Safe Lifting

Take a minute to go to a full-length mirror if you have one. If not, prop your phone up and take a video of yourself lifting something small and light from the ground to a standing position.

Did you do it? Great! Do it again and watch how your body moves.

Did you notice the instinct to lift your butt into the air first? – this is totally normal and often feels natural. Our habits and subconscious prefer to lift with speed rather than safe form.

Your new role as an EMT will place you in situations when it may be tempting to lift heavy items, fast. The truth is that there is rarely a “true emergency” worth justifying improper lifting technique.

Lifting how we’ve always lifted without mindful consideration of technique will result in eventual injury, perhaps resulting in chronic pain, and may even be career-ending. If you talk with EMS professionals long enough you will discover the aches and pains they have acquired and injuries that have taken their colleagues out of the field.

A part of the work we need to do entering this field is to re-teach our bodies how to lift with our legs and an engaged core to avoid injury. At first it will feel uncomfortable and be difficult. Over time you will develop a “new normal” of lifting that is healthier and safer for your body.

Let’s try this activity a few times.

Grab another EMT student, partner, or mirror. Give each other notes as you repeat this activity with various items around the classroom or station. This time focus on a few things:

  1. Start by bringing your feet hip width apart and heels down on the ground.
  2. Lower your butt back, and down. Your knees will naturally bend, placing weight in your heels. Don’t lift your toes!
  3. Keep your knees behind your toes. If you did step 2 right, this is also natural.
  4. Tighten your core (think bringing your belly button back to your spine).
  5. Keep your chin level or only slightly dipped.
  6. Keep your shoulder blades pinched back.
  7. Grab the object with one or both hands.
  8. Clench your butt to push your hips forward. This will cause your legs to straighten, lifting the object.

What changed from the first time you did the exercise? Were you able to lift with your legs more than back?

Practice this sequence as often as you can. The more you pay attention to this technique as you move about your day the quicker it will engrain as your default.

Safe Lifting Skills Verification Table

Safe Lifting










10 (instructor)


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Oregon EMS Psychomotor Skills Lab Manual Copyright © 2023 by Chris Hamper, BS, NRP; Carmen Curtz, Paramedic, BS; Holly A. Edwins, Paramedic, B.S.; and Jamie Kennel, PhD, MAS, NRP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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