You don’t have to be in the gym to cross train—winter time can mean a different type of cross training! Take shoveling, for instance.  We have all been doing a lot of that this winter in the Philadelphia region.  Shoveling for a period of time can be a work out in itself and can be cross training for the body, but only if it’s done correctly.  

Did you know that 30 minutes of shoveling can burn anywhere from 200-250 calories and offer you a great opportunity for whole-body strengthening?

Shoveling often gets a bad wrap because it’s often done incorrectly.  But if you are mindful of a few key points, shoveling provides the opportunity to get a great workout featuring lots of lifting, carrying, squatting, bending, and pushing motions to work your arms, legs, and core.  

You can use shoveling time as an opportunity to not only work on your functional strength, but also work on your flexibility.  Shoveling done right can improve your spine and hip mobility as well as challenge your stability.  You just have to remember a few things to make shoveling work for you. The manner in which you move when shoveling makes a difference.  

Shoveling Ergonomics

Here are a few tips that you can do to make shoveling something that improves your movement not hinders it.  


  1. 1.FIND YOUR HIPS— shift or back your weight up into your hips when you bend or squat to shovel.  Keep your back straight when you do this.  By transferring the weight back when you bend and sit back into your hips, you are better able to transfer some of the load to your legs and not stress your back as you go to lift/raise the snow shovel.  By folding at the hips like you were going to sit down in a chair behind you, you get better leverage on the snow shovel. By pressing through your heels to lift, you can keep your back straight and more stable. You’ll also improve your shoveling efficiency because you are using your glute muscles—not your back and thighs—to lift all the weight. 


  1. 2.Try BREAKING DOWN the task of shoveling into little steps—push some snow, squat or lunge, fold deeply as is comfortable into you hips, press through your heels,  lift using your legs, brace your core, toss the snow, and repeat.  Don’t do one task all in the same motion.  Think of it in parts and that will keep you more attentive to your form.  


  1. 3.AVOID TWISTING your back when you throw the snow unless you have your core engaged.    This is really important. Pivot with your feet if you have to turn to help brace your core.  


  1. 4.Be mindful to SWITCH sides.  Try a few shovels on one side then switch to the other even if you know that one side is stronger than the other.  Create a mini circuit so you vary your activity.  5-10 times on one side and then another 5-10 on the other side.  


    1. 5.ALTERNATE YOUR STANCE.  This goes along with #4.  Switch hands and sides with your shovel.  If you were shoveling with your right hand closer to the head of the shovel then switch to the left hand in the lead and remember to switch your feet with this, too.  


  1. 6.STAGGER your stance to help you gain stability. Staggering also protects your back and reminds you to bend from the hips, not the waist. 


    1. 7.Don’t let shoveling be the only movement of your day—Mix it up with some walking for a few minutes after you are done since you are already bundled up.  If you are too cold and want to go inside to get warm, consider stretching lightly afterward or perform some gentle yoga to balance some of the strain that your body experienced from shoveling.  


Even the best shoveling attempts can end in some pain.  If you are experiencing back pain or other pain related to shoveling, please reach out to us at Rebalance Physical Therapy to see how we can help. The easiest and most direct way is to visit us in-person if you live in or around Philadelphia, PA! If you’re not near Philadelphia, we also offer Telehealth consultations

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