Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How to shovel snow without hurting yourself

No, don't put your back into it

For most winter-weary Albertans, a flurry-filled weather forecast is enough to send shivers up the spine – and in some cases, sparks of pain, too.

Shovelling snow is physically demanding work that can put strain on the heart and, potentially, your back. To minimize the risk of injury, NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer instructor Dr. Tim Just provides tips that’ll help you conquer the driveway without a trip to emergency.

1. Dress for the weather

Winter is cold, so wear warming clothing that will protect you from the elements – that means a tuque, mitts, warm jacket and boots with good grip on snow and ice.

“Slipping is always a concern, so a stable stance is important,” Just says.

If you’re working up a sweat, it’s important to have clothing that’s breathable, such as cotton, nylon, polyester or wool.

2. Get a shovel that’s right for you

This is Canada, so there’s about as many makes and models of snow shovels as there are cars on the road. Shovels with ergonomic handles are designed to minimize the strain on your back, says Just, but it can make it harder to throw snow. It’s important to find one that’s the right size, around chest high.

“Try to find one that fits you to reduce the strain on your back, especially for taller people.”

3. Push, don’t lift

Lifting huge shovels of snow and tossing them across the driveway causes a twisting motion that increases the risk of a low-back injury, says Just. Keep your feet pointed in the direction you want to pile snow and push, don’t lift, when possible. If you do have to lift, keep your back in a neutral position and bend from the hips and knees.

“Keep your core muscles tight to lift the snow."

“Keep your core muscles tight to lift the snow and try and keep the shovel as close to your body as possible,” he says.

4. Make small piles of snow

When pushing snow, be sensible and make small piles. Avoid tossing snow across large distances, which increases the risk of back injury, Just says.

5. Pace yourself

“Shovelling can be a cardiovascularly demanding activity. Make sure you’re pacing yourself.”

If you’re out of breath, take a break.

If you’re out of breath or can’t say a sentence without losing your breath, take a break. A light warm up of dynamic stretching to put your body through a range of motions can be beneficial, as is drinking water.

6. Help a neighbour

If you’re not at risk of a heart attack and actually enjoy winter, why not do the neighbourly thing and help out someone with reduced ability?

“Get some free physical activity and give them a hand.”

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