Nothing beats lying on the couch and gazing about with pride at the new home you just moved into. That is, unless the reason you're lying on the couch is because you strained your back moving furniture. If you aren't used to picking up heavy things (and even if you are), it's pretty easy to wreck yourself trying to get your bed or couch in place. You bend, lift, twist, lurch, and crack! A bolt of lightning hits your spine and lays you low for the rest of the day. Or maybe the next six months.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can move your furniture and live to walk upright the next day with just a few simple techniques. So we tapped physical therapists and certified strength and conditioning specialists Michael Lau, Craig Lindell and Arash Maghsoodi, AKA The Prehab Guys, for their tips. (Prehab is the work you do to prevent an injury, by the way.) And we talked with another certified strength and conditioning specialist Anders Varner, who is also the co-creator of The Low Back Fix program.
Here's what they advise.
"Bring the object as close as you can to your body," The Prehab Guys told me. "Without getting into biomechanics, the closer an object's centre of mass is to you, the shorter the lever arm is. A short lever arm means less torque is required for you to lift the object."
Don't bend over at the waist
Instead, lower down by bending at the knees and hips, The Prehab Guys say, and keep your back as straight as possible while lowering down and lifting.
Get directly in front of the object
Don't just face it, more or less. Actually square your shoulders and your feet to to the object. "Lifting an object that is directly in front of you rather than off to the side prevents unwanted spinal compensation and puts your body in the best position to utilise the glutes and quads to generate power," The Prehab Guys told us. Your glutes, by the way, are the muscles in your butt. And your quadriceps are at the front of your thighs.
Don't look up
"Want to save your back and knees when moving your couch?" says Varner. "Stop looking up." Looking up puts your neck in cervical extension - that is, it keeps your neck stretched out at an awkward angle. "Your spine is strongest when it is in a neutral position," Varner adds. "This means your chin is tucked, eyes forward, ribs down, maintaining a slight squeeze in your glutes." This position is what Varner considers the baseline for injury reduction.
Lift with your legs
"We humans are strong," The Prehab Guys say, "so use all the glorious muscles you have in your legs and don't rely solely on your back." If you aren't used to lifting with your legs, remembering to keep your back straight while you lift may help.
Breathe with your movement
Beyond the classic advice of "lift from the legs", the secret sauce to lifting safely, Varner says, is the way you breathe. "Taking a deep inhale through the nose into your belly creates tension in your deep core muscles," he says. "These core muscles strengthen and protect the low spine. A strong core means you can move heavier objects farther, safer and more efficiently."
When in doubt, stick your butt out
OK, one more, just because I love this phrase by biomechanist and author Kate Bowman. As she demonstrates in the above video, sticking out your butt makes it much easier for you to use your legs instead of your back when lifting.