How to Not Hurt Your Back Shoveling

Can you believe we’re getting more snow?

The day after a snowstorm, everyone comes into the gym complaining of back pain.

How to hurt your back shoveling snow:

People are careless about their body movements when shoveling.

Shoveling is exercise.

If you think of it like that – we don’t do much rounding or twisting of the spine when at the gym. Safe exercise emphasizes sound technique, and shoveling should reflect that too.

Shoveling is a lot of repeated flexion and rotating of the spine under load. There are ways to combat this that will lead to a pain free, post-storm back.

How to not hurt your back when shoveling:

The most important thing you're missing is a pre-shovel warm up. Think about it – you would never start a workout at a gym without doing a warm up first. When you go for a run, your run sucks if you don’t warm up first.

How to warm up before shoveling:

On a snow day you’re probably lounging around and sitting more than normal. This makes warming up even more important. It does not need to be anything too crazy, a few minutes of movement and bringing your heart rate up will make a world of difference.  Try this shoveling warm up.

Body weight squats 2x10

Couch stretch for hip flexors 2x1 minute/side

Push-ups 2x10 (elevate hands if you need to using the counter or a couch)

Plank 1x30 seconds

Overhead squats (using shovel handle) 1x10

This is a great way to get your heart rate up and wake your muscles up.

Now, remember – shoveling does not cause back pain. Shoveling with poor form causes back pain.  The way to combat this is to be mindful of your position when shoveling. Is your back flat, or in a neutral position or are you rounding your back every time you go to pick up snow? When you pick snow up off the ground with a shovel, you should think about hinging at the hips.

What does that mean? Think about a deadlift.

Stick your butt back and slide your lower hand down the handle of the shovel, until you reach a point where you can stand up by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward. Much like the lockout position of a deadlift.


Carelessly throwing snow isn’t going to be great for your lower back either. When your feet are fixed to the ground, and you upper body rotates to throw snow - recipe for disaster. That twisting over and over again will irritate your back. To prevent this, pivot on one or both of your feet when tossing snow off to the side. This will eliminate the rotational force on your spine. Think about throwing snow like you would a medicine ball when performing a side toss.

Always remember, hinge at the hips and keep the spine in a neutral position. Limit your rotating, and if you do move your feet. Try to push snow when you can, and don’t be afraid to take half loads on the shovel.

Practicing these techniques will save you the day after the storm. And you’ll never have to miss a workout again!

Justin MinerComment