A quick check of my blog history tells me I’m a running a little later than usual on my annual post about cold-weather workouts and safe shoveling practices. So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about shoveling and working out safely when Jack Frost and Old Man Winter settle into your neck of the woods.
Winter Workouts + Shoveling = Fantastic Fitness
Unlike working out in extreme heat, working out in cold temperatures can be beneficial if your goal is maximum calorie burn. The body needs to work extra hard to keep the core warm while also supplying the cardiovascular and muscular systems with oxygen and blood to get you through your workout. The best way to accomplish both of these things is for the body to generate its own heat and energy in the form of calories burned. So, the more the mercury drops, the more calories we burn when compared to the same workout on a milder day.
Shoveling has even more calorie-burning benefits. On average, we burn 288 calories per hour while shoveling. Even more impressive is the nature of the workout. Shoveling is a high-intensity, full-body strength training workout that raises the heart-rate enough to qualify as cardiovascular exercise too. Plus, this type of workout maximizes post-exercise calorie burn (EPOC), known as after-burn. Meaning, in the end, one burns far more than 288 calories per hour while building muscle and strengthening bones.
Conditions that limit winter workouts: Working out in extreme cold, as the boosted calorie burn implies, is taxing on our bodies, particularly the cardiovascular, pulmonary and circulatory systems. It’s recommended that those with the following conditions avoid shoveling more than a few inches of snow and check with their physicians for guidance on cold-weather activities:
- Cardiovascular: coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease
- Pulmonary: chronic asthma, COPD, emphysema. lung cancer, edema
- Circulatory: atherosclerosis, diabetes with neuropathy, history of stroke, embolism or aneurysm
Conditions that limit shoveling: The heavier or deeper the snow, the longer one has to shovel and the colder the conditions the more rigorous the task. In addition to the above conditions, individuals that fall into any of these categories should avoid shoveling more than a few inches of snow:
- Elderly, obese, deconditioned or sedentary individuals: If you can’t jog on a treadmill for 20 minutes without stopping, it’s probably unsafe for you to shovel heavy snow or for extended periods of time.
Protecting yourself during cold weather workouts: There are specific parameters for when not to exercise in extreme heat and humid conditions, but not when it comes to cold. The reason is it’s possible to guard against things like frostbite and hypothermia if one is properly dressed and prepared. Most running community websites seem to agree that it’s okay, if geared appropriately, to run outdoors as long as the temperature with wind chill is 0 degrees or above. Here’s how to be safe and prepared:
- Dress in layers:
- Under layer: Synthetic, thin fabrics that wick away moisture. Avoid 100% cotton.
- Middle layer for vigorous workouts: This is your insulation layer to absorb and capture heat from your body. You want it to be warm but not bulky. Wool and fleece are good insulating yet lightweight fabrics.
- Top layer for vigorous workouts: A lightweight jacket with a water resistant shell is a good choice to keep dampness out and block the wind. Even better if it has mesh venting in the armpits to allow for evaporation.
- Middle & top layer for light to moderate workouts: Your body won’t be generating as much ambient heat and you’ll feel the elements if it’s under 20 degrees. Choose a synthetic under layer (see above) with a lined parka or ski jacket and fleece-lined warm-up pants.
- Protect the extremities: No matter the type of workout planned, you need to protect against frostbite. Fragile tissues in the extremities – hands, nose and other areas of the face, ears and feet – are especially vulnerable. Cover these areas and avoid prolonged exposure when temperatures with wind chill get close to single digits. Keep in mind synthetic fabrics are better at keeping your skin dry and wool and fleece are great for insulation when choosing hats, gloves and socks. When shoveling, insulated and water-proof boots and gloves with good tread and grip, respectively, are a must.
- Know the current and predicted conditions and choose accordingly. It’s best to avoid early mornings and mid-to-late evenings since these tend to be when it’s darkest and coldest, increasing all risk factors for injury and exposure ailments. If these times can’t be avoided choose well-lit routes, wear reflective clothing and a light. But, even in daylight, there are plenty of dangers when temperatures are below freezing. Know the current air and wind chill temperatures and if any major changes are expected in terms of wind speed and precipitation while you’ll be out. Unless your activity requires snow or ice, choose routes with the least ice and snow cover. And, the colder and windier the conditions, the shorter your workout should be.
- Pick the roads more travelled. If you should take a spill off your bike or severely turn an ankle on your jog in extremely cold conditions, a few extra minutes of waiting for help could put you at high risk of frostbite or hypothermia. This is especially true if you’re working out alone. Stick to well-travelled areas, have a charged cell phone with you, and be sure loved ones know your route and how long you plan to be out.
- Shoveling Tips:
- Proper form: Lift with your legs, not with your back or shoulders; switch hand positions regularly to avoid imbalanced muscle strengthening; don’t overload your shovel.
- Use the right shovel: Avoid one that’s too short or too heavy for you.
- Stretch: After shoveling stretch back, shoulders, chest, arms, abdominals, hip and thigh muscles.
- Re-Fuel & Re-Hydrate: Lean proteins and water are what’s needed for the muscles to recover.
Now you’re ready to show winter who’s boss!