Follow these instructions to get the job done and avoid injury.
Pushing or pulling heavy objects is often part of everyday activity — such as pulling open a car door or pushing furniture out of the way to vacuum. The keys to maintaining your push-and-pull success are simple: keep your core and leg muscles strong, and use the proper positioning.
Strong core and leg muscles
Your core and leg muscles give you power and stability when pushing or pulling. These muscles include the
- transverse abdominis in your abdomen
- quadriceps in the front of the thighs
- hamstrings in the back of the thighs
- gluteals in the buttocks
- gastrocnemius and soleus in the calves.
If those muscles are weak, you risk back injury when you push or pull a heavy object. "You might overcompensate and arch your back when pulling, or bend forward if you’re pushing. That will put stress on your lower back, which can cause spasms, pinched nerves, or bulging or herniated discs," explains Stephanie O’Brien, a physical therapist with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.
O’Brien says walking is an easy way to keep core and leg muscles strong. "Try to walk 30 minutes once a day or 15 minutes twice a day. You can start with five or 10 minutes and build endurance slowly," she suggests.
O’Brien also recommends performing a muscle-strengthening routine three times per week, such as working out on weight machines in a gym, or using dumbbells and doing body-weight exercises (like modified push-ups or squats) at home.
One simple abdominal muscle-strengthening exercise she recommends is called abdominal bracing. "Pull your stomach muscles in, squeeze [contract] them, and hold the squeeze for five seconds. Relax and do it again, 10 to 15 times in a row," O’Brien suggests. You can do this while sitting and reading.
Make sure you use the right positioning to push a heavy object.
- Stand close to the object you want to push.
- Keep your knees slightly bent, with one leg slightly behind the other so you can push off with it.
- Brace your elbows against your sides.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Push the object forward.
"Let the power come from your core and legs, and walk forward to move the object," O’Brien advises. "And don’t arch your back. Stand up straight, with your shoulders and hips in a straight line."
If you need to pull an object using two hands, try this method:
- Face the object you’re pulling.
- Keep your knees slightly bent and your feet close to the object, hip-width apart.
- Brace your elbows against your sides, and put your hands on the object.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and take a step backward, pulling the object with you.
"Don’t twist or arch your back. Pull with your core and leg muscles," O’Brien says.
If you pull an object using one hand (like a heavy car door), O’Brien recommends standing with one leg slightly behind the other, tightening your abdominal muscles, pulling with your arm, and shifting your weight onto your back leg.
Move of the month: knee lift
Stand up straight with your feet together. Hold the back of a chair for support. Tighten your abdominal muscles and exhale as you lift your right knee to hip height. Hold, then lower your foot to the floor. Repeat the move 8 -10 times, then repeat the process with your left leg.
Photo by Thomas MacDonald
Tips to keep in mind
When you have the choice of pushing or pulling an object — such as pulling versus pushing a cart — go for the pushing option. "Pushing is safer," O’Brien says. "People can push about twice as much as they can pull."
If you’re generally healthy and the steps to push or pull aren’t working, go through the checklist again. "Listen to your body, or think about your posture," O’Brien says. "Have you activated your core muscles? Did you skip a step? If it hurts to move something, don’t do it."
Likewise, don’t attempt to move an object if you have significant balance issues or you use an assistive walking device (such as a walker). "You don’t want to move a heavy object and fall," O’Brien says. "Instead, ask for help."
Image: © valentinrussanov/Getty Images