October 24, 2011

How To Lift With Your Legs

5 Tips For Decreasing Lower Back Stress

When working with clients that have chronic low back pain, I find that teaching them to take of themselves outside of the gym is just as important as the training and soft-tissue regimen. If a client comes into my clinic and performs one hour of great work but goes and landscapes their backyard the following day with bad lifting technique and goes overboard, our success will be shortchanged. The following five tips will assist in decreasing the amount of stress on your back, whether you are in pain or not.


  1. Always try to use your legs when lifting.
    I know this one sounds redundant, but I still catch many of my clients doing just that. Flexing your back while trying to lift a heavy load will increase disk pressure dramatically and also stress important spinal stabilizer muscles. Maintain an upright position and squat down to pick up the load. If your legs are too weak to lift in this fashion, either get started on a strengthening program or get someone else to do it!
  2. When lifting objects try to keep them as close to your body as possible.
    I can’t tell you how many people come to see me because they blew their back out trying to reach for a heavy load that was far away from them. The closer the weight is to the body, the less weight is imposed on the spine. This, by the way, also includes that extra belly weight!
  3. Avoid rounding or flexing your spine for prolonged periods of time.
    Activities such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes can quickly create fatigue in the spinal stabilizers in the individual with back pain. The best choice to make in this type of situation is to squat down with your feet wide apart and keep your back straight. This will move you closer to the activity and make your legs do the work!
  4. Distribute loads equally between each side of the body when possible.
    This rule can be applied to individuals that carry a briefcase or mothers that carry their children. Holding a weight on one side of the body increases the stress on the spine and its associated muscles. This can quickly lead to overload and also muscle imbalances. Many mothers frequently have an elevated hip on the side that they carry their child on. When carrying something heavy, if possible try to carry something equally heavy in the other arm or carry it in the center of your body.
  5. Stretch and move your back after prolonged sitting or inactivity.
    Moving around every few minutes will serve to “pump” nutrients and blood flow to stagnate areas. Sitting on a swiss ball, for example will keep your body’s stabilizer muscles activated and will decrease compressive loading on your spine.

By taking the steps outlined above you can effectively decrease the amount of stress that your back endures throughout the day.

How To ACTUALLY Lift With Your Legs!

This is one you undoubtedly heard from doctors, therapists over and over again, but how do you actually do it? No one ever seems to actually be instructing the how-to portion of this advice, so I thought I’d write an article on it! Here we go!

Lifting with the legs involves a few concepts that we need to discuss first. I always like to teach the “why” because that installs motivation to follow my advice. In my experience of working with back pain sufferers, I find a common trend amongst them. Many individuals with back pain seem to think that their butt is their back. Let me explain.

The back muscles by comparison are much weaker than the glute muscles (butt muscles). Therefore, it only makes sense to a back pain sufferer to decrease as much stress on the lower back as possible. When you “lift with your legs” you are using your hips and butt muscles to lift instead of the lower back.

Here is a demonstration of lifting with your back:

In the picture, my spine is rounding to lift up the object. The stress load is going directly to my spine at the initial part of the movement. This can be a very dangerous lifting posture for individuals with back pain. If there is a herniated disc present, this lifting posture can increase disc pressure dramatically and increase your chances of blowing the disc. This lifting posture is what I refer to as using your back as your butt.

Now here is a demonstration of lifting with your hips/butt/legs:

In this picture, the spine is held in extension and the bending is happening at the hips. The spine is secure and the load is transferred effectively to the hips. The lifting posture is very safe and is the one I advise all of my clients to use.

When Lifting:

Take a breath, hold it, draw your belly button toward your spine, then as you lift emphasize squeezing your glutes together and keeping your back extended. Slowly exhale throughout the entire lifting phase.

There is a challenge to using this lifting posture. Many people lack the flexibility to be able to get into this position. If you are not flexible enough, then you will round your back in the bottom position. This is not good! For the movement to be safe, you MUST be able to extend your spine fully.

This means that improving flexibility should be first and foremost before attempting to lift things from the ground. The second option of course is to use a lunge-type posture to get to the floor and lift the object. However, if the object is too heavy and you don’t have the flexibility yet, then simply ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO HELP YOU!

Practice using this lifting posture and you will dramatically reduce your chances of back injury!


This article was contributed by Sam Visnic who is a Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiologist based out of Los Angeles, California. If you would like to contact Sam for a personal consultation, you can visit his website at http://www.samvisnic.com/.

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