Shoveling snow might seem like a simple task, and often, we think nothing of it.  It’s just something that needs to be done after a snowfall.  However, the task becomes a bit more daunting when you’re dealing with an injury or weakness.  In truth, it’s a complex task that requires use of the legs, arms and back muscles.  And if you’re not in shape or conditioned for the task, you could be at risk for an injury. Follow these tips for removing snow if you’re currently dealing with injury or are looking to maintain your health and avoid injury:

  • Before any exercise—this includes shoveling snow and other house or yardwork—perform a light warm up. Walk around your house, go up and down some stairs, and perform some stationary squats and overhead reaches to warm up the arms, legs and back.
  • When you can, push the snow instead of lifting or carrying it.
  • If you have to lift it, make sure you squat or bend from the knees and brace your abdominal muscles before doing so. This will protect your low back.
  • Alternate your hand position and side of the body you are shoveling from to keep symmetry and prevent overuse on one side.
  • If the snowfall is a lot or heavy, shovel in layers instead of trying to pick up a large load from the bottom.
  • Better yet, get out and shovel in stages as the snow continues to fall to prevent having to “dig yourself out” afterwards.
  • Invest in a quality shovel. Many have ergonomic handles to help keep your back and body in better alignment.

When you’re through shoveling, perform a light cool down, such as walking for a few minutes, especially if you find that your heartrate has risen from the task.  You don’t ever want to stop exercise abruptly if you are short of breath or your heart rate is elevated.  Give your body a gradual chance to recover.  After you get inside, perform some light stretches.  Your muscles are now warm from your activity, so now is the time to address flexibility. This is another important component to avoid injury.

The key here is to warm up and cool down properly and be smart about how you’re moving.   Protect your muscles and your joints by following these simple tips for injury prevention.  Take care of your body—it’s the only one you’ve got!


Rachel Wasilewski DPT, CYT is a physical therapist and certified yoga teacher. She is an outdoor enthusiast and marathoner who lives in beautiful, northern Vermont with her supportive husband and teenage daughter.