it is better to be on the safe side. Almost all former gymnasts and coaches I know, including myself, have back problems, possibly because this recomendation wasn't made when we were younger. I would just explain to your DD that there are plenty of other things she can work on at home that aren't bridges. I also show them what an arched back looks like and say "you shouldn't make this shape with your back until your older" and they actually respond vey well to it.
May 26, 2008
I don't think there's anyway to know whether doing bridges at a young age caused former gymnasts to have back problems because most gymnasts have had years and years of pounding. I know many gymnasts who started at older ages and have back problems too. Most kids who start as preschoolers don't stay with the sport and probably have completely normal backs. I'm not saying it's good, just pointing out that there's no real way to know.


My preschooler's don't do bridges at all. When there are ready I make sure the do egg rocks. All kids will try one time or another but teaching them to excerise their backs can be important as well. I find the best way is have them lay on their backs in a curl position legs bent to their chest and rock backwards and forwards. This helps any strain on their backs.


the biggest danger of allowing bridges is the pressure and tension on the spine.

elevate this and focus on open shoulders and there isn't as much pressure on the spine. elevate it to the point there where it's more like a handstand than a bridge. that's what I do or put them on a ball or octagon. they learn the concept.

most beginner bridges have a closed shoulder angle and thus really flex the spine a lot to hold the position.
Feb 8, 2008
When I started coaching preschool I was told not to do bridges in class, but if the kids were doing it on their own it was fine.

I also heard that you can usually tell when it's okay to start doing bridges when they can put their arm over their head and bend at the elbow and their arm is over their head (does that make sense?), which is usually around the age of five.


Jul 5, 2007
I am really curious about this as I help with preschool classes (3-5) and we do put them in bridges, pulling them up and the whole 9 yards. Is this just an opnion or is there acutal medical reserch on it somewhere? If there is can someone PM me a link? Please PM it to me as I will have a better chance at getting it as I will probably forget to check back in this post.

Thank you!

It is a recommendation put forth by USAG. Look through the "preschool" section of this site and you will see the reasoning behind it in several threads by a USAG "higher up." Personally, teaching little kids classes, I think it's just common sense. It seems obvious to me by casual observation most of them simply lack the muscle structure for this skill, and that on top of the fact that it's unnecessary at that age, just doesn't make much sense to be pulling them in that position.


Jul 5, 2007
So from what I gather their is no solid actual medical research on it just some "high up" guys opnion?

Well no, they didn't decide this randomly. I'm not going to search for all the links, but again the muscular structure at these ages just doesn't support this skill. Preschoolers have this head/body imbalance thing going on.

If you say we should not be doing this based on the fact that they don't have the muscles yet to do it then really why do we teach them anything besides tuck jumps?

It's not really the same thing. Generally I think preschool classes should be minimal spot and progressive movement oriented. They should be using their own muscles as much as possible, and it's really about the different shapes and surfaces and movements. Designing a good preschool program takes serious consideration. It's not just level 1 for a shorter attention span.

We also "spot" aka pull them over doing back rolls and pull them up into a handstand and pull them around in a cartwheel

These things are generally okay, but I only do back rolls with an incline and torso spot for preschoolers under 5. Cartwheels, eh, I don't bother too much until the 4/5 classes, we always have them do "cartwheel jumps" with the panel mat but until they're strong enough to donkey kick on their own, it's the same thing with the head and muscle's generally just not going to happen.

don't have the ability to do those things alone so why are they okay?

Because they are fundamentally different skills.

In reality wrists and shoulders could get hurt in handstands, and necks in back rolls.

There is some evidence and focus that we should limit rolling and headstands except under certain circumstances, using certain techniques. I don't do headstands with preschoolers, with back rolls there is some technique where they should wrap their arms around their head so when they roll they are using their elbows, this is currently what i believe is recommended if you go through the new version of KAT training. I don't always do this, because I just don't let them do it by themselves at all until they show readiness. In general I spot it at varying degrees, and for the youngest kids I am doing almost all of the work...I just want to make sure they have "flat" contact with the mat the entire time.

I am no trying to be rude I just like to see good solid evidence before I believe anything. Also does anyone know of any actual cases where a child got hurt doing a back bend?

I would be more surprised if people didn't know of any. I could give many plus overuse. They may not be serious injuries but it's a concern. At all levels of gymnastics, back problems are the continual complaint. This is something we need to take seriously. USAG needs to be designing MORE/BETTER recommendations to address this, not less (I appreciate that the bridging was replaced with a hinge back and crab stand in the level 1 and 2 routines...this is the kind of appropriate skill progression design that we need).


Proud Parent
Oct 10, 2009
I just joined this site and this is really good information.

My oldest is 6.5 and in fast tracks (pre team... team starts at level 4). However, my 3.5 year old daughter is OBSESSED with gymnastics and following right behind her big sister. She can push up into a backbend and kick over no problems. We are very amazed but I never thought about it possibly causing problems. The teachers do bridges with all the kids in her K4/K5 class (they moved her up from K3 because she is kind of advanced for her age... they are talking about putting her in fast tracks after Christmas) although most of them cannot do them by themselves yet.


Jul 5, 2007
I'd like to direct people to the excellent posts by Beth Gardner in this thread:

I think it is simply not true that the issue is whether they can do it themselves or not...the issue is how much stress is being placed in the back relative to the shoulders. This goes for all ages but again there are other anatomical issues with preschoolers...head size relative to body, also stressing growth plates.

I believe there is also a gymnastics minute segment on youtube about bridging featuring this poster.

I'm not suggesting that people freak out and think a kid is damaged for life from doing bridges, but this is not an issue to take lightly either, especially from the industry side of it. Back issues are one of the number reasons girls I knew quit once we were optionals, and better physiological education and understanding from a coaching standpoint is key to minimizing this stress.
Sep 19, 2008
Gymdog is right. In the preschool instruction education class offered by USAG we were told not to do bridges with 5 or under. Their heads are too big, literally up to a quarter of their body weight. Most don't have the coordination, musculature, or both to maintain a correct bridge. The class also mentions not introducing positions that a child of that age can't initiate on their own, so I wouldn't 'help' them up to a bridge either personally.

That said I know their are some precocious kids that can do them no problem. I've seen advanced preschool classes where kids do them beautifully. There's room for common sense regarding that rule I think, and bridges or kickovers can be modified for kids that are ready. Generally speaking for your average beginner preschooler who just walked in the gym I'd avoid it though.
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