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4 Back-Friendly Tips for Shoveling Snow

Body mechanics expert Jon Cinkay shares four tips to help you dig out – without throwing out your back.

Snow can be beautiful and fun, but with it also comes shoveling – and the back aches and pains it can cause. HSS body mechanics expert Jon Cinkay provides these four suggestions to help you protect your back if you find yourself shoveling out this winter.

man shoveling snow

1. Warm Up Before You Shovel

Take five to 10 minutes to warm up your body and get the blood flowing. You can start with static stretches (in which you stand and hold the stretch rather than move in it). These can include things like standing quad stretches, side bending stretches, hamstring stretches and even a gentle back bend. Perform each stretch two to three times for about 30 seconds each time. Then move on to some basic core exercises, such as crunches, bridges, planks or side planks to get your muscles engaged and fired up. Perform a set of 10 reps of the core exercises of your choice.

2. Use Proper Body Mechanics

Most people bend over their shovel from the waist and then twist their body to lift the snow and throw it behind them, over and over again. It’s this repetitive motion that leads to back problems. Instead, bend from your knees, keep your back straight and your stomach muscles tight, and hold the shovel closer to you. Turn your whole body when you throw the snow; do not twist at the waist. Lift the snow with your whole body, not just your upper body and back.

You also want to be sure to move your feet. Step forward when you push into the snow and step back after lifting it. Then take a step toward where you are going to deposit it. This helps you avoid twisting motions that can lead to serious back injuries.

3. Hold the Shovel Correctly

The most important thing to remember when holding your shovel is to keep one hand on the grip and one hand closer to your body. Both arms should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your arms bent and elbows at your sides when you are lifting the snow. Remember to use your legs to step into the throwing motion to get rid of the snow.

4. Be Strategic about When and How You Shovel

The best (and safest) time to shovel is after a snowfall has finished. This will give you a chance to see just how much snow you have to deal with. If you’re shoveling a foot or more, shovel off the top half first and then move the bottom layer. Don’t try to get it all on your shovel at once. If it’s just a few inches, you can shovel as you normally would. Take your time and don’t rush.

About the Expert