That’s me in the pic post-shovel. Yup, I not only survived the Blizzard of 2016 but I shoveled it off my driveway, stairs and walkways with my own bare hands! (Well, actually, I was wearing gloves and my husband also shoveled with me, but still!). Here’s the final box score:
- Total amount: 20.5 inches: shoveled 8″ on Saturday and 12.5″ on Sunday
- Total shoveling time: 4 hours
- Final score: Me 1: Blizzard 0
Thanks to focusing on my form and making sure I did extensive stretching after both bouts with the shovel, my muscles are sore but I’m not in pain – no pulled muscles or achy joints. In fact, I feel pretty good today.
So, here’s my annual “Shovel This” post on how to make removing what Mother Nature dumps onto your property a safe workout.
A Cautionary Note
Sadly, post-storm news reports include people who suffered heart attacks while shoveling. Shoveling is safe only for healthy individuals who exercise regularly. The following is a list of individuals who should NOT shovel:
- Those with cardiovascular diseases
- Individuals who suffer from pulmonary diseases, such as asthma, COPD and emphysema
- People who have circulatory problems like diabetes or atherosclerosis
- The elderly
- Obese, deconditioned or sedentary individuals. For example, if you can’t jog on a treadmill for 20 minutes without stopping, it’s probably unsafe for you to shovel.
Skip the Gym, Grab a Shovel
If you’re healthy enough to shovel it’s a fantastic workout. How fantastic? On average, 288 calories per hour. Even more impressive is the nature of the workout. Shoveling snow is a high-intensity, full-body strength training workout that raises your heart-rate enough to qualify as cardiovascular exercise too. As if that weren’t enough, this type of workout maximizes post-exercise calorie burn (EPOC), known as afterburn. Meaning, in the end, one burns far more than 288 calories per hour while building full-body muscle and strengthening bones.
The following is everything you need to know to get a great workout while reducing risk for injury and ensuring proper recovery:
Proper Form and Strategy: If you have the luxury of being able to choose when you venture out with the shovel, choose wisely. Information like total predicted accumulation, how wet (heavy) or dry (light) the snow will be, when the storm will begin and end, when snowfall will be heaviest, and if there will be mixed precipitation (sleet or rain) can be helpful in determining whether to shovel when the storm is over or to shovel in stages throughout the storm. Even the most fit can overdo it by overloading muscles not accustomed to shoveling. So, good form is extremely important:
- Use your legs. Lifting should be accomplished primarily through the legs, not the back or shoulders. The first movement as you scoop snow with the shovel is a basic squat: bend the knees, hinge at the hips (not at the waist), brace the core (flat back, belly button pulled inward, abs engaged) as you inhale. The “scooping” hand is on the handle while the “lifting” hand is grasping the shovel post just above the shovel blade, both elbows are bent. To lift the shovel, straighten legs, keeping core braced, as you exhale.
- Keep using your legs. The momentum of lifting with the legs assists the back and shoulders with “throwing” the snow off the shovel. A slight twist at the waist, pivot in the hips while straightening the arms toward the direction of where you want the snow to land is all that’s needed if you are properly using your legs.
- Don’t overdo the weight. If the snow is wet and heavy and/or the snow banks are tall (necessitating throwing the snow higher than your waist), don’t fill the shovel blade. The amount you can lift is determined by your form. If the momentum of straightening the legs isn’t forceful enough to throw the snow, causing you to arch your back , then you have too much snow in your shovel. Better to do more repetitions than throw your back out.
- Balance your arm workout. Your hand positions (which hand is on the handle and which is on the post) are determined by what feels most natural to you. To avoid an unbalanced arm, chest and shoulder workout, force yourself to switch the hand positions on the shovel. You can time it (switch every 5 minutes, for example), or switch after a pre-determined number of rows, or, if you’re like me and you listen to music while shoveling, switch at the beginning of each song.
Safest Attire and Equipment: Use a good, quality shovel that is sturdy but not too heavy with a post that is the correct length for your height. Here are a few more tips on choosing the right shovel. As for attire, see my post on dressing for cold weather workouts. Insulated, water-proof snow boots and insulated, water-proof gloves with good grip are a must.
Pre and Post Shoveling Regimen: Don’t do the heaviest work right away. Like any vigorous workout, you want to warm-up first. Start with stairs or narrow walk-ways as a form of warm-up. Once your heart-rate increases and torso warms up, then it’s time to tackle the stuff the plows left behind. After you come in from the cold, stretch your hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and upper arms. Examples of stretches by body part can be found at ACE Fitness. Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate. Drink water before, during (if possible) and after shoveling.
Re-Fueling: If you’re shoveling for longer than an hour, you should consider it an intense, vigorous workout and refuel accordingly. In addition to rehydration, sodium replenishment is necessary. And don’t forget the protein. This is a serious strength training workout, the longer you’re out there the more protein you need for muscles to recover.
There you have it, when the next winter storm hits where you live, you’re ready to kick butt too!