Lifting heavy objects: good or bad for my back?

Today I was walking home from the grocery store with 12-pound Whatsit Jr. strapped to my front and a backpack full of groceries strapped to my back, and wondering to myself, am I doing damage to my back by toting all this weight around? Or is it the reverse, am I actually building stronger back muscles?

Mom always refused to carry anything heavy because “she lifted so much heavy stuff in her youth that it ruined her back” but I always figured she was just trying to get out of doing the work.

So what’s the deal: am I building strong muscles or messing up my back?

You’re only damaging your back if you’re not carrying yourself more or less upright.With the peanut in front looks like your loads distributed so that’s not happening.

You’re probably getting a good leg workout.A way to tell is does your back or legs feel more stressed/tired when doing,or finishing your chore.

Where you feel it is the part you’re working.

BTW bad backs from lifting are caused by improper lifting.Your legs should be doing the strenuos part.

It depends on how much, how well, how long, and how often you lift heavy things.

If you lift (as opposed to carry) a quarter of your body weight or less, use good technique, and don’t spend you days doing it repetitively, or do it for years and years, you should be fine. If you keep your stomach and back muscles well developed with progressive resistance exercises on good equipment, you can run that proportion of body weight up to about a third, too. ( and your body weight will go up a bit too.) You will be doing most of the lifiting with your legs, but you need strength in your trunk to protect your spine.

Carrying a quarter of your body weight, even in a well ballanced load is very hard on your back, and your knees, and ankles, too. Doing it for long periods is worse, and doing it really often is a nearly sure way to get an injury eventually. If your body weight is higher than the median, then you are pushing it to try to lift or carry a quarter of it, unless the extra weight you have is mostly muscle.


“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” ~ Mark Twain ~

I wondered a similar thing; one the one hand WCB and everyone else seems paranoid about using your back to do anything more than hold your torso up under non-stressful conditions, while the muscles of most any other body part doing heavy work recieve little if any attention… on the other hand I watch guys doing dead lifts of (in some cases) several HUNDRED pounds over and over day in day out who seem to be in a lot better shape and condition than the desk jockeys who wear a back brace to move a box of photocopy paper from one shelf to another.

I think the difference is that when you’re doing exercises specifically for your back, you really pay attention and use the proper techniques; when you have to stack tables for 8 hours a day you get bored, careless, and just want to get it done fast so you can go home and relax - and consequently pull something 'cause you’re thinking more about plopping down on the couch with a beer in an hour than the awkard stress you’re putting your body under to finish the job.

Exactly and that was my point about lifing (OR In OP’s case carrying) objects correctly. (assuming the 12lb kid in front and groceries in back wouldn’t total more than abt.25 lbs or so)

Dead lifts OTOH,are only lifted to your knees,or thereabouts,with your leg muscles also involved,plus your whole back,lats,spinus,even some traps.

Troubles begin with the motion to clear your knee to chest area,as in lifting a weight to carry.That’s when the legs really come into play since leverage will produce stress in the lower back.

For an example,I lifted weights competitively in a misguided youth.Could take 4-500 lb dead lift exercises,but could never clean (the motion to lift the weight,drop under and hold it on your chest/collarbone area) more than about 300 or so.

As you stated correctly it’s all about form.

Even some weightlifters will tear a muscle/pop a hernia doing these things occassionally.

OK, but is the 25% number the mininum number for doing damage to your joints, or what? What if I’m only carrying 10% of my body weight? Or 15%, etc.?

When you guys are talking about correct techniques, is there anything I need to worry about besides for trying to balance the weight front and back, and using good posture?

The only issue I can see is the amount of weight carried.Are you comfortable with it?,eg-you’re not passing out before getting home.Being tired is OK-feeling really burned out is probably too much.

How much of a recovery time (if any) do you need?Take your pulse when you’re finished with the chore.It should drop to normal resting rate within a couple minutes,further on the pulse,how much of your max are you using?Up to 160% or so of resting pulse is a safe limit for 15 mins.or so.

All this assuming you’re in decent shape and have no heart,structural issues.That’s the caveat in any exersize program.

BTW,this has nothing to do with the OP-which,if you follow these guidelines,should be neither good nor bad for your back-but a good leg/aerobic workout.

You’d need different types of exercises to strengthen your back.

The prior posts are right, but there is an underlying motif here which you fail to realize: stress. That’s the principle behind weight lifting. Stress your muscles enough and properly and they will grow. Stress them improperly and you will injure them.

Stress is necessary to survive. Everyone undergoes stress everyday. And, to an extent, that makes us better. But there are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. If your body is able to adapt, it will foster. If it is not able to adapt, you will suffer. The eustress is necessary and good for us, but we must avoid the distress. If you try to lift and carry weight for which your body cannot adapt, then your body will break down. Weight lifting works on the principle that you increase your weights incrementally, giving your body enough time to adapt.

So, you are building stronger muscles if your muscles can adapt to the weight. But not if the lifting/carrying was only a one-time deal. You must do that on a regular basis, and increase the weight incrementally, starting off with weights light enough to allow your muscles to adapt and strengthen.