What Does the Phrase “Put Your Feet Up” Really Mean?

If the phrase “put your feet up” never made any sense to you, you are not alone. Trying to follow this advice can seem awkward, unnatural, and ineffective, even if there is nothing wrong with it. Here’s what you are missing.

The main point of lifting with your legs is to avoid one specific mistake: round your lower back so much that you risk getting a herniated disc .

If you lift something while squatting with an upright back, you avoid this mistake. Great. But depending on what you are lifting, this may not be very practical. One 1993 study found that even when warehouse workers were trained to “kick with their feet,” and even when they said they were doing their best to follow instructions, in most cases it was nearly impossible to lift, as in a textbook.

In fact, you can move your body however you want as long as you keep your back roughly straight, which is stabilized by all those comfy core muscles. I love how the Duke’s Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health Administration reduces the lifting form to two simple rules :

  • Keep the load close to your body while lifting. Press the load against your stomach, which can mean that you are on one knee or squat asymmetrically, so that you are almost straddling what you need to lift.
  • Maintain the natural curves of your back, especially the curve of your lower back . Consider keeping your spine in the same neutral position as when standing or walking.

If you learn these two rules, you will protect your back by not imitating unnatural, uncomfortable postures. Some illustrations of the lifting technique show a person squatting to pick up a box, but then holding the box in front of him – no one does that, and it doesn’t even make sense. Your “zone of strength” in which you can lift the most is an object pressed against your belly. If you press it against your chest or thighs instead, it’s almost as good. Once you start holding it higher, lower, or further away from your body, you cannot safely carry nearly the same weight. ( This lifting guide has an excellent illustration to explain the concept.)

These two rules also explain how the straight-legged deadlift is possible as a safe exercise in the gym: people who do these lifts keep their spines neutral and their weight closer to their body. There are several ways to climb safely.


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