As a new mom, I’m quickly realizing — at my own expense — how important bending properly is. One busy morning, without thinking much, I quickly bent over to lift my daughter and I can tell you that my back complained loud enough for me to take notice. I know what you’re thinking: I’m a coach who knows how to properly lifts weights, so I should know better. That’s what I thought too, but when caught up in a moment, it’s easy to forget. The lumbar pain I experienced lasted several days and did a good job of reminding me how important it is to bend and lift carefully.
How do our backs function?
Before we go through how to move our bodies better, it’s important to understand how our backs are built and how they function. Our backs are built with large and complex muscle groups that work together to support and stabilize our spines. They hold us upright all day long and allow our trunks to twist and bend forward, backward and sideways. To make things clearer, there are three major group muscles located in our trunks that contribute to this, and that will benefit from us learning how to properly lift weights.
Back extensor muscles
Attached to the back of our spines, they allow us to stand up and lift objects whilst keeping our backs nice and straight. When we perform the “hyperextension” exercise, these are the muscles we are stimulating.
Back flexor muscles
Attached to the front of our spines, they allow us to bend forward, lift objects and arch our lower back the opposite way to what we’re used to. When we do a “pelvic tilt” (flattening the curve of the lower back) before an ab exercise, these are the muscles we are activating.
Attached to either side of our spines, they allow us to engage in rotational movements while maintaining proper posture and balance. When we carry out an exercise like Russian twists, these muscles come into play.
Our back muscles directly influence our posture and balance strategies, sending nerve impulses to our brain. Some of our back muscles are meant to “work” all day long and are thus meant to be very endurant. That said, inactivity, improper form and back pain can alter their function so that they become tired in normal everyday situations.
So, how do we learn to properly lift weights? How can we protect our back from injuries when we have to bend and lift many times a day? Let’s tackle this subject together.
Different types of lifts
Bending or lifting weights can be very stressful for our lower back muscles and, when the demand is too stressful for them, we can injure ourselves. When we lift too much weight or adopt a wrong lifting technique, it can create tears in our muscles (muscle strain) which lead to back injury.
Sometimes, the injuries can happen at the level of our intervertebral discs, which act as cushions between each of our spine vertebrae. Through improper lifting techniques, the discs can swell, tear or even sever. An injury to our lower back disks can turn serious very quickly – I’m referring to a herniated disc. So it’s important to know the right ways to bend and lift weights.
There are many different ways to properly bend over and lift objects. It depends on a few factors including the weight of the object to lift, but let’s take a deeper look at a few lifting techniques to learn how to prevent any damage.
The Golfer Lift
This movement is very useful to avoid back injuries when picking up small and light objects or items that can be held in one hand. This lift is similar to the “Balancing warrior” that you can find in our app. This exercise will help strengthen your back muscles and is safe to do with extra weights. Just make sure you move with the right technique.
Instructions: Stand with feet hip-width apart and drive weight into heels to create a stable base. Then, bend forward at the level of your hips while lifting one leg straight out behind you, maintaining a straight spine throughout the movement. Reach for the object with the opposite hand.
This movement is a “functional” exercise, meaning that it’s related to activities we do on a daily basis – it improves our body functionality and autonomy. We do squats almost every time we sit down! So, it’s really one of the best techniques to lift heavy objects from the floor.
Instructions: Stand straight with shoulders above hips, feet hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Drop hips back and down with knees behind toes and hip and ankle in line, so knees don’t collapse inwards. Lower until thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for desired time. Drive weight into heels to stand back up to start position.
This way of lowering yourself closer to the floor is mostly a way to add variety to your daily activities. When you clean the house and want to combine business with pleasure, do lunges and turn that cleaning time into an effective workout!
Instructions: Stand feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with one leg, bending the knee and dropping at the hips. Lower yourself until your rear knee nearly touches the floor and your front knee is directly above your ankle. Drive weight into the lead foot and push off the rear foot to return to start position.
The deadlift is an advance lift and isn’t meant for everyone! If you already have back pain or if you’re not sure about the technique, opt for the squat when it comes to lifting heavy loads. Don’t get me wrong, the deadlift is an amazing movement, but it needs to be done with perfect form to be safe.
Instructions: Feet hip-width apart, keep knees slightly bent and push glutes back. Bend forward, hinging at hips and leading with chest until it’s almost parallel to floor and arms able to reach for objects. Squeeze glutes, and drive weight into heels to slowly lift the torso back to start position.
How to lift weights: The rule of threes
It is interesting to know how to lift and what the different lifting techniques are, but one question remains – how to choose the right lift when we’re swamped with our daily tasks and don’t really have time to think? Here are some tips to keep your back healthy and happy when you’re extra busy.
The 3 seconds rule
If you think it’ll take you more than three seconds to reach down and pick up what’s on the floor, it would be better to perform a squat (lunges would be a great alternative too). This goes for heavy objects or squirmy kids. If you’re thinking, I’ll have to get a good grip on this, then it’s probably best to squat and lift.
The 3 kg rule
If the object you need to lift weighs more than 3 kg (6 lb), it’s better to perform a full flexion instead of just leaning forward as you would when doing a golfer lift. For this, again, the squat is your best option.
The 3 times rule
If you plan to bend more than three times in a row, it’s better to choose to perform many reps of squats or lunges. If the object is small or light, you can do a few reps of the golfer lift too, just make sure you alternate legs.
1/3 of your height rule
If an object is lower than the third of your size, it’s better to opt for a squat or a lunge (or the golfer lift if the object is light). Otherwise, if the object to lift is at the height of your knees (or mid-leg depending on your flexibility level), you can use the deadlift to pick it up, even if the object is very heavy. Just remember to execute the movement with perfect form.
Prevention is key
If you weren’t sure how to properly lift weights before, now you sure do! Though it can seem unnecessary to watch your form when bending over, one wrong move can turn into a long-term issue. When it comes down to it, back injuries can paralyze you for days and even lead to an operation. So make sure to use these lifting techniques in your daily routine to strengthen your core muscles and, most importantly, avoid crippling back injuries.
Download the 8fit app for strengthening exercises that’ll make lifting a breeze.