Shoveling as a workout?

I for one complained about the lack of snow in November. I’ll admit it.  And while I am super happy to be able to ski now, I can’t say I look forward to the driving and walking related issues that snow brings.

For many, shoveling is the big frustration.  It’s hard work if you have a big driveway.  I’m not sure if this is a surprise to anyone, but emergency rooms fill up after big snow falls.  Okay, I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone.  Many of the visits are from falling injuries – slippery sidewalks, ski or snowboard tumbles, and of course toboggan injuries.  But did you know there is also an increase in cardiac incidents? It turns out that shoveling is both frustrating and dangerous.  This is likely due to otherwise sedentary people heading out and suddenly doing intense exertion – that snow can be heavy!

Now did you also know that there is an increase in back injuries?  When I heard this, I assumed it was due to the excessive bending.  Interestingly, it might actually be related to the heart incidents.  Or so goes the theory presented by Dr. Stuart McGill, spinal biomechanist at the University of Waterloo:  your back’s greatest protection is the core muscles that brace it, but some of those muscles – notably the obliques – are also involved in breathing.  Because of that, there is a point just after you finish exhaling when these muscles are relaxed.  And when those muscles are relaxed, they are not able to do their other job – supporting your back.  So if you happen to lift a really heavy shovel-full at the end of your exhale – maybe your back is bent and twisted which happens frequently when shoveling – your back is going to take the full load with no support.  And that is how back injuries can happen.

As it turns out, you can turn this crisis into an opportunity (“cropportunity!” as Homer would say).  Why not turn your shoveling “job” into a safe and fun workout?  Yes, I did say fun and workout in the same breath. Not convinced? Think of it this way:  Shovel your driveway my way you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself, and you’ll be more fit when you are finished.  And if you start with a smile, you’ll probably end with one.

Side reaching reverse lunges

So what kind of workout can you get shoveling?  Think of it as a two-part workout:  an arm plus core workout and a leg workout.  Before heading out, start with a warm-up in the house.  It doesn’t have to be long, but make sure you get some movement in your legs, your hips, and thoracic spine area.  If you have some favourite warmup exercises, do them, or doing 10 tall side reaching reverse lunges would be a good choice.

Here’s a video of the two parts of the shoveling workout. When doing the shovel scoop sprints, walk back to the starting point so that you have the energy to do another line.  For the Lift and Toss, try 10 reps on one side and then 10 on the other and then take a little break.  As it says in the video – don’t twist your back, and don’t forget to engage that core to prevent the relaxed breathing muscles from compromising your back!

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