Without regular workouts, many people, especially as they reach middle age, begin to struggle; knees and backs start to ache and moving around starts feeling a bit more difficult. Helping someone move spontaneously starts to be a lot less fun. Bending over and lifting something up (be it yourself or a piece of furniture) is a task that needs to be and can easily be trained for.
In fact, without training, muscle mass decreases by approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30. Ouch. And that in turn can lead to a drop in strength.
But one of the best methods for preventing this is resistance training. By progressively training our bodies to systematically handle an increased load (weight) and volume, we can become and remain both stable and strong as we age.
What are bend and lift movements?
Wherever you are as you read this text, you have arrived at that position in space by using the muscles that help you move into a standing or sitting position. Essentially, you are bending down and lifting yourself back up using the muscles of your legs, hips, back, and core. There is no everyday life without these movements.
Training yourself by bending down and lifting up weights can have a lot of benefits compared to other forms of movement that are more isolated. This type of movement uses a large percentage of your body's muscle mass without having to do a lot of different exercises.
What are some benefits of bend and lift movements?
By including bend and lift movements in your training, you will
- Increase your muscle mass
- Increase your strength and power
- Increase the durability of your tissues and reduce the risk of injury
Along with these benefits, you will also be better prepared for athletic goals and activities you might have; a strong and resilient body is able to train or play longer and more intensely. Don’t miss out on this important magnifier on your fitness journey!
What muscles are used in bend and lift movements?
Let’s take a closer look at the muscles that are involved in bend and lift movements. Independent of which exercise variation you train, many different muscles in your legs, hips, back, and core will benefit:
- The muscles of your legs, specifically the quadriceps in the front of your thigh and the hamstrings in the back of your thigh. These muscles help stabilize the knee joint and allow you to bend and straighten your leg, for example, when kicking a ball.
- The hip muscles, or glutes, form your buttocks. These allow you to stand upright and stable and give you the ability to extend your hips when standing up or walking up stairs.
- The muscles of your lower back, especially the erector spinae, extend vertically up along your spine. They allow you to sit and stand upright but also protect your spine when moving.
- The core muscles that make up your abdominals, as well as the deep muscles such as your diaphragm. These stabilize the spine as you move but are also used during spinal flexion movements such as Crunches.
As you can see, there is a lot going on every time you bend and lift. And all of these muscles work together in unison every day of your life to provide stability as you move.
By incorporating exercises that target these movements you will reap the benefits in all of your activities, be it moving around during your day-to-day or even moving around heavy furniture.
What are bend and lift exercises?
When we talk about exercises that mimic bending down and lifting things up, we mainly refer to two lifts and their many variations: Squats and Deadlifts. Both the Squat and the Deadlift have their benefits and deserve a place in your training.
In squatting movements, we use knee and hip flexion as we descend and knee and hip extension to move into an upright position. The main movers are the quadriceps and the glutes.
In Deadlifts, the main movement comes from hip flexion and extension with less recruitment of the muscles that move the knee. Deadlifts primarily target the posterior chain, or muscles at the back of the body: the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
There are many different ways to perform these exercises depending on the tools available to you. For example, barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are very effective ways to perform these movements with a weighted resistance.
There are also other resistance tools that behave in a different way than traditional weights, such as chains or bands. They tend to have a resistance that changes over the course of the movement, i.e. a band will provide more resistance as it is stretched.
In the Squat, you can place the load more to the front and make it a Front Squat or on your back, making it a Back Squat. Dumbbells can be held in different ways as well, such as in a Dumbbell Goblet Squat, where you grab it like a chalice at the edge of the top plate.
In the Deadlift, the weight is usually either lifted from the floor (i.e., a traditional Deadlift) or lowered down and lifted back up (i.e., a Romanian Deadlift). You can also vary the way you use your legs by going with a narrower or wider stance (like in Sumo Deadlifts). With Kettlebells, you can even swing the weight and make the movement more explosive.
All in all, there are lots of different ways to challenge your body in bend and lift movements, each with its own specific benefits.
How to bend and lift properly?
Bend and lift movements train your legs, back, and core in extremely beneficial ways. But to avoid overstressing these regions, the correct technique is key!
To ensure that all of the structures in your body are working equally well and to avoid injury, check that all of your joints are well aligned when you bend and lift:
- Keep your feet flat and stable to maintain contact with the ground. This will help you transfer force from your legs into the floor when pushing the weight up.
- In general, keep your knees in line with your hips and feet. This is not a strict rule; You can adjust slightly inside or outside, depending on what feels strongest and most stable. But you do want to avoid excessive movement of your knees toward the inside.
- Have your hips slightly flexed in the starting position and keep them level (i.e., both hips at the same height).
- Your torso and shins should stay approximately parallel to one another: This will help you maintain a neutral spine during the lift and keep you firmly balanced over the center of your foot.
- Keep your head in a neutral position by looking roughly perpendicular to your spine (imagine holding a tennis ball between your chin and the top of your chest). This helps to keep your back aligned as the body tends to move toward where the eyes are looking.
- Lifting the weight is only half of the movement. Make sure to control the weight and your body during the downward, or eccentric, motion for at least 2-3 seconds.
How do bend and lift exercises fit into your training plan?
Now that you know why and how to do bend and lift exercises, you might ask yourself how you can best fit them into your training regime.
Because these exercises are full-body movements with some complexity (a lot of joints are moving here) it is best to train them twice per week toward the beginning of a full-body workout. This will allow you to start them directly after your warmup and reap the most benefits. And remember to give yourself at least one day between workouts, so you’re well-rested and give your muscles time to recover before you go at it again.
If you’re looking to build muscle, you should try to train each muscle group that is important to you with between 10-20 sets per week, including all exercises that train these muscle groups. But you will already cover quite a few of them just with bend and lift movements!
As you can see, bending and lifting movements are an important part of how your body moves. Because they work great as resistance training, they can have a huge impact on your quality of life as well as your general fitness. Get the most out of them with proper form and see your health and fitness levels reach new heights! Find dozens of bend and lift movements in your personalized fitness plan from the Freeletics Coach.
1. Volpi, E., Nazemi, R., & Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 7(4), 405. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2