Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let it Snow - Safer, Faster Shoveling and Getting a Good Workout

We just had our first snow in the new year here in the Midwest. What a way to start off the new year. Snow and snow shoveling are simply a fact of Midwest winters. But that doesn’t mean you have to strain your back shoveling when the next snow storm comes to visit. In fact, you can turn it into a good opportunity to build some core and leg strength.

The key to shoveling snow safely is doing the heavy lifting with your legs. Your back isn’t meant to lift heavy objects. It’s especially tough with heavy snow perched far away at the end of your shovel—talk about poor leverage! Rather, your back and other core muscles (abs and obliques) are for maintaining your posture and enabling efficient transfer of forces through your body. In the case of shoveling snow, that means transferring the lifting power generated by your legs to your arms and hands.

With that in mind, let’s go over a better and safer way to shovel snow. Stand near the snow to be shoveled and place your left hand on the handle of the shovel. Keep this end of the shovel tucked against your body in front of your hips. This enables you to use your body weight effectively to maneuver the snow. Next, place your right hand on the shaft of the shovel, as near to the blade of the shovel as is comfortable. This arm only controls the shovel, rather than bending and lifting the snow, which is the job of your legs.

Now for the placement of the feet, which is important for balance and power. Put your right foot forward and left foot back in a wide stance. Then, squat down by bending your knees until the shovel touches the bottom of the snow. Keep your back as upright as you can; bending at the waist will lead to back strain. Center your weight between your feet to maximize stability and minimize the strain on your back when you lift. Push the shovel forward to load it with snow. Then, stand up by straightening your legs, keeping the front arm straight and back hand tucked into your hip. This movement should feel similar to picking up a heavy box with proper technique.

To dump the snow, simply pivot to the side by twisting your hips, not just your torso. For those of you familiar with martial arts, this movement is similar to the hip pivot from a back (60/40) stance to a high front or bow stance. Reset to the starting position and you’re ready for the next load. If you get tired on one side, switch your hands and feet and use your other side.

Snow Shoveling Animation
This technique minimizes movement of your back and smaller arm muscles, leaving the heavy lifting to your stronger leg muscles. It also uses your hips as a brace to reduce the effort needed to maneuver the loaded shovel. With a little practice, you’ll find that you can shovel snow faster since you don’t have to move as much with each repetition. As a bonus, you’ll get a great core and lower body workout at the same time!

If your legs aren’t strong right now, consider preparing for the snow by doing some leg strengthening exercises such as the Squat Progression from The One Minute Workout. Strong legs will help with everything, not just shoveling snow.

Remember, if the snow is deep or especially wet, work your way down in layers. There is no need to do the whole job at once. Take breaks as needed and go inside to warm up. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! When it is cold outside, it’s amazing how much sweat you can work up without noticing it.

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