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.

Why lift from your legs?

Most back injuries are related to improper lifting. Your injury may not occur the first or even the tenth time you put undue strain on your back. Rest assured that it will probably come, though. Back injuries are usually the result of long term wear and tear. In other words, the damage is cumulative. If you don’t take care of your back, eventually it will not take care of you.

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.

Lifting from your legs does not mean you won’t use your back at all. Again, the core, which includes the back, is involved with most every movement we make. It is how you involve your back when lifting that helps protect you from injury. The key when lifting is to:

  • Engage your core, keep your abs pulled in
  • Avoid overly curving your back or slouching as you lift
  • Avoid twisting your trunk, your legs and arms should do most of the moving
  • Keep the weight close to your body
  • Get a sense of how heavy the weight is (compared to your ability) before you lift
  • Stand with feet slightly apart
  • Breathe normally

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.