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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Let’s break down the typical day of a regular office worker in terms of movement.
Wake up and walk into the bathroom (20 steps). Shower (standing still for 5 minutes). Walk back into the bedroom and get dressed, walk downstairs and have breakfast (maybe 80 steps total and 1 flight of stairs).
Walk to the car (usually 50 more steps) and then sit down and drive to work. Maybe head into the drive thru because hey, why get out of the car? Park at work and walk to the desk (taking the elevator of course). Sit. Walk to two meetings which are on another floor but use the elevator anyway (maybe another 200 steps total). If I can Skype in, even better!
Eat lunch at my desk (I’m trying to be healthy after all and I’m busy). Or maybe take the elevator downstairs and grab something quickly. Back to the desk. Sit some more. Walk to my car, sit and drive home. Wow, what a long day. Sit at dinner. Then transfer to the couch for some relaxation and into bed (maybe another 200 steps total for the evening).
This is typical of most people in today’s society. We sit, barely move and don’t do anything all day.
“But wait!” you cry. “I work out four times a week for an hour!”. Yes. You drive to the gym, probably sit on a cardio machine for 30-40 minutes or do some strength work where you are sitting or lying down most of the time. At least you’re moving, but would it shock you to see that even if you work out 4 times a week for an hour, you’re only exercising 2% of your weekly time? And in terms of adding movement, unless you only do cardio (which you should not do, by the way – please strength train) you’re maybe adding about 2000 steps to your week walking into and out of the gym and to the various pieces of equipment.
My point is, we don’t move any more. We don’t walk to school as kids, we take the bus or get driven. We don’t exercise anything close to daily and many of us don’t exercise at all. We drive EVERYWHERE. Even in my job as a trainer in a gym, I stand all day but I’m certainly not moving around much in terms of steps. I do what I can – I walked to a grocery store just now to get my groceries and walked back. But it’s really not that much – and the majority of people wouldn’t even do that.
Generations ago, we got up and at least walked to school. Many of us would have worked on farms and been doing things before and after school and work. We played sports outside or in school daily. Now generations of kids grow up in front of a screen and we wonder why they don’t want to be active and the obesity rate in children has more than doubled in 30 years. And now those children are adults – you’re probably one of them.
Your body is the only machine that breaks down faster if it doesn’t get used regularly. Sedentary life leads to all sort of issues, never mind stiffness and pack of strength. Throw overeating into the mix and we wonder why as a society we have chronic illness, need joint replacements and many of us are in pain constantly simply from our daily lifestyle.
What’s the solution? Pretty simple:
The only way this will change is if we all as individuals take steps to change it and to reinforce behavior in others. Devices like FitBit and other trackers have things heading in the right direction by prompting more steps per day. However, there are other examples in our daily lives and business we can use to increase our level of movement – here’s some ideas:
Walking meetings – have a one on one meeting? Take it outside or even do laps around the floor. Odds are if you need to show them something that you can pull it up on a phone or tablet. It will help both you and your colleague.
Park Further Away – This one is an obvious one but something not many people do. I will often pull into a mall or parking lot and intentionally park in one of the spots farthest from the door. It takes an extra two minutes to walk but gives you extra movement. Plus no worrying about finding a spot!
Plan Your Errands – This falls under the heading of PLANNING. Have a bunch of stops? Instead of driving between stores, head to an area where you can walk from place to place and go back to the car to drop things off. You can easily get in a few kilometers of walking just doing groceries, hardware store and heading to Starbucks in between.
Add Evenings In – Instead of automatically dropping onto the couch at the end of the night, make a walk a priority. Tell yourself that you need to do 30 minutes before watching your first show. And for those of us here in Canada, weather isn’t an excuse – bundle up!
Let this be a bit of a wake up call. Take the time to really figure out how much movement you do on a daily basis and resolve to increase it. It really doesn’t take much, it doesn’t take high intensity exercise and it doesn’t take more time. It simply takes an adjustment to how you go through your day. Can you add it in? You definitely can. Throwing in ten minutes of focused mobility work will only help more. Feel free to message me for ideas on easy homework I give my clients to help them feel and move better without pain every day. My goal is to get you MOVING. Because right now – you don’t.
If this article prompted you to move more, let me know! You can find me on Facebook and LinkedIn under David Bateman, my web site at http://www.srottawa.com and on Twitter at @strengthottawa. Feel free to share it as well!
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!