Tips to Prepare Your Body for Snow Shoveling

Tips to Prepare Your Body for Snow Shoveling

By: Sabrina Casares, SPT

Since winter has decided to grace us with its presence much sooner this year here are some helpful hints to avoid injury when shoveling snow!

Getting started: Before even picking up that snow shovel there are several things you can do to prevent injury:

  • Warm up: Just like with any physical activity you should warm up and stretch before shoveling snow. When muscles are tight you are more prone to injury. You can perform gentle stretching exercises within your home to help you prepare before shoveling the snow.
    • Hamstring Stretch: While standing, bend forward at your hips, keep your knees straight but not locked out and try to touch your toes. Do not strain, you should stop bending forward when you feel a gentle pull in the back of your legs.
    • Shoulder stretch: Perform shoulder rolls forward and backward. You can also hold a body hug for 30-60 seconds to help loosen your arms and shoulders.
  • Wear Proper Attire: Make sure you bundle up before heading outside into the cold. Maintaining a warm body temperature will help you perform optimally when outside. Wear gloves that are waterproof and a hat on your head to keep you warm and dry. Proper footwear, such as boots with thicker treads, is especially important to prevent unwanted slips and falls on icy surfaces.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling snow. Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of your heart, brain, and muscles! Some signs of dehydration include weakness, dizziness, and confusion. If you experience any of these signs while working, you should stop physical activity.
  • Know Warning Signs of a Heart Attack: Chest discomfort, discomfort in your arms, shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort, breaking into a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness are all signs of a possible heart attack. If you experience any of these while shoveling snow stop what you are doing immediately and call for help.

Proper Form: Using proper body mechanics when shoveling snow is essential to prevent unwanted injury or pain:

  • The Proper Shovel: Shovels with adjustable handles that have a curved shaft allow for better leverage and are easier on the back than straight shaft shovels. Additionally, avoid using heavy metal shovels since these can be harder to lift than lighter, plastic ones.
  • Hand Placement: Avoid holding your hands close together. When you place your hands further apart you are able to work more efficiently and improve your control when you are lifting the snow. Try and keep your hands roughly 12 inches apart to provide for greater stability.
  • The Set Up: Face the pile of snow you are going to shovel. You want to keep your body squared up and aligned with the snow.
  • Proper Alignment:  It is very important that you keep a STRAIGHT back when shoveling snow. To do this, bend at your hips, not your low back, and point your chest forward. Then, bend at your knees and lift using your LEG muscles. Your feet should be apart in a staggered stance.
    • Keep feet wide apart and shift your weight on the foot closest to the shovel using the leg to push the shovel forward.
    • Shift your weight to your back foot and lift the shovel with your legs and arms, NOT your back. Keep the snow close to your body.
  • Turn the feet in the direction you want to place the snow instead of twisting at the waist.
  • Amount of Snow to Lift: Try and keep the loads of snow you are lifting light as to not stain your muscles to lift heavy amounts of snow. When lifting the snow, keep the heavy amount close to your body and DO NOT extend your arms to carry or throw the snow.
  • Moving the Snow: Walk the snow to the location where you want to move it. Avoid reaching and tossing the snow as this places unwanted and unnecessary strains on your muscles. Try not to twist your body when moving the snow to its new location. NEVER throw the snow over your shoulder.
  • Push the Snow When You Can: Pushing the snow with one leg forward, knees slightly bent and back straight is ALWAYS the preferred method to move the snow when possible instead of lifting the snow.

Helpful Hints: Some additional tips to keep you safe while shoveling snow include:

  • Take Your Time: Shoveling snow over longer periods of time instead of shoveling it all at once will reduce your risk of injury.
  • Deep snow: If the snow is deep, try removing a few inches off the top instead of removing the full depth of the snow at once.
  • Take Breaks: Allow yourself to take a rest break and stretch to avoid overexertion and strain.  

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