Shoveling snow can be a great work out, but it can also put you at risk for injury. Check out these tips before going out to move that heavy snow and ice that covers the Eugene area.
Do a Proper Warm-Up
If you just woke up, wait 45 minutes to an hour before shoveling. But before you shovel at any point in the day, move through a quick dynamic warm-up to "wake up" all the right muscles, says Lovitt. "A great warm-up people can do is knee grabs—standing and pulling each knee to your chest alternating—for 12 to 15 reps on each side and large arm circles forward and back for a few reps," she says.
Dr. Lawless also suggests getting your heart pumping by walking at 2.5 miles per hour on the treadmill for one mile before you head outside.
Fire Up the Right Muscles
"When you think about the biomechanics of shoveling snow, the biggest challenge of the movement is taken on by the muscles and joints of the back of the body," explains Cris Dobrosielski, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. The neck, shoulders, and low back in particular get pulled forward as you drive the shovel into the snow, and they have to work together to stabilize your body. "It's really a form of resistance training," Dobrosielski says.
Just before you lift a shovel full of snow, think about two main things: keeping your knees slightly bent at all times, which takes some of the tension off of the low back, and hinging at the hips. "Draw in the navel slightly, keep your back straight and abdominals engaged, and shift your hips back slightly, which will help turn on the glutes and hamstrings, where most of the power should come from," Dobrosielski explains. "Then brace your body from this position while you drive the shovel into the snow and lift and throw."
While you're in this position, you want to remind yourself to constantly keep your core engaged, Lovitt adds. "Brace your midsection as if you were going to take a punch to the stomach."
Hold the Shovel Correctly
Keep a wide grip on the shovel handle—with one hand near the top of the handle and the other close to the actual shovel full of snow—so that you have better control of the heavy load. Also, keep the shovel as close to your body as possible as you carry it.
"You have a mechanical advantage when you keep the lever arm of the shovel and the weight of the load close to your body," Dobrosielski says. "The closer the load is to your center of gravity, the less strain and discomfort you are putting on every muscle and joint involved in that movement."
Don't Twist and Throw
What does bad form look like? To start, you shouldn't be rounding your shoulders and dropping your back to lift the snow without engaging your legs and glutes—or using your lower back to lift the snow in the shovel (but you know that now). But another huge mistake is twisting or hyperextending your back to propel and throw the snow off the shovel.
"You may need to twist your torso a little bit to maneuver the snow, but you should really be thinking about turning your entire body with the shovel in the direction that you want to drop the snow and gently tip the shovel for the snow to drop off," Dobrosielski explains. "You shouldn't have to twist a lot, and you should never be throwing snow from the shovel up by your shoulders. The shovel can stay at or below your waist."
And when you can, don't even lift the snow; just plow it to the side.
"When fatigue sets in, this is when injuries tend to happen," Lovitt cautions. So keep your snow-shoveling intervals short and sweet, taking breaks whenever you need to.
"I wouldn't suggest going outside for more than 40 minutes at a time," Dobrosielski says. "And I would break that up until two 20-minute periods for fit people, and even four 10-minute intervals for more sedentary people."
Another tip: Keep the scoops small. "You may think it makes more sense to scoop these huge heavy piles to move more snow more quickly, but this will tire most people out faster than just doing more reps with little piles," he adds.
Make Shoveling Snow a Workout
If you're shoveling snow properly, you'll work your glutes, hamstrings, quads, abs, low back, upper back, and shoulders. "It's the absolute best workout," Lovitt says. Once you get into the swing of things and nail your form, you can really start to make it a double-duty chore and up the fitness factor.
"Do lunges or squats into each shovel of snow," Lovitt says. You can also carry the piles of snow farther down the driveway to get extra steps in if you're feeling ambitious.
One caveat: If you're recovering from a heart attack or have known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, do not shovel snow without clearance from your doctor.
If you are feeling the effects of snow shoveling or suffered a fall, be sure to reach out for an evaluation and treatment. We're here to help you feel and move your best!
Andriakos, J. (2018, February 6). 7 Tips to Shovel Snow Safely and Efficiently (and Even Turn It Into a Workout). Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://www.health.com/fitness/right-way-shovel-snow