Here’s what ‘lifting with your feet’ really means

WWhether I’m carrying a two-pound bag of groceries or a 20-pound box, I can always hear my grandmother’s voice, “Lift with your legs, not your back.” The advice may sound familiar, but what does it actually mean? When you commit to heavy lifting, either at the gym or IRL, like helping a friend move, it’s crucial to do it with proper form and mechanics to reduce the risk of injuring yourself.

“Back injuries are the most common visit to orthopedic clinics—the main culprit being poor posture while sitting or lifting,” says orthopedic surgeon Stephen Liu, MD, founder and chairman of Form Science, which makes posture-correction wearables. Your legs give you the strength and stability to move loads without hurting your back.

How to lift with your legs correctly

When picking something up off the floor or ground, you want to start with your feet under your shoulders. Squat low, keeping your chest straight – imagine you have a logo on the front of your shirt and you’re standing in front of a mirror; You want to be able to see that logo the whole time. Get a good grip on the item you’re lifting, engage your core, then lower through your heels to stand back up. “Your leg muscles should be able to feel most of the activity with minimal back strain,” says Dr. Liu.

Avoid rounding over the object of your lift as this puts extra stress on your spine, as well as the deep spinal stabilizers in your back. “Increasing strain on the back leads to spinal degeneration or a ruptured disc,” says Dr. Liu. Instead, focus on maintaining a proud chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and avoid “butt winking.”

By lifting this way, you give yourself the best chance of being pain-free. But another important thing to remember while lifting is never pick something too heavy for you to carry. So be realistic about how much weight you can carry.

Perfect your squat form with bodyweight first, so you’ll nail it with loads later:

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