How to lift correctly and avoid straining your body

Ways to lift correctly and avoid straining your body

Lifting and bearing heavy loads are common work tasks at many workplaces. To avoid straining the body, one must have the right knowledge about lifting. A workplace that works toward promoting ergonomic work methods enhances the work environment and simultaneously invests in employees' health.
A man loads boxes onto a transport trolley

What happens if you lift incorrectly?

The most common mistake is that we lift with the back instead of with the legs. This can put a lot of strain on the disks in your back. Unfortunately, you don't always get any warning signs before problems in your back start to show. In addition, heavy lifting can affect the body long term by accelerating signs of aging such as joint wear and tear.

Anna Millbourn Olander, ergonomist and licensed physiotherapist, gives us tips on what to think about when lifting heavy things or if your work involves repeated lifting.

"The very best thing is if you can avoid lifting and instead push, pull or roll the load with the help of a transport trolley or some other aid. If you do not have the opportunity to do so, it is important to lift correctly, take breaks and vary the work tasks. I think you should learn a good lifting technique and always use it, regardless of whether you're picking up a pencil or lifting a large television."

What is the correct way to lift?

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and position yourself so the load close is to your body.

  2. Squat slightly with your knees bent and your back straight to avoid stooping. Slight bending of your back, hips and knees at the start of the lift is preferable to either fully flexing your back (stooping) or fully flexing your hips and knees (deep squatting). Remember to lift with your legs not your back.

  3. Lift the object straight up, keep your arms as close to your body as possible and avoid turning or twisting your body while lifting. Keep the load close to your waist as much as possible while lifting. Turn by moving your feet.

  4. When setting the object down, it's just as important to use the same technique by keeping your back straight and beding your legs.
Diagram showing correct lifting positions
I usually say that when you can't maintain a good lifting technique, then it's too heavy.
A manual stacker in use in a workshop

Create the correct conditions for lifting

By thinking about ergonomics when designing the workplace, many injuries can be prevented. Anna Millbourn Olander emphasizes that it is not enough to have lifting aids such as a pallet lifter or a lifting table. Everyone must know how to use them, they must be easily accessible and there must be time to use them safely.

Make room for lifting
If it's not possible to avoid lifting, it's important that there is plenty of space so that you can lift correctly, without twisting your body, and that the surface is level. It's also a good idea to place heavy objects at an easily accessible height

Relieve your back with counter movements
If you have a job with a lot of lifting, counter movements are a good way to prevent injuries. These are relieving exercises, which help to keep the back healthy.

If you have tasks where you're constantly bending forward, make it a habit to put your hands behind your back and bend backwards at least once an hour. A tip that even those who sit leaning forward over a desk all day can benefit from.


When lifting, try to keep your back straight and use the power of your legs. Slowly straighten your hips and knees and avoid twisting.
The most common mistake when lifting is bending forward from a standing position. By doing this you lift with your back and not with your legs, risking back injury. Instead you should bend your knees and lift with your legs.
By lifting with your legs, you avoid putting strain on the discs and vertebrae in your back.
A good rule of thumb is that if you can't maintain a good lifting technique then the load is too heavy for you. If you can't lift the load safely, you should use a lifting aid or ask somebody else to help you. Remember that there is a difference between what you can lift and what you can lift safely.
Plan your lift before you do it so you use the right technique from the start. Lift with your legs and keep the weight close to your body.
Lifting injuries can vary from mild aches and pains in the joints and muscles to acute back pain and herniated discs, causing long-term back problems. There is also a risk of neck and shoulder injuries.
Incorrect lifting can lead to numerous back problems. One of the most common is that the back muscles lock up or spasm due to tension caused by overexertion or improper technique.

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