Should You Really “Lift with Your Legs”?
“Lift with your legs”. You’ve probably heard this before. Ergonomists have a slightly different view. In a perfect world, we would find a way to completely eliminate a situation in which an employee would have to lift something heavy. But in reality, this is not always possible. Inevitably we are all required to manually lift at some point during our job.
When I train people on lifting best practices, I always start out by asking the class to give me their best lifting techniques. Undoubtedly, someone responds with “use your legs, not your back”. I then call that poor, unsuspecting volunteer up to the front of the room and ask him to lift my backpack using his legs. He’ll lift it once, and I’ll tell him it’s wrong. He’ll try it again, I’ll tell him it’s wrong again. After looking at me with a frustrated look, I say, “If you were lifting it with your legs, you would have to do this …” and I hook my foot through the arm strap of my back pack, and literally, lift it with my leg.
Now, this may seem silly, but I do it to emphasize a point: technically, we don’t lift with our legs, we lift with our hands. Our hands are what connect our body to the object that we lift. Yes, we need to generate force through our legs and glutes, but if our hands are actually connecting us to our work, what about all the other muscles in our body that are located between our legs and our hands? Shouldn’t we engage them as well?
Did you know that your core is the second largest muscle system in your body, next to your legs and glutes? So why are we not taught to engage our core when we lift? Our shoulders, biceps and forearms are made up of strong, active muscle fiber as well, so let’s teach our operators to engage them too. I explain it like this: say you’re standing in a room with five people, and someone sets a 300-lb block of material on the ground and tells you to push it across the room. Now, you have five other people available in the room to help you move it; will you ask them for help? I’ve never met anyone who says he wouldn’t. The same method applies to our bodies when we lift. We could perform a lift by only generating force through our legs, but if we have powerful muscle groups connecting our legs to our hands, why wouldn’t we engage them as well?
So, the next time you go to lift something, take a moment to remember that you’re truly lifting with your hands, and that you have a lot of resources between your legs and your hands to help make that lift easier and prevent overstressing one muscle group. Engage as many muscles as you can to minimize the overall impact of the lift.