How shovelling can hurt you and how to prepare yourself for the inevitable task: Factors to consider and a few exercises that will prepare you best!
By Robyn Edge and Gilbert Magne
Let’s face it, we live in Winterpeg Manisnowba. Living between the snow piles is part of our everyday life from the months of November to April. Skating, skiing, tobogganing, snowshoeing and all the other activities between are the joys of winter. Navigating the blizzard, bundling up to stay warm and shoveling are the downfalls of winter. We dread it but the reality is we can prepare for it so it doesn’t defeat us. Or we let it push us under the blankets on the couch for a few months out of the year while we hibernate.
If you have a driveway/walkway, you will have to shovel at least a few times throughout the season. How are you going to prepare for this challenge? How are you going to ensure you can get through the task of shoveling without injuring yourself?
Shoveling is a Workout
Shoveling and snow removal is all too often taken for granted or with a very casual approach to it. We forget that shoveling can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on the amount of snow that has fallen. Ask yourself something: when was the last time you performed a cardiovascular task for upwards of 2 hours? Why do I ask you this? Because shoveling IS an aerobic activity that stresses your heart and stresses your whole body. It is common to experience muscle soreness (DOMS) from shoveling, especially if this is your yearly workout. And you could experience injuries from shoveling if your effort outweighs your abilities. To avoid some of this, you need to prepare your body.
Shoveling can be a vigorous workout as it is aerobic exercise and should considered as such. Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart rate to increase delivery of oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Breathing rate increases to increase the exchange rate in your lungs of oxygen and carbon dioxide. And this is only your cardio system. Muscles will also be working in ways they haven’t been since the previous year’s blizzard.
Consider The Same Things as an Athlete does before the Big Game
Like any activity, what are some things you should be taking into consideration before starting. Here are a few things you should think about before slinging some snow:
Some potential injuries with shoveling
Inadequate strength, lacking endurance, and poor technique are some reasons why injuries can occur with shoveling. Prevention is key. Proper pushing, carrying, and lifting technique work best when you are able to move your body in the right way.
Shoulder injuries: this is often due to ineffective use of the whole body when lifting or pushing. If we rely on using the arms to do the work as compared to engaging a strong, wide and stable base from our legs, tension from our core and work from our whole body, we can strain the rotator cuff, the chest muscles, the neck and the bicep.
Back injuries: this is also often due to ineffective use of the whole body. The core is the connection point between our upper body and our lower body. It needs to be stable and in a neutral and supported position to help transfer strength from your lower body into the upper body so the task is easier. It’s very important to maintain a neutral spine position, as compared to a slouched forward position, and a proper hip hinge to protect your back. Use those hips! They are the most stable joint in our bodies and some of our biggest, strongest muscles cross them.
Heart problems: because this is an activity that is usually more strenuous than we are used to, it taxes the cardiovascular system. And this is not only if you are older! We've seen seemingly fit people get heart attacks in their 30s! Allow enough breaks and rests and allow your body to handle the stress of this activity. Shoveling can trigger angina or a heart attack. If you have a family history of early heart problems, you should be particularly careful due to increased risk, and make sure you pace yourself. If you feel ANY of the following you should call 9-1-1 and get medical attention: chest pain or pressure (angina); dizzy or sick to your stomach; shortness of breath, gasping; very rapid or pounding heartbeat; excessively sweaty or cold and clammy; nausea, tense and nervous. For further info: http://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart/emergency-signs
Other tips to avoid injury
Be strong before your start! Among it's many health benefits, strength training gives you more capacity to do these types of tasks.
It’s all in the hips...and legs...and core...and shoulders.
We’ve come up with an exercise routine that addresses the injury risk factors associated with shoveling. We want strong shoulders and legs and a stable core. These working together are what you need to remain strong and stable when lifting and pushing snow. Part of the challenge with shoveling is the lifting and twisting involved. Adding the weight of the snow, and now we've amplified the stress on the body. Do this a whole bunch of times with improper technique and your body will say it’s had enough!
Research has shown the core responds best to practice stability challenging movements for a longer period of time. For example, holding a plank for 30 seconds. Because shoveling is an endurance event, we recommend holding these positions for a longer duration. The exercises listed below will help you gain strength and proper technique in your legs and arms so your lifts and pushes can be more effective. When performing these exercises, you want to feel your muscles become fatigued without losing proper form. Having an outside set of eyes can verify that your technique is correct.
Our sample generic exercise routine
Everyone’s needs can be different. The following is a sample program that works on the primary muscle groups used.
Core Circuit: Our goal is to build core endurance and bracing in a neutral position. This is best done daily.
Holding for 10-15 seconds: move from one to the next then repeated the circuit 6 times.
McGill curl up, birddogs, plank rocking, sidebridging, clamshell
Strengthening circuit: Our goal is to work the muscles we’d use pushing and lifting/throwing. This is best done 2 times per week.
Do controlled repetitions for 6 reps, using a weight that you find creates a 7/10 effort.
Split stance lift; Single arm press stepping forward; Split stance Deadlift; Suitcase carry;
Working your cardio by doing intervals is the most efficient way to work the heart and lungs. This can be done on any cardio machine or outdoors with running, cross country skiing, snowshoeing etc.
How we lift or push matters!
There are different positions that can stress or strain our body. Pushing the snow as much as you can is best. Keep it to smaller loads/shovel fulls. When you do need to lift, try to keep the shovel in front of you. A good rule is if it’s between your feet it means you are not twisting. Also try to have the weight of the shovel as close you as possible.
Consider taking a few minutes inside before you put on outer layers to get your muscles and joints warm. You will find yourself in many forward bend positions so it will benefit you to move in the opposite direction as apart of your warm up. This will prepare your body to move in the desired ways. Your goal with this routine is to encourage mobility and activate the muscles you will be engaging with moving with proper technique.
Try the following exercises to warm up:
Wall angels; Standing lumbar extensions; Hip hinging, Short stop squats for glut activation; Tubing pull aparts
Pay attention to how your body is feeling as you work through clearing the snow. Start easy and then go faster. This allows your body to adjust to the demands. Your body will feel general fatigue as you use it but you shouldn’t be feeling stress or strain in isolated parts of your body. Here are some areas of strain, meaning you are either over or underusing parts of your body, or your technique is not as effective as it could be. Having the awareness to tell the difference and knowing what you can do for yourself right then can help you nip it in the bud. The following are some general suggestions but you may benefit from getting a complete assessment at the clinic.
If you are having trouble with any joint pain, or pain that lasts for hours, you should get it checked by health professional.
Your heart rate will remain elevated for some time. You will continue to perspire as well. Cool down is the time you want to focus on allowing those mechanism to go through their natural process. Sitting on the couch the second you come inside will result in your body stiffening up. You’ve done a lot of bending forward, so to balance the stress to the body, it’s advisable to spend a bit of time moving your body in the opposite direction. The can be the back extensions on the floor or standing, or even going for a 10-15 minute walk around the block.
You don’t have to hibernate if you don’t want to.
We are seeing some light snow fall these day, now is the time to try some of these suggestions while the snow is light and the temperatures are tolerable. The bigger snow falls don’t come for at least a few more weeks so you’ve got roughly 4-6 weeks to get some of these exercises in to help you get ready for this inevitable task. If you aren’t sure of your technique or you want to do some preventive work with us one-on-one in the clinic, let us know! Injury prevention is apart of what we do!
by Dana Weber
So you have just been injured (maybe an ACL tear or something similar) and you’re wondering “would eating differently help my recovery?”
If your nutritional intake isn’t currently optimal (as like most of us) the answer is YES! Even if you are eating optimally though, your nutritional needs might be different now that you have an injury.
Seeing a Registered Dietitian soon after the injury can be incredibly important to your recovery. The dietitian will screen you for nutrient deficiencies, energy balance, and tailor recommendations to your needs to help you get back on your feet (so to speak).
Here are a few tips to help you recover from your injury, whether you need to have surgery for it or not:
1. Protein: Protein is a very important nutrient for building muscle. It provides the building blocks for cellular growth and repair, like those found in muscle, skin, and nails. It is also used to make enzymes and hormones. Protein is basically the structural and functional component of our body! Without boring you with the details, it is needless to say that protein is very important! It can also help us recover faster from surgery, injury, and illness.
Your proteins needs are slightly higher than normal when injured or sick. Try to aim for 20-30g of protein at each meal (at least 3 times a day).
What does this look like though? Here are examples of the protein content in several common foods:
Should I take a protein supplement powder? We usually do not need these types of products and should focus on meeting our protein needs from foods itself. We don’t need as much protein as some people like to believe we do. Our body can only handle so much at a time! The average man typically needs 60-70g of protein/day and the average female needs 50-60g of protein/day. When suffering from an injury or recovering from surgery, you will need a bit extra.
2. Consume Anti-inflammatory foods: When we are injured or recovering from surgery we likely have quite a bit of inflammation near the injured site. Some foods and nutrients can help reduce inflammation! Some of these foods include:
Should I take supplements? Again, it is best to focus on eating nutrient dense foods instead of relying on supplements. Large doses of anything, even vitamins and minerals, can be damaging to our body and organs. Discuss taking any supplements with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian first.
3. Avoid Pro-inflammatory foods: Just like some foods can help reduce inflammation, some foods can promote it. It is best to try to limit these foods while recovering:
4. Complex Carbohydrates: It is important to meet your energy needs. These needs may change while you are injured and can depend on changes to your activity level and mobility. While recovering, it is important to fuel your body properly with complex carbohydrates. By doing this, your body can use the protein you consume for repair! Carbohydrate and calorie needs can differ drastically from person to person. Great complex carbohydrates include:
Important Pre-Surgery Advice: If you are taking any supplements or natural health products, talk with your surgeon and anesthesiologist on whether these are safe during surgery. Some can interact with the anesthetic. You may be required to stop taking these products 2-3 weeks prior to surgery.
Questions or Comments? Please let us know below!
by Gil Magne and Robyn Edge
When was the last time you had to think about breathing? Breathing is subconscious, part of your brain is always telling your body to breathe. Like an app running in the background. We don’t have to think about it, it just happens!
Our lungs don’t move by themselves to breath. They rely on muscles to change pressure to pull in the air and push it out. This allows us to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.
There are different muscles helping us breathe and there are different ways of breathing. We can breathe from our belly or we can breathe from our chest. To breathe from the belly we use the diaphragm. The diaphragm attaches to the low back and the deep core muscles that provide our spine with stability. This connection forms the top and the sides of the core like a can. The bottom of this can is the pelvic floor. When they work well together these muscles give us stability and strength for our whole body. More pressure from the diaphragm means more stability and strength in our core. As an added benefit, it also decompresses the spine!
But, if you breathe from the upper chest, this can create a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders because those muscles are designed to move the neck or shoulder. Of course they get tired, tense, sore, stiff, achy if they are doing a job 24 hours a day that they are not designed to do AND trying to do their job at the same time. This leads to tension headaches, tight shoulders, limited spine movement and poorer posture.
Why would we breathe from the upper chest in the first place? In a stressful situation the body responds with a “fight or flight” reaction. For our ancestors, this used to happen when a lion jumped in front of us! In those situations, our body needs the most amount of oxygen to fight our way out or hightail it out of there! The body responds to stress from any source in the same way. Whether it’s a lion, bad traffic or a boss getting on our case, the same stress reactions in the body occur. If this stress is present on a regular basis, and we breathe from the upper chest, that can become our default pattern.
With practice, we can break the habit of improper breathing and retrain the diaphragm how to do it’s job again.
How do we change how we breathe? The first step is awareness. You can lay down on you back, put a hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly. Now notice what moves and when. When does the upper chest move and in what direction, how about the belly? We want the upper chest to be calm and the belly to rise when you breathe in and fall when you breathe out. Start in a relaxed position (lying on your back or stomach), and practice breathing with the diaphragm. Then progress to more challenging positions like sitting, standing, walking, while exercising. The more often you practice the belly breathing, the more carry over it has to how we breathe the rest of the day.
When we breathe in this way, it causes an increase in our intra-abdominal pressure. Our core muscles react by tightening up, which leads to improved stability in the spine. Athletes that lift weights use their breath to be able to lift even heavier. In yoga and stretching, the way we control our breath allows us to move further into ranges of motion. Controlling how we breathe as we do different exercises can give us an advantage when we perform them.
Our breathing is the foundation of our movement throughout the day. It sets the tone of our body and determines how we move and stabilize ourselves through our normal daily activities. Working on our breathing can have a significant effect on our aches and pains, how we move and what we are capable of doing.
Have you ever noticed that your breathing has affected how you move or what you can do? Let us know! What were you able to gain when you started incorporating your breathing control into exercises?