We have all heard it.... "lift with your legs, not your back!" But do you actually do it? Before I was a personal trainer I honestly didn't quite understand what that expression meant, and I probably picked things up improperly all the time. But now I know, and I understand why this simple rule is so important.
I want to share with you 3 things that you may be doing in your day-to-day life that is actually putting you at higher risk for a back injury, and what you should be doing instead!
1. Improper lifting technique
Whether you are lifting your furry friend, your child, or groceries your technique should be the same. Most people bend at the waist to reach the object and pull it up mainly using their lower back muscles. (See video below)
What you should be doing instead:
Bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground by squatting
Keep your spine straight the entire movement
Hold the object close to you, ideally at stomach or chest level
Keep your arms and waist straight, never turn or pivot while lifting
Engage your abs, particularly your TVA, while lifting
2. Not engaging your abs in day-to-day tasks
This one is so easy not to do! Our core is what stabilizes our spine, so when we do not engage it properly our spine is not protected. Learning to engage your TVA or deep core muscles is the key to preventing back strain during daily movements such as twisting, bending, or lifting. I teach this method in my Pregnancy and Postpartum "Core Strong" E-book but this principle applies to everyone. Your TVA or Transverse Abdominis is your body's nature corset that wraps around your organs and supports your spine. Try activating it by drawing your belly button in towards your spine on the exhale.
Some exercises to strengthen your TVA:
Draw-ins: to see video demo of this click here
Bird Dog: assume quadruped position, make sure you are drawing your belly button towards your spine and keeping back flat while you lift opposite leg and arm until parallel with the ground
3. Sitting for long periods of time
This is especially important if your job involves being at a desk or driving. Your intervertebral disks are not well vascularized. Due to the limited blood supply they rely on motion to circulate nutrients into the disks. When we sit still for long periods of time this really limits the nutrition that the disks receive. Also the position of sitting puts more stress on our spines than standing.
Things you can do to help:
get up and walk around every 20 mins or so if you have been sitting for a while
find a comfortable chair that supports the natural curve of your spine (or add a rolled up towel to your lower back if it does not)
keep your spine straight, do not lean forward with your chest or your head as this will put uneven pressure on your intervertebral disks
can also try sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair which will have the added benefit of forcing your to engage your core more as well
In conclusion: exercise, keep your core strong, and learn to lift with your legs!
The absolute best way to help your back is preventing it from getting hurt in the first place!
Make sure you take the time to learn how to activate and strengthen your TVA
Be conscious of how your are moving, especially while lifting!
Avoid postures and activities that strain your back (ex. leaning over a bathtub to wash your kiddo's hair, instead try sitting on the side)
Get up and get moving!
What tips or tricks have worked for you? Please share in the comment section below!
Get your FREE copy of my 5 Favourite Tips to a Healthy Core during Pregnancy. I took these tips from my new E-Book which is also now live on the products page my website!