Snow Shoveling, a Full Body Workout That Feels Good on My Back!

Don't fall victim to unnecessary pain and injury from snow shoveling.

It's that time of year again and the white fluffy stuff will soon be falling (or in a lot of places already is)! Depending on your perspective, it can be an exciting and fun time of year but for most it’s a nightmare. The thought of the cold weather, shorter days and shoveling snow can deter people from leaving their home let alone want to be outside. Since we are not bears that hibernate all winter we must conquer those activities that come with winter.

In my clinic we see many back and shoulder related injuries from athletes, weekend warriors and the general desk jockey. Coming into the colder months when the snow starts to fly, we are still seeing a lot of repetitive and sport injuries but the ones from snow removal are on the rise.

Realizing last holiday season, after sitting and eating for three days, my back was getting tight and sore from not exercising. We had a couple of feet of snow already fall that needed to be shoveled, especially at the end of the drive way where the city plow pilled a mound of compact snow.

I, like most Canadian’s put on my snow gear, grabbed my shovel and went to work!

I thought to myself how can I make this more like the strength and conditioning activity we do at my facility?

I took the principles I use and teach with deadlifting, kettlebell swings and medicine ball tosses.

I gripped my shovel, hinged at the hips and plunged the shovel into the snow. I braced my core, took a sniff of air to increase intra-abdominal pressure, locked my shoulders into place and lifted the snow with my body and hips and heaved it to the side with very little effort. I continued to do so for 8 – 10 reps, then switch to the other side to repeat another 8 – 10 reps. By using my strength training techniques and good body mechanics, I was getting a great gluteal, core, upper body and cardio workout all in one! Using the RKC power breath technique, allowed me to repeatedly perform the movement while protecting my back and increase body movement efficiency.

At the end of shoveling for 45 minutes, my low back felt looser, my mobility was restored from the 3 days of sloth, my heart was pounding and my glutes and lats were on fire!

We often see and use functional old school exercises such as tractor tire sledge hammer chops, tire flipping, dumbbell/kettlebell farmer carries and other various strongman functional/practical exercises to improve performance, durability and injury prevention for our clients and selves. If we look outside our windows you don't have to travel to the gym to get your workout done, just get out into the practical real world and apply your strength and conditioning principles to everyday activity. After all that's why we should be training in the first place isn't it?

In Preparation for the upcoming snow season and prevent injury from occurring, I put together the following exercise program below to prepare the body and make it more resilient for the winter months and prevent a snow shoveling injury from occurring.

Focus on quality of movement over conditioning. With greater proficiency and experience with the lifts and exercises the conditioning component will occur over time. The real conditioning will come from the actual activity of working in the real world.

Snow Shoveling Program

Warm-Up/Movement Preparation

Seated 90/90 Rotation 1 set, 10 reps each side

Alternate hip rotations/lunge 1 set, 10 reps

Core activated Hip flexor stretch 1 set, 8-10 reps

Glute Bridges/Marches 1 set, 10-12 reps

Bird-Dogs 1 set, 20 reps

Dead Bugs 1 set, 20 reps

Side Plank 1 set, 5 reps, hold 2-3 breaths/side

Anti-rotation front supports 1 set, for time 1-2 minutes

NOTE: If you have limited time, at least do the warm-up prior to shoveling. It will open the necessary joints and activate the major muscle groups needed. This can also be done every day for general well-being and only takes 5-7 minutes.

Day 1

A1 Barbell Deadlift 3-5 sets, 5 reps 85% max

A2 Front Support Tripods/ Push-ups 3-5 sets, 10 reps

A3 Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch 3-5 sets, 6 reps (each side)

B1 Inverted Bar Rows 4 sets 8 reps

B2 Medicine Ball/Banded Diagonal Lifts 4 sets, 10 reps (each side)

B3 Alternate Hip Rotation to Lunge 4 sets, 10 reps

Day 2

A1 Kettlebell Swings 3-4 sets, 10-12 reps

A2 Side Planks 3- 4 sets, 3-5 reps, hold 3-5 breaths

A3 Banded Chops (half kneeling/standing) 3-4 sets, 10 reps (per side)

B1 Half Kneeling Banded/Cable Rows 3-4 sets, 10-12 reps

B2 Goblet Squats 3-4 sets, 8-10 reps

B3 Single Leg Balance (floor/Bosu Ball/foam/pillow) 3-4 sets, 30 sec each leg

NOTE: Perform each group of exercises in consecutive order A1,A2, A3 etc, Rest 30- 60 seconds between exercises and/or at the end each round of the circuit.

Tom Swales, PT