The Lift With Your Back REPACK
It sounds almost like a mantra we have heard it so many times. Lift with your legs, not with your back to avoid injury. But is the age old advice actually true? The short answer is, yes. Although there is some disagreement about the value of lifting from your back and your knees when dead lifting, lifting from your legs is almost always the safest way to go.
The Lift with Your Back
Lifting from your legs gives you the power and stability you need to move weights without hurting your back. Back injuries are among the most common form of injury in the United States. Such injuries are almost always avoidable.
Another important key for safely lifting is to notice where you feel the exertion. When you lift with your legs you should feel your legs doing most of the work. Lifting with your back often feels like a muscle in your back is pulling or straining. You may even feel a bit off balance. Put the weight down, adjust your form and begin again.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts you will overstrain your back. Resist the temptation to retire to the couch, inactivity is the enemy of strong backs. Continue exercising as much as safely possible. The activity will help strengthen your back. Also do core work such as side planks, hip bridges and lunges to keep your back in the best shape possible.
"Use your legs" is commonly perceived as sound advice to prevent lifting-related low-back pain and injuries, but there is limited evidence that this directive attenuates the concomitant biomechanical risk factors. Body segment kinematic data were collected from 12 men and 12 women who performed a laboratory lifting/lowering task after being provided with different verbal instructions. The main finding was that instructing participants to lift "without rounding your lower back" had a greater effect on the amount of spine flexion they exhibited when lifting/lowering than instructing them to lift "with your legs instead of your back" and "bend your knees and hips". It was concluded that if using verbal instructions to discourage spine flexion when lifting, the instructions should be spine- rather than leg-focused.
If you lean forward, with legs straight/extended, and add the weight of picking up an object, your hamstrings stretch and your lumbar extensors act as the primary lifters. Legs are like hydraulic lifts or jacks that have supreme pressing power to lower and lift the trunk of the body. The glutes stabilize movement between the legs and trunk.
Ensure reciprocal inhibition of the psoas by bending your knees and flexing your glutes and erector spinae muscle group when lifting. The result will be released psoas and hip flexors, so you decrease risk of low back strain or disturbing the intervertebral discs.
Your back will generally increase in strength and the glutes will become well conditioned for future bending. Secure your torso by flexing the abdominal muscles and press off of the legs during an inhale. An inhale naturally forces the body into opening and extending out. If you exhale during a squat, it decreases oxygen force and lessens the intake needed to pump into the large muscles for power.
This may be because you have injured the muscles, ligaments, or disks in your spine in the past. Also, as we get older our muscles and ligaments become less flexible. And, the disks that act as cushions between the bones of our spine become more brittle as we age. All of these things make us more prone to having a back injury.
If your work requires you to do lifting that may not be safe for your back, talk to your supervisor. Try to determine the most weight you should have to lift. You may need to meet with a physical therapist or occupational therapist to learn how to safely lift this amount of weight.
Combine this with lifting repetitions, and back injuries are often the result. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that 51 pounds is the maximum safe lifting weight under ideal lifting conditions (which rarely occur) for most workers.
These laws stated that all employers had to regularly educate and train all their employees, in both manual and non-manual based jobs on the importance and need for correct posture, workplace ergonomics and safe lifting techniques. This meant all employees are taught to lift anything weighing over 10kg close to the body and with a straight spine to avoid the risk of a back injury.
When it comes to the risks of back pain and injury when lifting it may not matter that much how you lift things, but rather if you are ready and prepared to lift things, both physically and psychologically.
It could also be argued that the constant advice to only lift with a straight back could be one of the reasons FOR the increasing amounts of back pain in our populations (ref). Constantly telling people to avoid bending, flexing, and twisting their backs under loads, can leave them weakened, deconditioned and under-prepared to tolerate these stress and strains when they inevitably occur in life.
Our constant advice to constantly avoid spinal movements outside of neutral is, in my opinion, a significant reason for the steady increase in chronic persistent back pain. I think all spines, in all people, need to be exposed to all movements, and all varieties of loads and forces, including spinal flexion when lifting things,
However, this avoidance should never be permanent, because for me the craziest thing any physio, coach, or trainer can do is ask someone to only do something, like lifting, one way all the time, forever. This would be like asking someone to only eat one type of food forever, drink one type of beer forever, or listen to one physio on the internet forever. This would be both disturbing and depressing and we would never dream of telling people this, so why is it any different with movement and exercises such as lifting.
Avoid making any sudden or awkward movements when lifting, this can often lead to strained or pulled muscles. Plan your movements before lifting the heavy object. Clear a path that you can easily get through before lifting, navigating through clutter with a heavy object in your hands is a sure way to get injured or have an accident. Keeping the object closer to your body will also help you keep that object in better balance.
We have all heard that tried and turn adage; lift with your knees, not your back. This will never be more true than when you are packing up your home or office to move to a new location. However, in our rush to get this unpleasant task finished, we often times forget about some basic tips and rules that will not only save our backs, but time and energy, as well.
Tip # 1 Wear proper footwear: Before you even think about lifting anything, be sure to wear good shoes with great grips. Flip-flops, high heels or bare feet are not good choices, even if they do match your pants and shirt.
Tip # 3 Bend & Stretch: Yes! Doing some light bending and stretching before lifting is a great way to warm up your muscles. This will cut down on strains and pulls and save you some pain down the road.
Tip # 7 Use your knees: Squatting down to pick up a box is the recommended position. Never bend from the waist to haul a heavy box. This is how you blow out your lower back and find yourself on AFV.
Now that we have given you 10 great tips on moving heavy boxes, you should never find yourself in the misery of injury. However, if you feel the need to show off your lifting skills, be sure to have someone standing by with a video camera rolling.