How to Pick Stuff up Safely

“Lift with your knees/legs, not your back!”

We’ve heard it all before, be it in a workplace setting or at a doctors’ office. It’s not awful advice, but it’s really not great advice either.

In all honesty, whoever came up with this was either trying to:

a) dodge a liability

b) forgot to finish the sentence, or…

c) both.

”So, if this isn’t awful advice, but isn’t great advice either, what advice would you give us then Jeff?”

Well, thanks for asking! Here is a revised version, which applies to actual humans who do human-like-movement…

“Lift with your knees & hips while bracing your spine - so that your back doesn’t have to do ALL of the work.”

Let’s unpack this rather wordy, far-from-catchy advice so that you can start picking things up properly & safely:

Lift with your knees & hips: Generally speaking, this simply means that both your knees & hips will move at the same time (your hips potentially a little more relative to your knees). As you push the hips back, allow the knees to bend as well. An important distinction here is that your back has not been the source movement at all – only your hips & knees.

This will allow you to descend down as low as you need to, while maintaining a nice (comfortable) lower back position.

Brace your spine: Simply put, bracing your spine helps prevent or limit involuntary movement in between the vertebrae. Often times it’s this uncontrolled movement of the vertebrae (while under load) that results in problems specific to the back. People often describe these as just ‘tweaks’ or the very vague; “my back went out.”

Bracing puts the user in control, big time!

Here’s a great video that teaches you how to brace & breathe properly while under load:

Does the back do SOME work?

Yes definitely, but it is not the prime mover. Your low back, and more specifically the erectors (which run vertically on either side of the spine) work more as pillars of support.

When combined with proper bracing technique, these ‘pillars’ become even more effective at holding the spine in position while under load.

Next time you pick something up; imagine your spine being relatively flat, like a crane – and not like a fishing rod with a tuna on the end of the line.

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Written by Jeff Muir. Jeff is the lead trainer at Vagus Fitness. He has over 10 years of experience working with a wide range of clients including those with severe spinal injuries, hip replacements/candidates, knee issues, neck issues and more to improve strength, mobility and function. He has a keen interest in working with 50+, bone and joint issues and clients who are looking for strength and mobility improvements. You can contact Jeff at

Kyle Mahadeo