“Do you actually pick things up like that?”
“Like the way you picked up that 5 gallon water jug; completely rounding out your back and neglecting to use your legs as the primary movers of the weight.”
“You lifted with your back, instead of your legs.”
“Ohhhh….That’s bad, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s not the end of the world, or your back….but let’s make a few changes so you can be a little more awesome.”
The Importance of A Strong, Stable Midline
Remember all those people who kept saying, “Lift with your legs, not your back”? Well, they’re right, but what they really should have been saying is “keep your back as vertical as possible, and squat until your hands can get underneath it.”
Having good posture, ie a strong and stable back, can mean the difference between a long, healthy life and one that progressively gets shorter in length, stature, and poorer in health.
A nice straight back is equally dependent on both strength and flexibility. Flexibility facilitates getting into the proper position for lifting, moving, and living in general, and strength provides stability when positioned for different activities. Having the strength (in the back) & flexibility (in the legs, pelvis, and yes, back too) to maintain that nice vertical position may take some conscious practice. These bad habits die hard, and not on their own!
For many of us, standing in that straight, correct posture position may at first feel like we’re sticking our butt or chest out. And at the bottom of the squat, it can even feel like we’re arching! When trying to get work done, both through exercise and with our daily activity, it’s better to have the spine in a nice, straight, braced position that can transfer the awesome power of our legs into the rest of the body.
Your legs are the big movers of the body: they have the biggest muscles, and when combined with the hip, knee, and ankle, the legs have a huge range of motion. However the appendages that actually pick stuff up (the hands) are waaaaay on the other end of our arms! The hands couldn’t be further away from the feet! Because of this, you’ve got anywhere from five to seven feet of “play” where stuff can go wrong, especially when picking stuff up off the ground.
When picking something up from a low level (like the floor) the three major hinges in the body are 1) the knees, 2) the hips, and 3) the shoulders. Those hinges work best if everything attached to them is nice and tight, and can coordinate to provide an efficient application of force from one end of you to the other. Your back shouldn’t really be an “active mover” when lifting things, but function more as a “stable transfer” of power from one end of you to the other. Asking all those little long erectors to do the work that the glutes, hamstrings and quads should be, is asking for inefficiency at best, and injury at worst.
Fix it. Lock it. Do it.
So here’s how you’re going to move stuff around from now on.
1 – You’re going to keep your back as straight and as vertical as possible whenever you move–especially when you pick something up. This may mean looking and feeling a little awkward at first, but it’s going to be way worth it in the long run.
You’re going to make note of how you get up out of your chair. Most of us lean waaay forward when we stand, instead of simply pushing on the ground and standing with our posture intact. By leaning forward, your missing out on utilizing the full range of motion of your legs, and aren’t helping yourself get stronger.
2 – You’re going to get your hips as low as possible when you move–especially when you pick anything up off the ground. Because our hands are attached to our arms, we tend to think that the arms should be the primary way that we pick things up, but it ain’t really so. Getting our hips really low, until our hands touch the ground, will be a much more efficient and less injury prone way to make that happen. You need to think about getting your hips as low as possible when you’re going to pick things up.
This second change (sitting down to pick things up) may take some time. We, as human creatures in this modern Western society think that we pick things up with our hands, but to do so isn’t an efficient or safe use of our body. The entire body should be involved in the process of picking something up, especially something heavy. The more we can get in there and use our whole body consciously, the better.
Something as simple as keeping your back straight and vertical is going to, in the long run, keep you safer as you move, and will also increase your strength by enabling you to engage the biggest muscles to do the most lifting.
And, of course, good positioning and posture doesn’t just to make you more functional–it makes you look good too! ;)