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Departments: Fitness Focus


The Scoop on Shoveling Success

DeSimone, Grace T. B.A.

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: January/February 2018 - Volume 22 - Issue 1 - p 3
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000351
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Whether it’s a garden or snow shovel, there’s a backache waiting for you if you dig in without any regard for your mechanics. I’m sure you would agree that a shovel is clearly a piece of exercise equipment. Because this activity also places high stress on the heart, you should always speak with your doctor before shoveling.


  1. Bigger is not better: Choose a shovel that is right for you. A smaller blade is better than a larger blade because it reduces the temptation to pick up an unrealistic load.
  2. Lighten your load: A plastic shovel blade will generally be lighter than a metal one, thus putting less strain on your spine. Ergonomic shovels will reduce the stress on your body and are an excellent choice.


Dress Appropriately: If you are in the elements, wear loose-fitting clothes that allow you to move freely. Dress for the elements; a hat, gloves, and sunglasses are appropriate for hot or cold climates. And during the winter months, layer clothing so you can easily discard layers as you heat up and add back as you cool off.

Warm Up: Spend about 10 minutes warming up. Shrug your shoulders, circle your arms, do some planks, light squats, and knee lifts to ensure your muscles are warm before you start shoveling. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed muscles.

Get A Grip: When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. By creating distance between your hands, you increase your leverage and reduce the strain on your body. Periodically change your grip on the hand holding the handle (palm under vs. palm over).

Push and Scoop: Your shoveling technique is very important. Push snow or dirt and scoop it lifting with your legs. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight for each scoop. Bending over at the waist to shovel can result in back strain or other issues. Scoop small amounts into the shovel and walk to the location you want to unload it.

Slow and Steady: Never remove a deep load all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel an inch or two; then take another inch off. Pace yourself and avoid rushing because your speed, the weight of the shovel, and its contents affect your cardiovascular system and the intensity of the activity.

Switch Sides: Even though you may favor one side, avoid overusing that side because that is a common way to strain one side of your back. Instead, shovel 10 digs with your right hand on top and 10 digs with your left. This will balance out the workout and avoid muscular fatigue.

Twist Free: Avoid twisting your spine while lifting and unloading. Even twisting the wrist while unloading snow can result in an overuse injury. The load can be tipped off the side of the shovel, without twisting your back. Remember to move your feet to gain an easy angle rather than twisting around.

Safe and Simple: Never throw snow or dirt over your shoulder. Remember that wet snow or dirt can be very heavy. One full shovel load can weigh as much as 25 lbs.

Rest Stops: Avoid marathon shoveling adventures. Work in intervals, taking breaks to rest and stretch. Hydrate with a cool or warm drink based on your climate. Realize you are doing an activity that is not a daily exercise for you and one that can be very taxing. If you experience pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek assistance.

Enjoy this outdoor calorie torcher in a safe, controlled manner and you can shovel yourself fit.

© 2018 American College of Sports Medicine.