Every now and then, Mother Nature drops an unexpected fitness test on us: snow. Unfortunately, this test happens outside the controlled environment most of us exercise in. Ergonomic foot wear? No–boots. Dry, stable, scientifically cushioned surfaces? No–ice, black ice, and slush. Climate control and low humidity–definitely not. Predictable weight loads, sets, and reps–no, the load is heavy and wet or light and fluffy, over in minutes or hours.
It’s a pretty random way to check how fit we are. Combine that with regular life wear and tear, and with the fact that a lot of what happens in conventional exercise may not be great for your back (not in my studio, but that’s another blog), and even the fit person can shovel their way into an episode of low back pain.
A few years ago, 2009, we had a snow storm right before Christmas. I had just done several well-received videos on biomechanics and exercises (www.youtube.com/optimalex). I headed out the door, grumbling about how much my own back was going to hurt, working against the elements all day; what a lightweight (sneer). Then it dawned on me: I knew enough anatomy and biomechanics, I should be able to figure out a better way of doing this.
And I did. I put it on a video, half as a joke for the holiday for the viewers of the exercise videos. Sort of a self parody, but with some actual, real, practical tips on how to shovel safely. Someone Tweeted it (Twit? Twote?), and it then proceeded to get more views than all the other videos combined. Unfortunately, some of the new viewers didn’t get the joke, and took it far too seriously. But those who got it, liked it, and I repost it on Facebook every December.
If I say so myself, though, I’ve used the technique several times since then, and taught the technique, and you know what? It IS easier on the back. So I’ve updated the video, with pop-ups to point out the parody parts, for anyone who doesn’t know the original videos.
If you’re tempted to shovel your own snow, here is personal trainer Bill’s Official Snow Shovel Technique (straight handle, not the curved ergonomic handle).
1. Chop and slide. Down chop a manageable quantity, depending on how wet the snow is, flip the handle, and slide the blade under.
2. Lever, don’t lift. Put the handle across your thigh, up by the hip, lock your elbow above the grip, and squat down. Put all your weight on the grip, and the shovel will lever the blade and snow up.
3. Grab the handle with your free hand and stand up straight. Your free hand is the one closest to the snow. Grab the handle as close to the snow as you can. This creates a fulcrum with your grip hand at one end, the snow on the other end, and your other hand much closer to the snow. Don’t flex your biceps; just hold the handle. This creates a long lever for the grip hand, and a short one for the snow. Now you stand up with both hands on the shovel. Let the lever do the work.
4. Turn, don’t twist. A standard, back-safety cliché, because the discs in your back don’t like to be wrung out like a dish towel. Rather than throwing the snow to the side, and risk twisting your spine, you step towards where you want to drop the snow. Your shoulders, the shovel, and your hips should stay in the same plane; move your feet to change direction.
5. Rotate the shovel to drop the snow. Try not to “muscle” the shovel and snow; remember, you may be here for a while, so pace yourself. Besides, you’re bundled up, no one can see your ripped guns anyway.
Here’s a link to the updated video. The technique is demonstrated at the 2:00 mark, so if you want to skip the biomechanics, physics, and pop-up wisecracks, it takes two more minutes to demonstrate.
Of course, if you’re really concerned about protecting your back, a snow blower is good too. And if someone else does it, even better.