Lifting and Your Body

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 13th, 2012)

Proper Lifting MechanicsThis week I moved into a new place, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to visit the issue of Lifting. How many people have come away from a move groaning and griping about a sore back or even found that they hurt themselves so badly they cannot move! We all know someone like that if it’s own parents, a friend, or even ourselves. Lifting is such a ubiquitous action in our lives that it only makes sense to make sure we’re doing it right. From lifting a casserole out of the oven or taking out the trash, to moving a fridge or a couch.

So let’s talk about how to lift properly. Unlike a lot of the exercises and movements we have discussed on this blog, lifting involves the whole body, not any single part. It is very similar to squatting with some added aspects. I’m going to break it down today to try to simplify it for you today. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up!

Feet
Plant your feet firmly on the ground with your weight evenly distributed between them. You need a strong base to lift anything. This will reduce the risk of falling if anything shocks you, life a burn or a sudden shift in the weight. Generally place your feet about shoulder width apart when squatting and lifting to provide the best angle for your knees and hips but a lot of the time this is not possible. So place your feet as close to the edges of what you are lifting as possible, while still leaving enough room for your arms to reach around and your hands to grasp what you are lifting.
Keep your feet firmly planted while squatting down and while lifting. Do not rise up on your toes or rock back on your heels.

Knees
The role of the knees in lifting is the exact same as in a squat. You need to make sure that they do not drift in our out while bending or straightening. As well, you want to keep your knees above your toes. The ligaments in our knees become overly strained when our knees travel in front of the toes with the weight of our bodies alone. So add the weight of whatever you are about to lift to your body and you drastically increase the risk of serious injury to the ligaments. Injuries like that can take a very long time to heal and can be quite debilitating.

Hips and Pelvis
The hips should be doing the majority of the movement and your thighs and buttocks should be the driving force when lifting. Before any other action occurs tilt your pelvis forward to stick out your bum, just like when squatting. This helps to maintain a healthy curve to your low back and make sure you use your gluts are the main powerhouse lifters.

Low Back
The human low back is built for mobility rather than stability as we have discussed before. This makes it vulnerable to injury. Maintaining a healthy curve and using your core to stabilize is essential to avoiding injuries while lifting. Proper use of your hips and shoulders will aid this effort.

Upper back and Shoulders
Just like the low back, the shoulder joint is an oft used and abused structure. The rotator cuff muscles are designed to keep the head of the humerus (the top bone in your arm) centred on the shoulder blade. They can become strained and injured when the shoulders are not used properly. Before lifting, roll your shoulders back and down and straighten your upper back. This will help to ensure the muscles used to lift the object will be the big and strong muscles of the arm rather than the smaller, stabilizing muscles of the shoulder. The majority of the lifting should be done with the legs anyways. Before lifting, set your arms in the position to hold the object and keep them there while lifting. If you need to readjust your hold, only move your arms after your legs are straight.

Neck
Your neck is not highly involved in lifting but keeping your neck straight will take strain off of your Upper Traps which will help keep your shoulders and upper back properly aligned. It’s easiest to pick a point on the opposite wall and stare at it while lifting to remind yourself of keep your head up and upper back straight. There is a natural urge to look at the thing you are lifting but this rounds your back over and pulls your shoulders forward. If you watch competitive weight lifting you’ll notice that the pros never look down. So I suggest squat down and settle your arms into place then look at the wall and straighten your shoulders. Only then should you try to lift.

One last tip to remember is to breathe. Many people try to hold their breath while lifting for some reason but this does not make stable or stronger or anything else. Taking strong, steady, deep breaths while lifting and carrying will help keep the muscles in a good supply of oxygen which cuts down on aches and pains both during and after lifting. Also, remember that the diaphragm is a big player in your core.

I know it’s a lot to remember and keep in your mind when trying to think, “where is that step behind me?” and “where is this heavy thing going?” but it you will be able to move more and feel better afterwards if you follow these rules. Make a habit of lifting everything like this, from your casserole to your kids, and by the time it comes to the big stuff it will be second nature and you won’t have to think about it at all.

Happy lifting and thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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