More Shoveling? Say It Ain’t Snow!

Before you start, consider:

  • Snow shoveling puts a high physical demand on your heart and back.
  • Avoid snow shoveling after a big meal.  Give yourself 1-2 hours after a meal before you start shoveling.  It takes a lot of blood flow to digest a meal.
  • Avoid caffeine or smoking before and when you’re shoveling.  Both substances will increase your heart rate.
  • Avoid shoveling if you are 40 years or older, suffer a heart condition, or have hypertension.
  • Avoid shoveling if you suffer from low back pain.
  • Avoid shoveling if you are physically inactive.

Dress appropriately:

It’s winter, so layer your clothing.  Not only will this keep you warm, but it will be easier to shed clothing as you warm up. Make sure your clothing doesn’t restrict your ability to move.  Wear appropriate shoes/boots.  Make sure the boots have good traction to reduce slipping.  If it’s icy wear “ice grippers” over boots or shoes to prevent slipping.  Protect your face with sunscreen.

The right shovel:

All shovels are not alike.  Consider a shovel with a bent handle.  This will reduce the amount of bending you’ll have to do when shoveling.  Plastic is lighter than metal, so go light; the snow will provide plenty of weight.

Warm up and stretch your muscles before you shovel:

Prepare your body to do work.  Increase your core temperature by marching in place or with a brisk walk.  Once your core is warm, stretch your shoulders, back, and legs.  These areas of the body will be doing the majority of the work.  Take micro breaks every 10 minutes when shoveling and stretch any tight muscle.

Stop shoveling immediately if:

  • You experience shortness of breath
  • You feel tightness in your chest
  • You begin to experience back pain

Moving snow:

Do it sooner rather than later.  Fresh snow is lighter. Packed snow is tougher to move.  Push snow whenever possible and avoid lifting.  If you have to lift the snow, keep these points in mind:

  • Try to maintain your back as upright as possible.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to load the shovel.
  • Take less snow on the shovel if it is wet and dense.  A shovel full of wet snow can weigh up to 25 pounds.
  • Lift with your legs and hips while keeping your core muscles tight.
  • Avoid twisting, and always pivot the whole body when moving snow.
  • Train yourself to shovel left-handed and right-handed.  This will take a little effort on your part to practice.  It takes about a week to coordinate your body.  Alternate sides every 10 minutes.
  • Take frequent stretch breaks for the shoulders and back.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling.

When You’re Done:

  • Drink water and eat a healthy snack.
  • Stretch your muscles.

Read a past MEMIC SafetyNet blog titled "Is There Any Science to Shoveling?".