Exercise Tips for Shoveling Snow

By , SparkPeople Blogger

With much of the country experiencing an unseasonable amount of snow this winter many of us are finding ourselves digging out the snow shovel to clear our paths. But we must be mindful that while snow shoveling can give one quite a workout,it does come with some risks, as well as benefits. According to the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, just 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as a moderate intensity activity. It is important to note that taking proper safety measures before heading outside is imperative in keeping you healthy and injury free.

If you have had a history of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, have lived a sedentary lifestyle, had a history of back problems or you are a smoker, please check with your doctor before taking on this chore or better yet, let someone else do this intense activity. Snow shoveling can be a very intense aerobic activity and with the cold temperatures, the vessels of the cardiovascular system narrow while the blood thickens, therefore raising the risk for a heart attack.

According to Pam Lee, MPT, MA, physical therapist in the UI Spine Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics using proper technique when shoveling is important in keeping our body injury free. As with any lifting activity, it is advised that you lift from your legs and not use your back, however even the best form can fall apart when fatigue begins to set in. When this occurs it isn't too unusual for us to begin using our backs to do the work. This is why it is recommended that you take a break every 15 minutes to allow your body time to rest.

Below are some tips to help make this activity less cumbersome.
  • Warm-up before heading outside
    Just like a warm-up is necessary before any aerobic activity, same is true for snow shoveling. Doing a 10 minute warm-up, such as walking in place or doing jumping jacks, before heading outside helps to warm-up and prepare the muscles for the activity and may lessen your risk for injuries.

  • Dress in layers
    Dressing in layers allow you to remove them should you get too warm.

  • Stay well hydrated
    Hydration is just as important in the cold as is it is in the heat of the summer, especially if you sweat a lot or if the air is dry.

  • Choose the proper shovel size
    Choosing a shovel that best fits your height and one that has a small blade will force you to lift or push a smaller amount of snow, therefore putting less strain on your body.

  • Push the snow whenever possible
    Pushing the snow versus lifting and then twisting to toss the snow puts less strain on the back. If you must lift, make sure you lift from your legs and not your back in order to keep from torquing the muscles of the back which could lead to straining of the back muscles.

    Below are links to some exercises that you can do that will help build upper body strength as well as back and leg strength, all which shoul help make snow shoveling easier.

    Lat Pull-Down

    Lateral Raises

    Wall Squats


    Single Arm Dumbbell Row

    Have you had to spend time shoveling snow this winter? Have you taken precautions to avoid injury?

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All I know is that my left knee NO LONGER hurts after shoveling the snow we got. It had hurt for the last 3 days. Report
I'm tired of the snow but I don't mind shoveling. It's a great way to get a cardio workout in first thing in the morning. Thanks for the tips on the types of exercises to do to help with shoveling. Report
Thanks for the tips, been doing the wall squats and lat pull down, will try the others, have a lot of snow here in NJ this year. Report
Great tips, although we don't really get enough snow to shovel. Report
I enjoy shoveling, thankfully, because there's been a lot of it lately! Good thing I'm retired & can take my time. Also good that DH & son also shovel when they're not working. Report
Boy do I know the benefits of shoveling snow for exercise! It's the only thing keeping me from getting really bitter about all the snow coming our way this year. I use some yoga/pilates moves when I shovel snow so that I get a full body workout. Report
Oh I've had lots of action shoveling this year. Looks like I'll be putting these tips to use tomorrow morning! Report
I shovel snow in place of a workout - it helps keep things fresh. I hydrate with light beer because it is a workout afterall. Report
Living in Maine means plenty of shoveling! I'll admit to not warming up before going outside, but I try to push snow as much as possible, rather than lifting it. These are good tips. Report
I don't shovel, we have a snow blower. Report
We get tons of lake effect snow so have spent a lot of time shoveling this winter. I hate winter and snow and the only good thing about the snow is the exercise I get from shoveling. It is cold and cloudy the entire winter. we have seen the sun only one day the entire month of January. would love to live in Florida where they never see snow. Report
Thanks for the tips. It is supposed to snow tonight! I will need the information in the morning. Report
I make it a point to warm up--either some bending or easy twists and then really light shovels till I feel I have warmed up enough. Thank goodness for the snowblower here in the Northeast! Report
I live in Massachusetts, so I've definitely shoveled my share of snow over the years. Unfortunately, the last storm I pulled the muscles in my lower back, probably from shoveling. I make regular trips to a chiropractor, but when my lower back acts up, I make extra visits! I also find that a heat pack on the sore muscles afterwards can help. Report
I love shoveling snow the other day I was out for 2 hrs when I ran out of sidewalks I shovelled a path in the yard for the dogs to run around and chase each other. Report
I'm retired so I don't have to worry about instantly getting my driveway cleared. But I do LOVE to shovel snow! I've lived in Florida most of my life and the last 2 winters in western NC have been a whole new experience. Excellent article with many good tips that I will remember. Report
No snow here in the Houston, Texas area! We just have pretty good weather most of the time so we can still exercise outdoors. Getting ready for the spring garden soon. Report
so far I have shoveled sleety snow off my car before I went to work. That was a workout in itself, believe me. lol Report
First time in a very long time that I had to shovel snow. DH,daughter and I did it in increments. It was a great work out for all of us. I felt really good the next day unlike the comments of soreness from DH and daughter. Working out makes a big difference. Report
Like Kitty54 said, I like shoveling snow because it is productive and it is also a great workout, and, as Alicotter mentions, you can log it as cardio with a lot of calories burned! My endurance has also skyrocketed so it is no big deal to spend 3 hours shoveling. Report
I like shoveling snow. and chopping wood. there's just something so satisfying about doing something useful rather than running around trying to work off calories.

Plus the feeling of power that I feel just from being out in the weather while my neighbors are indoors hiding from the weather. Of course proper clothing is what makes the difference between misery and joy. Report
It has stopped being work for me, once I found out a/ that I can track it as cardio and
B/ how many cals I burn
Bring on the snow, extra cardio workout. Yes. Report
Oh, I can't even tell you how much snow I've had to shovel so far !! As the weather folks say,"the Northeast is stuck in an unsettled weather pattern." no kidding. it certainly has been unsettled. I've already helped shovel two storms that dumped 15+ inches of snow. There have been smaller amounts in between AND it's going to snow again tomorrow.

So, what do I do to protect myself ? I don't shovel the snow all at once. Instead of waiting until all the snow has fallen, I shovel a few inches at a time. It's easier (but not any fun) to shovel 6 inches of snow 4 times than to shovel 24 inches of snow once. It may seem more productive to just shovel the whole thing once. however, it's also a lot harder on your back and body. In short, it's easier to move the snow in smaller amounts.

My husband and I were just talking about how amazingly drenched we get when we shovel snow.. We both work out reguarly, and we were saying it's funny how we don't get out of breath at all, but boy do we sweat! He usually snow blows the really big storms, but I often go out and clear up the little ones, especially if he hasn't gotten home from work yet. It is great exercise. I don't overdo it, and I do try to push it when I can. Report
Living in the mountains of Colorado, snow shoveling is part of my exercise routine every winter, whether I like it or not! But yes, like rest of the country, there's been more this year than usual! Report
Great tips here....Pocono Mountains getting more snow tonight! Report
I shovel snow nearly every day in the winter. This year I haven't got sore once from it. I do functional training at the gym that replicates the same movements. I think the one exercise I do that helps the most is the twisting row. Instead of doing a straight cable row, I row and twist back into a lunge at the same time. Then I turn around and "push" the cable in a twisting lunge fashion as well.

Great article and great advice! Report
Had 25-30 inches of snow in my part of Connecticut last week- i was out there for 5 hours snowblowing and shoveling. I was exhausted! Then the ice storm Tuesday night -now more snow 3-5 inches tonight. I'm so done with winter already! Report
I just came in from shoveling snow! Great article! Report
PERFECT TIMING for this article....more snow coming tonight.... Report
I had to shovel snow a few weeks ago. We got 16-18 in. here in 24 hr. so I started early which meant I got to do it twice. ;-) Thankfully, it was a dry snow so it didn't seem as heavy. Actually enjoyed it, but the next day I really felt like I'd had a good workout. I was pretty proud of my self because I'm not a spring chicken. Report
I haven't shoveled yet, although we've had plenty of snow. DH did it once. Guess it will be my turn next time we get a big snowfall. Report
Shoveling is something I do so my 71 yo father, who has all the diseases listed above, doesn't take it on.However, he now tried to beat me to it so he can "help". Unfortunately, he won't listen to the tips....ahh well Report
Great tips. Thanks! Report
Love my shoveling exactly for this reason! So far this year we've had just light stuff, but a lot of it.... Report
This was so timely since it snowed last night again. Report
Great article, especially since I have shoveled the sidewalks twice today! Now I will be more careful. Thanks! Report
What a fun blog! I appreciated the info and the blog really applied to what's happening in the real world right now. Also you didn't say, "the list goes on" even once =) Report
We get lake effect snow so it's a good thing I like to shovel it:) The big snows get done with a snow blower, but there are plenty of opportunities to shovel too. Interesting reminder about warming up first--I don't think I have ever done that in my 50+ years... Report
No, I live in lovely Pensacola, Florida, four miles inland from the water, and the Gulf wind pushes out the cloud that could bring us snow when it gets down in the 20's. I hate cold! I did see a new invention for a shovel that has a large wheel so you use it to shovel and push down on the hand and that doesn't take near as much effort. Report
Wish I would have read this yesterday, as I threw my back out with a combo of video exercises from SP and the shoveling.....trying to do too much. Taking a break tonight....Thanks for the links to the warm ups, I will DEFINITELY do them next time! Report
I'd like to know how to log fitness better. I can't shovel steady for an hour (too out of shape) but I am often outside that long puttering AND shoveling. Also how to log using a snow rake to get snow off the roof?? LOL Talk about an upper body workout! :) Whoooo! Report
I'd rather cut grass or rake leave. I'm over winter. Report
I'm a 60 year old female who enjoys shoveling snow.We have had lots of snow both this winter and last.We are retired so we can take our time when shoveling.It's nice that we don't have to get out there and shovel the driveway when it is bitter cold.We can wait till it warms up some.I am amazed that I don't get one bit sore from shoveling.I am thinking that my body is used to it since I have had to do it so often this winter and last.More snow is expected tomorrow evening and Friday.Looks like I will be shoveling once again:) Report
I have chosen to shovel snow versus using the snowblower. I've used it for my cardio. Also had incorporated doing squats while shoveling-saving on the back/making sure I wasn't using my back for lifting. Report
As a young boy, I shoveled yards for money. Good exercise too! In Md close to DC I shoveled 66 inches deposited from 2 storms last year (now called snomageddin in these parts!). All that early training and my Sparkpeople regimen meant I was in great shape and able to handle this, literally tossing the snow onto 12 foot piles on each side of the driveway! I enjoyed getting outside and considered this to be extra calories burned each day. My one caution is to use care in trying to avoid slippiing......a sturdy winter boot is recommended. Report
I shoveled for the first time in a long time since it's usually hubby's job. Man did my arms hurt the next day!! Report
PHOOEY. Anyone who lives in Canada JUST SHOVELS. Report
These are some great safety tips! I've had to shovel quite a bit this winter. Almost 2 feet last week and a few inches this morning with a nice layer of ice over the top. I hate it, but I just imagine how many calories I'm burning and it's not so bad. Report
Thanks Nancy! Since it looks like we're going to have a looonnng winter here this year, I should start working on these exercises right away...well, after my back feels a bit better after shoveling snow and ice last night... Report