Try This!: An exercise to practice proper lifting and help protect the back

Try This!
Sara Haley shows ways to improve how you lift to help you prevent back injuries.
(Doriane Raiman / Los Angeles Times)

There’s a good chance you know someone with a back injury. And you want to avoid a similar fate. Sara Haley is a Santa Monica-based pre- and postnatal exercise specialist and creator of the “Expecting More” workout series for pregnant women. She says we all run the risk of back injury when we use our backs, instead of our legs, to pick items up. This exercise will help you learn to use your legs, whether you’re hoisting a baby out of a crib or lifting a hefty bag of groceries out of a cart.

“All of us pick up things all day long, and we want to do them in a safe way. How many stories do you hear about people throwing out their backs? That’s what we are trying to prevent.” (Haley was five months pregnant at the time of this photo shoot. She has since given birth to a baby boy.)

What it does

This is a full-body toning exercise that focuses on strengthening the glutes, hamstrings and back. It also gives a little toning action to the biceps and shoulders, depending upon how much weight is involved.


What to do

Start with something light. Two soup cans or even a pillow will do. Form is the focus here, not the weight. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart and allow a gentle bend to your knees. Pull in the belly button and squeeze your shoulder blades down and back so you have a nice flat back. Lower your legs as needed to get you closer to the object. But if that’s too hard, put your object on a stool or chair. (Over time, your flexibility will increase, and you can get rid of the assist.) Grasp the weights or pillow, pull toward the body, push through your legs to stand up and then press your object up into a shoulder press. Return to your starting position.

It’s important to remember that this is not a strength training exercise. This is an exercise to help you train your mind and body in proper lifting technique. “You never, ever want to reach down and pull up with your back. That’s how injuries happen,” Haley said. “Your legs are doing all the work.”

How much


Aim for 10 repetitions. Start with six, then work your way up to eight and then 10.