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!