How to Prevent Injuries on the Homestead

How to Prevent Injuries on the Homestead
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Through improper training and supervision 12 years ago, I tore my ACL and MCL by being dragged by a 1,200-pound mule. Up until recently, my knee still gave me problems.  Consulting with my physician, she told me that I should be running, cycling, and doing strength exercises more often. Not wanting to get injured, I sought out a personal trainer to build strength and confidence.

Raising backyard poultry and livestock on a small homestead has many benefits. One of which is that you can make every activity an exercise. (Have you seen Mike Dickson — the Fit Farmer on YouTube?) I also wanted a trainer to be able to prevent future injuries. Aging in place, especially on a beautiful homestead, sounds ideal. Learning how to properly move, lift, and bend will help you achieve that goal.

Anthony Angelo earned his Master’s in Exercise, Physiology, and Nutrition and is now a personal trainer in Tampa, FL. With a Bachelors’s in Kinesiology, an Associate’s degree in Massage Therapy and Physiology, and an all-around animal lover, he is a great resource for preventing injuries on the homestead.

Angelo says that people usually become injured due to the positioning of their joints. “A lot of times, when people are lifting, they are not engaging their core, their glutes, or their back. What ends up happening is that when they begin to lift completely with their back, the spine cannot support all that weight and you get injured.”

Contrary to the expression “lift with your legs,” Angelo says that you must lift with your legs and your back.

“To lift properly,” Angelo explains, “involves a proper hip hinge and keeping the load close to your body.”

He adds that the further away the object is, the more extended your arms are, and the greater the chance of the lower back being injured. The closer the object is to you, the more likely you will be safe.

How to Lift a Feed Bag

“When lifting a heavy feed bag, I want the bag closer to my body,” Angelo says. “Whether I have straight arms or bent arms, I want to start with a hip hinge. Push the hips back, engage the core, take the legs wider, get under the bag, and then when you stand up, you lift with your hips and your back while keeping your core engaged.”

Use a wide leg stance and keep your back in a neutral position prior to lifting.
Bring the feed bag close to your body while tightening your core.
Hips come forward as you lift the feed bag.
You can become injured while lifting heavy objects if your legs are close together because you cannot access your glute muscles.
A curved, unengaged back will also cause injuries while lifting heavy objects.
Lifting like this can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain. Even the chicken knows this is incorrect form.

How to Lift a Bale of Hay

Angelo says that lifting a bale of hay is just like the bag of feed, except since your arms must be wider, you have to get closer to the hay. “If you have to twist to place the hay or feed into a wheelbarrow, engage (tighten) the core and glutes, hold the object close to your body, and keep the engagement in the core the entire time.”

If you can’t lift up the bale of hay, Angelo says you can roll it into the wheelbarrow but be cautious of the positioning.

Like lifting the feed bag, start with a wide leg stance.
Angelo recommends against using the hay twine to move the hay. Place your hands on each side of the bale and bring it close to your body.
With a tight core and glutes, neutral (slight curve on the lower portion of the back) back, lift the hay bale with legs, back, and glutes.
If twisting your body is necessary to place the hay in a wheelbarrow, make sure that your core is engaged the entire time.

How to Lift a Chicken

“If the chicken runs away from you and you must extend your back or arms, you could get injured,” Angelo says. Use a wider stance and hip hinge, just like the previous movements to avoid injury.

Using your thighs and glutes, squat over the chicken. Keep your back in a neutral position. Do not extend your back or arms.
An arched back when picking up objects can lead to injuries ranging from pulled hamstring to back, shoulder, and neck pain.

How to Fill a Bucket from a Rain Barrel

To properly fill a bucket, squatting would be ideal, but Angelo says that most people cannot get in the right position. Keeping an upright back position will prevent injuries.
Leaning over with an arched back will cause pain and discomfort.

Exercises to Prevent Injuries

If you know your body cannot do the above exercises, practicing a hip hinge is a great way to strengthen your muscles and confidence Angelo says. “Push your hips back, come down to a low surface, ideally something that is 18 inches tall — like the height of a normal chair — and then stand back up. The biggest thing is you want to keep your lower back and pelvis in a neutral position, which means you are not overarching and you are not rounding.

A hip hinge activates all the muscles you need to lift something off of the ground. Practicing this exercise will help you lift objects. “If you truly only lift with your legs, you could injure your knees,” Angelo warns. “You could do this exercise every day but, more importantly, you should do it every time you squat down.”

With arms forward to help with balance, slowly lower your body over the chair. Keep the weight through your heels, knees pushed out, core engaged, and push your hips back.
Gently tap the chair and stand back up, driving the hips forward and keeping your back straight. If you sit, your muscles disengage.
On the way up, bring your hips forward.

By training your body correctly in your daily life, not just when you are lifting heavy objects, your body will remember the correct form. Angelo says when it is time to lift something, your body will do it automatically.

How to Walk on Uneven Surfaces

Chickens are known excavators, which could lead to injuries.

“The bulkier your shoes are, the less feedback you have with the ground,” Angelo explains. “So having a more minimal shoe or going barefoot may help you with your balance because your foot muscles can stabilize. With big, old shoes with a lot of rubber on the bottom, you lose a lot of feedback which makes it easier to lose your balance.”

Angelo says, “I love how raising backyard poultry and gardening keeps you connected to nature. It’s a great way to stay active.”

Anthony Angelo making friends with Heidi Plum.

Originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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