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Bending and lifting activities and occupations place excessive force on spinal discs, especially in your lower back. In 1997, Walbridge, a Detroit-based construction firm, reported that 25 percent of its work-related injuries were from strains and sprains commonly due to excessive lifting. Today, after implementing programs on proper lifting techniques, instituting pre-work stretching workouts at all job sites, the company reports that it rarely sees these kinds of injuries and has won numerous safety awards. Before lifting heavy loads, it's a good idea to perform five to 10 minutes of stretching exercises, which not only improve muscle mechanics and lubricate joints and ligaments, but also help prevent injuries.
Proper form means lifting with your legs and thighs, not with your back. Because the quadriceps are responsible for much of your leg strength, they play a significant part in your ability to lift heavy loads. "Stretching For 50+" author Dr. Karl Knopf recommends the quad stretch to increase strength and flexibility. In a standing position, raise your right arm toward the ceiling, bend your left knee, lifting your left heel toward your buttocks. Grasp your left ankle with your left hand, and gently pull your heel close to your buttocks for 30 seconds until you feel a stretch in your thigh. Breathe deeply, keep your head up, back straight and your support leg slightly bent. Complete three repetitions on each leg.
Hamstrings are particularly prone to injury when lifting a lot of weight. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain -- not a favorable development when you have to lift heavy loads. To stretch the hamstring muscles and prevent injuries, the American Council on Exercise suggests the bodyweight squat. With your toes pointed slightly outward and your arms down at your sides, stand with your feet apart, a bit wider than your hips. Keep your chin parallel to the floor, tighten your abdomen and gradually lower your hips while bending your knees. Maintain a flat back and tight abs with feet firmly on the floor as you lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your body weight should be evenly distributed on the ball and heel of each foot. Hold for 10 seconds, and then slowly rise to the start position. Complete five repetitions.
Although your legs should take the brunt of the load when lifting heavy objects, your triceps muscles also are utilized for carrying. Drs. Christopher A. Oswald and Stanley N. Basco, authors of the book, "Stretching For Fitness, Health & Performance," recommend the arm-over-head stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. With a straight back and neck, gently push your right elbow over your head with your left hand. Breathe deeply while holding the stretch for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. Perform five repetitions.
As far as body parts go, your hands do a minimal amount of work when lifting heavy loads. They are needed, however, for grabbing and manipulating the object. A basic hand stretching exercise, the finger spreader stretch, helps keep your ligaments and joints lubricated and limber. Sit in a stable chair with your hands resting palms-down on your thighs. Pinch your fingers and thumb together, and while continuing to rest your palms on your thighs, separate your fingers as far apart as possible. Hold for 10 seconds. Turn your palms up, and repeat.
Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index estimates that overexertion, including excessive lifting, cost businesses $12.75 billion in 2009. Following basic safety rules helps prevent injuries when lifting heavy loads. Get close to the load before starting the lift. Do not bend at the waist; instead, bend at the knees and hips, keeping your shoulders above your hips and your face looking forward. Breathe out as you lift with your legs and thighs. Lift slowly. If you need to turn, move your feet instead of twisting your upper body. Stop immediately if pain occurs.