It’s coming. By tomorrow, we may have 9 to 12 inches of snow to move.
If you shovel snow the “good old fashioned way,” it’s a great workout. You can burn nearly 400 calories an hour.
However, shoveling snow incorrectly could be one of the main reasons 80 percent of Americans suffer from back pain. So, we’ve put together a few tips to keep your back healthy and pain-free.
First, a word of warning: If you have back problems, DON’T shovel. Call a plow, hire the neighbor or phone a friend. The act of bending and twisting the shovel when your back is already angry and irritated can put you out of commission for weeks.
For the rest of the residents in Central Wisconsin who are healthy and don’t own snow blowers, review the tips below before you clear snow from your driveways and pathways this winter.
#1. Warm up your joints and muscles before you pick up that shovel. March in place for 10 minutes to get your blood flowing, then complete these three back exercises.
Side bends. Stand straight with your arms at your sides. Bend at the waist sliding the palm of your hand down your leg toward the outside of your knee. Straighten back to the starting position. Repeat 12 times on each side.
Trunk twists. Stand with your hands on your hips. Twist at the waist pointing your elbow out in front of your body as far as possible. Twist back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Repeat 12 times.
Cat stretch. Start on your hands and knees with your back straight. Round your back toward the ceiling and hold for 10 seconds, return to neutral. Repeat 10 times.
#2. Dress in layers. You will get warm as you work. If you dress in layers that can be unzipped or taken off, you’ll be more comfortable. If you become overheated and sweat, you could end up with a chill.
#3. Use proper form. Everything has a technique, even snow shoveling. Stand with your knees shoulder distance apart and slightly bent. Place your hands 12 inches apart on your shovel handle. Squat slightly. Load the shovel and lift through your legs. Don’t bend at the waist. Walk to the snow bank and unload the shovel. Don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side; the levered twisting action stresses and strains your spine.
#4. Breathe. It’s common for people to hold their breath, when they work hard. Be conscious of your breathing while you are shoveling. Your muscles need the oxygen for peak performance. Make sure you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as you work. Wear a scarf near your face to warm the air when the temperatures are bitterly cold.
#5. Channel your inner snowplow. Instead of lifting each shovelful, push the snow away. You’ll move the snow while you save wear and tear on your back.
#6. Talk and sing while you shovel. If you can talk or sing, you are probably working within your target heart rate zone. If you can’t hold a conversation or sing a tune, you’re working too hard.
#7. Shovel in stages. There’s no rule that says you have to wait for the last snowflake to fall before you start. You can shovel when there are a few inches of accumulation. You’ll stay ahead of the storm and job will seem easier.
#8. Take a break and stretch. If you get tired, stop, stretch your muscles and rest.
#9. Drink lots of water. Shoveling is hard work. Make sure you stay hydrated. Winter and summer workouts are the same as far as hydration is concerned.
#10. Stop shoveling if it causes pain anywhere in your body.
If you feel pain in your chest, left arm or jaw, dial 9-1-1.
If you’re not used to working out, shoveling a foot of snow may cause an achy, tight sensation in your back and arms the next day. This may be normal “workout” pain. However, if your back pain is severe, limits your movement, or lasts longer than 2 weeks, you should make an appointment with your primary care provider or a sports medicine specialist.
Be wise. Shovel safely and enjoy the snow this season.