We’re officially in the midst of another winter season here in New Hampshire. Now I know some people have snowplows and snowblowers, but there are a ton of people who still break out the shovels to get rid of the white stuff. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have tweaked their backs in their zealous attempts to keep a clear driveway.
Today I am going to reveal my top safe shoveling secrets. For those of you who do not live in New Hampshire like me, you still need to know this information too. This global warming stuff is a weird thing :). It recently snowed in Vegas for the first time in like 25 years!
So, without further adieu, here are my top five safe shoveling tips:
1.) Perform a Proper 5-Minute Warm-up Before Shoveling
Yeah, right! Who’s actually going to do THAT? Well if you want to save yourself some pain, take 5 minutes and give it a try.
Just as very few people properly warm-up before intense exercise, so do many people fail to get their bodies ready for the rigors of shoveling snow. Let’s face it, snow, especially when it’s wet, is a real beast to move around. And if your body is tight and cold then you will dramatically increase your chances of short or long-term injury.
Here’s a great shoveling specific five-minute warm-up to get your body ready to go. There is a special emphasis on opening up the hips and chest to save your back and shoulders, the two most commonly injured areas of broken down shovelers:
Perform each exercise in the following warm-up circuit at a slow, controlled tempo for 50 seconds with a 10 second rest and transition between exercises. Do this warm-up indoors to better increase core temperature and total body blood flow:
Exercise#1- Stationary High Knee Run
Exercise#2- Jumping Claps (modified jumping jacks with arms moving across chest level, palms facing)
Exercise#3- Alternating Forward Lunge, Overhead Reach, and Twist
Exercise#4- Alternating Lateral Lunge with Opposite Hand to Toe Touch
Exercise#5- Prisoner Squats (hands behind head with finger interlocked)
2.) Split Your Stance When Shoveling
Back pain is probably the biggest complaint for those who shovel a lot. In most cases, a sore or tight back stems from restriction at the hips (see the warm-up above to best remedy this). If you shovel with a parallel stance (one leg right next to the other one) you are setting yourself up for some pain However, the simple switch to shoveling with a split stance, where one leg is forward and the other leg is back, will not only help prevent hyper flexion while bending over and moving snow, but will also actively stretch and open up those tight hips at the same time.
3.) Point Your Toes In Same Direction You Are Shoveling
This is a continuation of the last tip. Even when you split your stance, you can be susceptible to injury whenever you perform a rotating back extension (e.g. a shovel toss over your shoulder). So, to further bolster your body, be sure to always shovel snow in the direction that your toes point to minimize excessive spinal rotation that can literally wrench your back.
4.) Shovel EQUALLY to BOTH Sides
This is a further continuation on the last two tips. Another big mistake people make is that they always shovel to their strong sides causing further strength and flexibility imbalances that can put your body at greater risk for injury. Those of you who train with me know that imbalances between the left and right side can cause real problems in your training, and it is no different in every day life. So, we now know you want to split your stance and shovel in the direction your toes are pointing, but you should also be sure do an equal amount of shovel tosses to your left AND right. Do 10 shovel tosses to your left with your left leg forward and then do 10 shovel tosses to your right with your right leg forward. Repeat until your driveway or sidewalk is crystal clear.
5.) Buy a Condo
Or have teenagers around – this is helpful too! Ok, I am joking, if only because shoveling snow is the only activity some people I know get!
Back to reality: The aforementioned tips will go a long way in keeping your body as bulletproof as possible during the next blizzard. Seriously, it’s not really cool to get hurt shoveling. It’s a sign of an even bigger problem: being overweight and/or highly de-conditioned. And if you do get hurt shoveling, be sure to lie when some asks why you’re in a wheelchair. Just tell them you got hit by a snow plow truck, it makes for a better story and your co-workers or friends won’t bust on you for the next six months!