Top 5 Stretches Before Shoveling Snow

by Dr. Christopher Kahanec, DC

With our first big snow storm well on its way to Montvale and the entire northeast, it’s time not only to prepare our houses, but our bodies! A recent study at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that approximately 11,500 snow shoveling-related injuries and medical emergencies were treated in the United States from 1990 to 2006. As chiropractors and physical therapists we want to take the time to stress the importance of stretching and help you understand how it can help prevent you from becoming another victim of the pain-causing syndrome better known as shoveling this winter.

Top 5 Stretches Before Shoveling Snow

  1. Shoulder Rolls – Lifting any weight with your arms requires a lot of stability and strength in the shoulders. The shoulders are simple to stretch and when rolling in both forward and backwards directions it activates all the major stability and power muscles of the shoulder.

Rolling your shoulders in both directions 3-4 times a set, for 2-3 sets should leave you feeling loose and ready to shovel.

  1. Butterfly Stretch – When lifting or pushing an object, being able to maintain the proper posture is key. Stand up straight, interlocking your fingers behind you and look up. This helps extend your spine and stretches the rhomboids (the muscles between your shoulder blades, the ones we all love to get massaged) and lower traps. Hours of shoveling means hours of serious strain on those muscles, so it’s important to keep them loose!

Performing this 2-3 times for 3-5 seconds should leave you feeling taller and standing straight.

  1. Leg Swings – Most athletes know that most of our power in any movement comes from our legs. Swing through a full range of motion, keeping the knee straight and bring your leg as far as you can and at a reasonable pace to activate all the key muscles you need to generate power while shoveling.

Swinging each leg 3-4 times per set for 2-3 sets should be satisfactory for warming up if combined with the other stretches.

  1. Lunges – Most people look at this movement as more of an exercise than a stretch. However, when one performs a lunge and holds for 3-5 seconds this becomes a great psoas stretch. The psoas is a major hip flexor that helps us lift our knee as we walk, run, and yes, shovel snow. At the same time, psoas tightness is a major contributor to back pain that we as chiropractors and physical therapists see on a daily basis.

Performing this 3-5 times on each leg for 3 sets should relieve any stiffness you have prior to going outside.

  1. Hamstring Stretch – Most of us probably remember this stretch in gym class where we had to touch our toes. The sad reality is that current research shows, that although stretching in the traditional manner still can have some benefit, for those on the verge of having a disc herniation or those who already have one, this can actually wreak major havoc on your back. To avoid disc issues, find a stool or surface 6-12 inches off the ground. (In most cases a step or two on the stairs will do.) Bring one heel on the step with the toes pointed up towards the ceiling, while your other leg steadies you. With both hands reach for 3-5 seconds and try to touch your toes.

Perform this 3-4 times on each leg for 2 sets.

These stretches should help you reduce your risk of injury shoveling snow. Always remember to take breaks and rest and stay properly hydrated throughout the day – after all, shoveling snow is quite the workout! Stay warm, and most importantly, stay safe.


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