If you don’t want to be the girl crying in the corner of the gym after hurting your back, you must adhere to proper safety and stability principles when lifting. The spine is at its most stable when the natural S-shaped curvature is maintained throughout the course of the day. That means no slouching at the computer or when surfing your smartphone and never when you are lifting. Learning to maintain this position does take practice; don't let gravity pull you into that relaxed position.
Nuetral Spine Position
To find your neutral spine position sit with your feet flat on the floor and straighten your back. Sit upright; do not slouch. Gently arch and round your back four or five times. Your neutral spine position should be a relatively comfortable position, roughly midway between a full arch and full round of your back. While it is natural and comfortable, it takes work to maintain it. Once you have a feel for where your neutral spine is in sitting, translate that to all other activities including standing, walking and lifting. It takes both practice and a conscious effort to perfect this.
Base of Support
Monitoring your base of support is essential to maintaining stability while lifting. Always wear non-skid shoes, scan your environment to ensure no spills or hazards are in your way, and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. If you trip, slide or lose your balance, you will likely injure yourself.
Using Your Core
You can also increase spinal stability by creating a tighter core. Weak abdominal muscles can lead to an increased injury risk because of muscle imbalance, and it promotes sloppy form. When performing your lift, be that a box from the floor during a move or squats at the gym, find your neutral spine position and tighten your abdominal muscles before starting.
Breathing is the last key to improving spinal stability during lifting. Breathe in through your nose before lifting and exhale during the lift. Exhaling can improve abdominal and spinal stability during the lift. Breathing really can make you stronger and reduce your risk of injury.
Mary Tolley Rhodes has been a practicing physical therapist since 2000, working in various settings across the southeastern United States. She serves as the chairwoman of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Association's Education Committee. Rhodes holds a master's degree in physical therapy from West Virginia University.