Winter fitness: Shovel your way into shape

Jan 27, 2009 at 9:23 a.m. ET

Next to sledding, skating or skiing, shoveling your driveway probably doesn't rank among your favorite things to do in the snow. But as much as a chore as this task can be, shoveling is a great way to get in an allover body workout. In fact, you can burn about five calories per minute shoveling heavy snow while working your arms, back and legs. But just like many other snowy sports and activities, shoveling doesn't come without risk of injury. Here's more on safely shoveling your way to shape!

Woman with Snow Shovel

Shoveling snow is a calorie blaster

Hauling snow off your sidewalk or driveway can blast away up to 300 calories an hour, making it a comparable cardio workout to cycling at a moderate speed for an hour or a 30-minute run (incidentally, because of the rigorous strains of shoveling can cause your heart rate to soar, only those who are in top physical condition should pick up a shovel.)

Lifting loads of snow will also work almost all of your muscle groups, especially your upper body, like your back, biceps and shoulders.

Snow shoveling safety

Though shoveling seems like a relatively safe activity compared to, say, snowboarding, you can still hurt yourself while hoisting snow off your driveway. In fact, according to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 118,000 people were treated for shoveling and snow-removal related injuries last year, including strains and sprains to the back and shoulders.

Tips for injury-free snow shoveling

And because of the high rate of shoveling-related injuries, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offer the following tips for safe snow removal:

1. Shovel sooner than later

Avoid having to deal with heavy, packed snow (and ensuing layers of ice) by shoveling when snow first starts to fall. That way, the white stuff is fresh and fluffy – and easier to lift.

2. Warm up

Just as you bundle up for the cold, you should also prep your muscles to protect them from injury. Before you start shoveling, do 10 minutes of light exercise. Take a walk in the snow or jog in place, then stretch.

3. Take it easy

Even if your competitive edge has you itching to be the first on your street to clear your driveway, don't rush too much. Taking quick, frequent water and rest breaks will give you a chance to stay hydrated and energized – and help you recover quicker.

4. Use the right shovel

One shovel does not fit all. A shovel that's too heavy or too long can cause unnecessary strain, so make sure yours suits you before you hit the driveway.

5. Try out these snow shoveling techniques

If you can, avoid lifting large loads of snow by pushing the powder instead. And when you do have to hoist? Fill your shovel halfway, then squat with your legs apart, knees bent, back straight, and lift with your legs. Then, toss the snow directly in front of you. Keep in mind that twisting to throw snow over your shoulder or to the side will cause extra strain to your back.

More winter fitness tips

Snowshoeing for winter exercise
Outdoor fitness: Tips to brave the cold and get fit
8 Winter tips for outdoor fitness