University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
PROPER LIFTING FOR GARDENERS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont
Back injuries are second in the number of injuries, only to fingers and
hands. Most back injuries come from improper lifting, lowering,
pushing, pulling, and carrying—all activities we perform in the
garden. Here are some basic principles which apply to any means of
lifting, lowering, and carrying, whether at the gym, home, store, or in the
garden. They apply whether lifting bags of fertilizer off a shelf,
bags of compost, lifting rocks or pulling weeds.
--Start slowly, don’t rush, don’t jerk. Move weights or objects in an
unhurried, controlled manner.
--Use good form, or body position. This is more important than the
amount you can lift. If you have problems keeping good form, decrease the
weight or get help from another person or with some aid as a dolly.
--Make sure to breathe; the tendency for some is to hold your breath when
--Make sure to keep your feet all on the ground, don’t rock back on your
--Lift with your legs and not your back. Not doing so is the main
cause of back injury when lifting. Lift with your knees and waist
bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. Knees should be directly
above your toes, your shoulders above your knees. If this isn’t
happening, try taking a wider stance with feet further apart, and toes
pointed outward slightly.
--You can look down at the object to lift, but when lifting keep the head in
a neutral position looking forward—not up, not down. This creates less
stress on your neck muscles.
--Keep objects close to your body when lifting. Holding them at arm’s
length increases the weight on your lower spine by 15 times. Stand
close to the object when squatting down to lift.
--If lifting an object, particularly if heavy, onto a shelf, keep the object
close to you and walk toward the shelf rather than stretching your arms out.
--Be careful when raising objects higher than your waist, as this can throw
off your balance. Standing with one foot slightly ahead of the other
may help with balance. If lifting higher than your shoulders, you may need
to lift less (if possible), or use a step ladder.
--Make sure you plan ahead when lifting where the object will go. This
avoids twisting improperly, carrying around heavy items, or lifting too much
--Make sure you have good footwear to provide solid support, and that
surfaces you’ll stand or walk on when lifting and carrying aren’t slippery,
or with hazards such as cords, ropes, or stones.
--If lifting large items that obstruct your full vision, make sure you know
where you’re going first; that there aren’t obstructions below or above.
--Don’t twist or turn at the waist while lifting; turn your whole body
instead, leading with your waist and not shoulders.
--Don’t ignore pain. The saying of “no pain, no gain”, doesn’t apply
here. Take time to rest if your body calls for this.
--If you’ve been sitting, stretch your muscles when getting up before
beginning to lift.
--As with any garden activities, do 15 repetitions or so, then rotate to
another activity. Especially in the case of lifting motions, doing too
many and getting tired often leads one to start using the back and lifting
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