I shovel pain free and you can too!

Darien Sports & Fitness Personal Trainer Shares 5 Safe Shoveling Tips to Save Your Back

We’re officially in middle of a chilly and snowy winter season in Fairfield County. I am a winter sport junky and love everything about winter, the fresh cold air, the smell of the fireplaces warming homes and not to much putting on my cute ski gear and headed upstate to hit the slopes! The only thing that I do not like about winter is out that heavy shovel and moving away piles of snow from the driveway and walkway. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have tweaked their backs in their eager attempts to keep a clear driveway.

There are a few secrets to shoveling snow and today I am going to share those with you. Being that we live in New England and we get to experience all of the wonderful changes of the season. That is the reason also that we have to accept that we are going to have to shovel snow. This year so far we have had a truckload of snow dumped on us already and it has become a grueling endeavor to shovel snow weekend after weekend.

So, without wasting anymore time, the following are my top five safe shoveling tips:

1.) Warm Up: Perform a Proper 5-Minute Warm-up Before Shoveling

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.

I have created a great shoveling specific five-minute warm-up to get your body ready to rock. 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 Stance

Back pain is probably the biggest complaint for avid shovelers. In most cases, a sore or tight back stems from restriction at the hips (see the warm-up above to best remedy this). More specifically, using a parallel stance puts your lower back at a greater risk of injury due to the greater likelihood of excessive flexion of the lumbar spine that often leads to back spasms in the short run and herniated discs in the long run. 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 this hyper flexion while bending over and moving snow, but will also actively stretch and open up those tight hips at the same time. Be sure to keep things in balance by doing an even number of shovel strokes with both legs forward by alternating every 10 reps or so.

3.) Toes and Shovel should point in the same direction

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 to your rear). 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.) EQUALLY Shovel 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. 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.) Clean Living: Buy a Condo

This is my personal favorite, and no, I’m not joking. The great thing about a condominium community is that they do all of the outdoor maintenance for your home, including shoveling. Honestly, the winter before we bought our new condo in 2008 was so awful that my fiancé and I made a promise to ourselves that we’d never shovel snow again. This has saved us so much extra stress and time, and if it is a viable option and you live in a harsh winter climate, make the smart move and get a condo. It’s hard to get hurt shoveling if you never shovel.

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 rip on you for the rest of your days, ha!