From an early age, I remember a very specific cue given to me when I was going to lift something heavy. I am sure everyone has heard it ‘keep your back straight and lift with your knees’. I know I have been mindful of this ever since the first time I heard it and I am sure there are many people out there who have heard this ‘lifting tip’ as well. If you have ever had a PT in the past or been in fitness classes I am sure you have heard the term ‘keep a neutral spine’ or if you are doing a squat ‘proud chest’. For as long as I can remember there has always been a focus on this when lifting and performing loaded movements, and it is in fact a great tip, today we are going to look at Why??
To put it simply your prime movers, i.e. the big muscles that should be used to lift heavy objects are in fact in your legs, particularly the muscles around your hips and the muscles of your upper legs. We are talking about quadriceps, hamstrings, glute maximus, all big and powerful muscles.
Therefore the muscles of your back, those that are designed to extend your back i.e. if you’re legs were straight and you were going from a bent position to an upright position you would be using among other muscles your ‘erector spinae’ muscles. These muscles are long muscles that run up your back from your hips. These muscles are not designed to lift really heavy loads and moving these muscles during a lift, i.e. changing the position of your upper or lower back whilst under load will recruit these muscles. Therefore they are moving under heavy load, this can lead to injury. In fact it can lead to serious injury. When our spine is in a fully flexed position i.e. rounded, the muscles are barely engaged and it is the passive tissues such as ligaments that are taking a lot of the load. This leads to what is called an ‘anterior shear force’. Essentially this means the spine is moving in a direction we don’t want it to. There is also an increased risk of herniated disks. As I am sure you know a back injury can be incredibly debilitating and not an injury we want to sustain while trying to do the right thing and work out! So what to do??
Practice the hip hinge (video on hip hinge coming to functionalforlife.com.au soon)
Ensure when lifting heavy objects the spine is neutral and the legs are used to lift.
If you are finding it difficult to get into a position with a neutral spine you may want to consider seeing a physio or another relevant health professional for an overview of your body so you can work towards it. It is not worth lifting heavy without a neutral spine. Check out Functional For Life: Melbourne Based Mobile Personal Training for more tips!
Warning: The training and instructional content contained on this website should be taken as information and not medical advice. Please consult your health professional before attempting these exercises.