The full title of this should be How To Shovel Snow (And Not Hurt Yourself). We just had our first fairly serious snowfall in Ottawa and inevitably this brings on clients starting to shovel large amounts of the white stuff.
This also inevitably brings on back problems, shoulder problems and even knee problems from doing this seemingly simple activity. If I told you to pick up a 20 pound weight, for most of you it isn’t a problem (especially if you work with me). However, if I told you to pick it up, then throw it about five feet beside you while twisting, then repeat that about 200 times you might be a bit sore. This is actually what you do when you’re shoveling snow, it’s just you don’t realize it.
Some simple physics: The further something is away from you the heavier it is on your joints. This is actually an exponential relationship, meaning if something is twice as far away, it is four times the load. So my first basic thing is to have a compact shovel – the shorter handle you can manage the better. However, this is sometimes a trade off for having to bend more, which we will get to in a second. Having the right shovel in terms of size and length can help in the long run.
Tip #1: The place people run into problems most while moving snow is that they tend to pick up a load, then twist and throw it. Twisting under load makes your lower back extremely vulnerable, especially with a flexed spine (ie bent forward). Position seem familiar?
If you can pick up the load and throw it straight in front of you it lowers the impact on your back significantly. Pushing it in front of you also works, using one of those large sled like shovels. It may take some creative positioning but your back will thank you.
Tip #2: People have a dominant side, and feel more comfortable moving with that side. My next tip is to switch sides frequently in order to give one side a rest. You can do this with every 10 shovel loads, every 5 or whatever you like. Make a system and use it. Not only will this help your back, but it will also lower the impact on your shoulders and arms. This usually means you can go for longer if you need to. However, this isn’t always the best way to do things.
Tip #3: If you’re not in fantastic shape and don’t have good cardiovascular health, take frequent breaks – even long ones. The snow isn’t going anywhere (until April) so you have lots of time. Lifting and repetitive movement is hugely anaerobic activity and can get your heart rate to dangerous levels for long periods of time (hence frequent heart attacks). Keep your exertion levels in check. If you need to, stop and take 2 minutes – is your heart rate back to below 60% of your maximum? Then continue. As you work harder, your body will take longer to recover from the exertion and if you find that your heart rate isn’t coming back down even after 5 minutes then stop the activity altogether and come back after a long break. Don’t be a hero just because you want to get the driveway finished. It’s hard work just like any other workout.
Tip #4: To save your shoulders, try to keep your arms bent, especially when you have a loaded shovel and you’re lifting. Having your arms extended puts most of the load directly on your shoulders and they usually aren’t strong enough to support it. Again, imagine if I handed you a 20 pound bar and asked you to hold it straight out in front of you. Your shoulders would think it was about 80 pounds. If you simply bend your arms, and put some force into your biceps and wrists then the load is lessened to the shoulder significantly.
Tip #5: Shovel more frequently if there is a large snowfall. Doing it 2-3 times with a small amount is much better than trying to move 30 centimeters all at once. So many people wait until the snowfall is over and then move a huge amount all at once, rather than moving 1/3 at a time 3 times. Again, in terms of overall volume this will greatly reduce the potential for overload and therefore injury. Better to lift half the amount more often than a larger load and increase risk of hurting yourself.
We here in Ottawa embrace winter (or at least we’re supposed to). Don’t let something as simple as clearing your driveway be the reason you have to rehab a serious back injury or shoulder problem this holiday season.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to SHARE it on social media. And, if you have a problem with your back or shoulders you need help with, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @strengthottawa or find me on Facebook here.
As a bonus, here’s my dog Woofie enjoying the snow! Hope you have a great day!
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a cadaver dissection lab, the first one ever offered to trainers in Ottawa. This was a unique opportunity to see the things that I affect every day stripped right down and actually see inside the joints and muscles and other structures. Incredible for learning even more about how we work from the inside out.
You have over 640 muscles in your body, some estimates go as high as 667 depending on what is classified as a muscle. Every time you move you affect dozens of these. When you can actually move a joint that has been stripped away and see how these muscles pull and stretch and work together, one of the most amazing things to me was how resilient your body is on an ongoing basis.
One example was that there were two different feet from the tibia down. One had one heel basically underneath the tibia and another had the heel slightly offset to the outside. Imagine every foot strike (taking thousands a day) hitting just slightly off center. What would that do to things further up the line? Multiply that by say ten years and you’re talking about 7.3 million steps. Knee cartilage takes the same wear and tear over time, as does the hip and back. And that’s without ever lifting anything or moving quickly.
We take this for granted. Our body is obviously really, really tough but more often than not especially in athletics we think that it will heal and all will be fine. This type of movement and trauma changes it permanently. I saw several examples inside joints where wear and tear that you wouldn’t even know was there existed.
I got to see nerves actually coming out of the spinal cord and how thick they are. There are areas of the body where these nerves are constantly compressed over and over again, even without any type of inflammation. They still hold up for long periods of time without fraying, breaking or even compressing enough to cause an issue. This told me that when you have a problem with a nerve – it’s a serious problem. On the flip side, I got to see the nerves that actually run through the center of the spine and how protected they are, but also how delicate and could be easily destroyed.
There were certain muscles that until I saw how the fibers actually sat and saw the lines I thought functioned in slightly different ways. When you moved them you could also see how the muscles might stretch and align themselves to allow a completely different type of mechanical ability. It also illustrated how many muscles work together to achieve movement, whether it be something as simple as typing on this computer or as complex as lifting something quickly from the floor over your head.
I actually got to see fascia – connective tissue that provides tension for a lot of the body and also creates patterns of contraction that move throughout the body and connect different areas. Many of you probably know Gil Hedley and “The Fuzz Speech”? It’s there. Seriously. I saw it, touched it and even broke it up. Incredible to think that such a thing is really there, but there it was. All over the place. And it was very easily altered.
Now you may not really care about this stuff – but you should. These muscles don’t just help you when you’re exercising. They help you walk, get out of bed, brush your teeth, sit down, stand up and play with your kids. They provide strength for lifting your grocery bags or performing household tasks like gardening and cleaning. It is an incredible thing and very humbling that all of these things just work – on demand – for dozens of years without stopping or really breaking down until the buildup becomes so extreme.
The other big takeaway from a spiritual point of view was actually something I hadn’t considered when I first signed up. All of these cadavers were once people. They had lives and families and experiences that reflected in the way that their bodies presented. A couple of them had joint replacements. A couple of them obviously had trauma or arthritis or something happen to their bodies over a period of time. You really never know when this body that you are walking around in could suddenly either break down or simply pass on. We all are a sum of the experiences that we have, whether it be emotional, mental, or in this case, physical. If there’s one takeaway I can give you, it’s this:
DON’T TAKE YOUR BODY FOR GRANTED
You have a finite amount of everything. Steps, breaths, movements and experiences. Treat your body well because it is truly the vessel that carries you every day from one of these experiences to the next. It will fight off what you do to it, and obviously incredibly well, but eventually it will break down. Stave that off as long as you possibly can and enjoy being able to move, breathe and experience amazing things for decades to come.
If you enjoyed this please feel free to share and like it on social media. My Facebook page is here and you can follow me on Twitter @strengthottawa. You can also check out my web site at http://www.srottawa.com and feel free to contact me if you have any issues you need help with. Treat your body well today!
** This is an excerpt from my upcoming course for trainers on knee rehabilitation. If you are a trainer reading this and would like to know more, please feel free to contact me. If you are a client with knee issues and have questions also feel free to contact me.**
The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body in terms of demand. It is asked all day long to help propel us in various directions, sit down and stand up, climb stairs or even bend down to pick things up. It is a small wonder that over time the mechanisms within this joint tend to wear down over time.
Osteoarthritis is defined as degeneration (over time) of joint cartilage, which is the protective coating that surrounds our joints and keeps the joint surfaces gliding over each other. In the knee there are two of these – articular cartilage at the end of the long bone (ie the femur) and the meniscus which is a padding between the bones of the knee. For the knee, osteoarthritis is the degeneration of articular cartilage, which leads to degeneration of the meniscus (kind of a chicken and the egg issue). Once these two components wear down over time or are subjected to too much stress it creates inflammation, pain and eventually the joint in question usually needs to be replaced.
In my practice, there are what we call “warning signs” that knee degeneration is taking place. This actually begins long before things like pain. The issue with most regular exercisers and especially type A personalities is that unless there is pain associated with the movement, it gets ignored and simply leads to further damage.
Osteoarthritis has 5 stages. The first of which is a healthy knee joint, or stage 0. Stages 1 and 2 are generally very mild with only bone spur growth. These result from impact between the bones. By the end of stage 2 a person may start to experience stiffness and tenderness or pain after a long run or walk.
What I’m going to point out is that the usual symptoms that one would start to notice come at the END of STAGE 2. By this time synovial fluid has degenerated, there may be mild narrowing within the joint space and there are bone spurs.
Something to listen for when your knee joint is moving is something called crepitus – which is a popping, cracking or grating sound in the knee during movement. This is really your first warning sign that joint degeneration is taking place. So you’re wondering what that noise is or if you should be worried if your knees are “talking to you”? Yes, you probably should and can think about addressing it at that stage, not waiting until stiffness or pain kicks in. This noise typically means you are already in stage 2 of osteoarthritis.
Again, by this point you should definitely be addressing the issues in your knees.
Stage 3 and 4 of osteoarthritis are the point where pain and stiffness are fairly constant, and medical intervention in terms of cortisone shots and surgery become options. Hopefully you’re not at this stage yet and can avoid it as long as possible.
Now – another thing I’m very blunt about is that degeneration of this joint is inevitable over time. Especially for active people it is a reality – and the more active, the more likely the degeneration is going to be progressed. But how can we slow down the process and not progress through these stages as quickly? There are two main ways and the good news is that both of them are fairly easy to accomplish:
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obviously less load on the knees over time means less degeneration. From a loading perspective, for every 10 pounds of weight loss the knee is subjected to 48,000 pounds LESS compressive load – for every mile walked. Considering most people should walk 4-6 miles per day, that’s 88 MILLION (or over 40,000 tons) pounds less load per year.
If you’re not at a good weight for your body then focus on whatever weight loss you can accomplish and every little bit will help reduce the degeneration in your knees.
Strengthen Your Muscles
The more your muscles can take pressure off of the joint during movement, the less load they are taking – especially during exercise – but even with regular walking. The knee has many muscles that cross it and give support to it. Strengthening them all and maintaining a good strength ratio between muscles like the hamstring and quadriceps is also important. Progressive loading of forces is also important so that you’re not doing too much too soon and making things worse rather than better.
In terms of what exercises are best, studies have shown that the most stressful knee forces come from lunging, whereas a dynamic squat is the least stressful. And yes, your knees can come in front of your toes IF THEY SHOULD. Restricting forward movement of the knees does reduce shear through them – but then transfers it into the hips and lower back, which can cause other problems. Loading appropriately is essential.
Work On Balance and Stability
This is not a major way to avoid issues, but having a stable joint means that one side or direction is not constantly wearing down more so than another. Another major source of knee trauma and major loads that cause problems is things like falls and sudden shear movements through the joint. Developing the ability to avoid these things, especially as you age is vital for good knee health.
You need your knees. You need them as long as possible and once the degeneration is there, it can’t be reversed. Current studies do show that there are cells in the knee that could potentially regenerate cartilage but there has been nothing found to stimulate this. So if you already have noise inside your joint, please take some steps to counter the onset of this. For prevention of pain down the road of life, it is important to give your knees a healthy amount of strength and make sure your weight is in line.
If you need any more information or want to know my best ways that have worked with my clients, please feel free to contact me here, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via social media @strengthottawa. And feel free to like and share! Until next time, keep your joints happy and healthy!
In my practice I deal with injured people on a daily basis. As a result I’ve compiled a pretty extensive knowledge of not only injuries but what causes them – and therefore how to prevent them. Many of you out there right now are walking into a major injury and are simply ignoring it or don’t know any better.
It is in the nature of athletes and people with certain personalities to embrace hard work. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, when it results in a setback or the loss of ability to move forward in a program then it can bring frustration and the worst situation – having to stop working. I always tell my clients that the only way progress will stop is if they stop it. Well, having a bad injury is one way that you don’t have a choice.
I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 ways that you can reduce or prevent these types of injuries. I hope that you take them to heart and use them to be mindful so that you don’t end up having to call me.
- Warm Up Thoroughly
This should really be a no brainer, but one of the worst habits I see from any athlete is that they simply neglect warming up their joints before subjecting them to loads. In order to be able to fire properly, muscles need both blood flow and also neurological input. If you’re lifting weights, this means moving the joints you’re planning on using and also practicing the movements. If you’re doing cardio work this means doing a dynamic movement pattern sequence and also taking it easy for the first little while if you are doing a hard workout.
Athletes typically warm up for AT LEAST 15 minutes. This also doesn’t mean static stretching or cardio – it means dynamic movement and preparation. Factor this into your workout time and give it the attention that it needs, don’t ignore it or rush through it.
While you’re doing your warmup, you can also take stock of how you’re feeling, which leads us to:
- Acknowledge your Readiness.
Remember that ability to perform is fueled by nutrition and other factors. Did you sleep well or not? Are you hydrated? Is it the end of the day or the beginning? How focused are you on performing today? Is there something else stressing your nervous system? Are you distracted or focused?
Not every workout has to be a top level workout. Some days you’re going to be able to give 100%, and some you’re simply not. Being smart and realizing this before you start hard work can save you a big problem during and after the workout. If you’re not able to give it all, then save yourself for the next workout. You can still do what you need to do, but realize that pushing yourself at that stage may not be the most prudent thing.
Along with this important tip follows:
- Don’t Ignore Warning Signs
Your body will tell you clearly if there is something going on you need to pay attention to. If you warm up and something is still stiff or restricted, or if you are feeling acute pain through a joint range, you may want to think twice about working that area hard.
So many athletes think that if they aren’t sweating and killing themselves then it isn’t worth it. I’m here to tell you that’s false. High level coaches realize that it is the long road that makes a difference so if you have one of these signs starting to crop up – or have a chronic issue – you’re better off addressing it now and taking care of it, because your body is literally telling you to slow down or stop.
- Work Smarter, Not Harder
There is a lot of misinformation in the fitness world, and probably one of the top ones is that you need to train to failure. I can cite multiple sources where improvement comes with much reduced load, and others where rep ranges don’t factor into progress. You can stop after 1 set or a few less reps and the difference in results are minimal – but the reduction in injury potential is large. A good strength coach knows the signs of good lifting and not overloading their athletes, and you can learn this too.
Your progress should be linear and programmed as much as possible, factoring in the above from workout to workout. A short delay for one workout is much better than a long one for a 6-12 week recovery period.
Also realize that progress is long term, not short term. Many of us want results right away and think mistakenly that forcing something to adapt to change is the right approach. Your body doesn’t work that way. Instead of wanting results in two weeks, focus on two months or even two years.
- Recover Properly
Recently I wrote another article HERE on the Red Headed Step Child of recovery. In summary, most people neglect things like sleep, nutrition and even proper cooling down and taking care of their tissue post workout. This also means maybe taking an extra rest day if it is needed in between hard workouts.
This is a component of good fitness just like nutrition or anything else that can contribute to the well being of your body and improving it. Yet it gets ignored on a regular basis. Please make sure to factor recovery time into your schedule and adhere to it.
By following these simple principles you should be able to continue to improve, feel good with each workout and not have to go through the ordeal of rehabilitation. If you have already gotten there, feel free to message me for ideas on how to enhance your recovery and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. You can find me on Facebook, my web site http://www.srottawa.com and on Twitter @strengthottawa.
Have a healthy and injury free day!