I realize I’m a little late with this, but as I write this from a hotel room in snowy New Jersey, I’m betting you’ll have the opportunity to use these tips before winter formally ends, or maybe even before the weekend ends. The truth is, I had several folks come in after last week’s “Snowpocalypse,” reporting various aches, pains and set-backs from shoveling snow. With these winter warriors in mind, I compose this month’s tips. These tips will be most helpful if you are already training the muscles of your deep core and have a pretty good foundation before you grab your shovel. They are not a replacement for good medical care and/or a good spinal stability/ core strengthening program.
- Stagger your feet. You probably know to use your legs and not your back while shoveling. This is a good start, but if your feet are parallel as if in a squat, you are still in a vulnerable position. Staggering the feet, ideally with the foot opposite your dominant arm forward, will help to put your weight back toward your hips and put of your back.
- Bend your knees. Bending your knees while shoveling should help you keep the effort more in your hips and legs, and out of your lower back. Keeping your weight back toward your heels will put the weight more into your hips.
- Take smaller scoops. In the name of efficiency, it’s natural to try to pack as much as you can into each scoop. But this increases the load, and too much load will quickly tire your muscles, and strain your back. A better option is to make more scoops that are smaller, and therefore lighter.
- Avoid twisting to scoop or toss. Do your best to angle yourself so that you can scoop and toss in the same direction. Twisting under load is a great way to injure your back. If you must toss the snow in a different direction, scoop, stand up, then turn your feet—yes, pick them up and turn your whole body to toss the snow. It might take a smidge longer, but it’s worth it to avoid injury.
- Stop when your body tells you to. I spoke with a client this week who told me his back was doing great with snow shoveling, and then he “started to lose his rhythm.” This is a warning sign—time to take a break. If you can give yourself time to recover, you can likely finish the job later without major recourse. Otherwise, you’re asking for it.
Shoveling snow is a reality for many of us this winter. But it doesn’t have to wreck us. If you have good spinal stability and core strength, following these 5 tips should help you avoid a major set-back. So keep training, use good mechanics, take small scoops and honor your body with a break when it tires. Don’t worry; the snow will still be there after a well-earned cup of hot chocolate!