Have you read other guides to snow shoveling and thought, “What planet does this guy live on?
For instance, I’ve read that you should always push and never lift or twist when you shovel. That advice makes me wonder where the author lives and how many inches of snow he’s used to shoveling. Pushing rather than lifting is ideal, but it’s not always possible, especially if you have six or more inches of really heavy, wet snow.
I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and have lived in some part of Michigan my entire life (with the exception of about nine months in Tennessee). So, here, you’ll read advice from someone who actually has spent her entire life in the Great White North and knows one or two things about how to shovel snow efficiently while not giving yourself a heart attack.
Get up early. I know it’s really tempting to sleep in until the last minute when it’s cold and dark, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor by giving yourself an extra 15 or 20 minutes to shovel in the morning when it has snowed overnight. If you see a prediction of a couple inches of snow overnight, plan to wake up at least 15 minutes early so you can spend some time shoveling before going to work or leaving to run errands. If a heavy snow is predicted, you may want to give yourself an extra 30 or 40 minutes. Sure, you can put off shoveling until after work, but once you’ve driven your car over the snow, you’ll have packed it down and possibly will have turned it into ice in the car tracks. This will make it harder to shovel when you get home. So shovel early and do it right, and you’ll make less work for yourself.
Dress in practical layers. This is pretty standard advice, but it’s important to dress smart for shoveling. Shoveling snow can be heavy-duty work, and you can really work up a sweat. If this happens, you may regret dressing in a coat or other clothing that is hard to remove. It’s best to dress in easily removable layers so that you can take some off as you heat up. If there’s a fierce wind, don’t forget a scarf. Even if the rest of you is warm, your face can get a case of frostbite if you don’t protect it from wind chill.
Invest in the right equipment. If you’re going the traditional shoveling route because you can’t afford or don’t want to invest in a snowblower, at least shell out a moderate amount of cash for a good quality shovel and possibly an ice pick. This is not the type of ice pick you use to break up ice for drinks, but rather a tool that will be sold in hardware stores near the shovels. It looks somewhat like a hoe, and has a sharp edge for chopping ice. No matter how high quality your shovel is, it probably can’t handle the ice that may accumulate on your driveway when you get a mix of rain and snow, or rain followed by a freeze, and this is where the ice pick comes in. If you buy a plastic shovel, consider getting one with a metal front edge to help scrape clean down to the concrete.
Push rather than lifting, when possible. It actually is good advice to favor pushing over lifting when it comes to snow removal. When you have a long piece of concrete or asphalt, such as a long driveway or a sidewalk, try pushing the snow with your shovel as long as you can. However, there are certain occasions when the push method just won’t work. I’ve encountered heavy, wet snows of six inches deep that just would not budget with the push motion. I would go about eight inches, and the snow shovel wouldn’t budge any further. In this case, it’s necessary to lift, and possibly to twist. You may also have to do a bit of lifting at the end or edge of the driveway. If you don’t, and just use the push method, you’ll end up with a snowbank at the end of the driveway, or with piles of snow on either side. Letting the snow pile up on either side of the driveway through a few heavy snowfalls can turn a 12-foot-wide driveway into a four-foot-wide driveway pretty easily.
Use good form when you lift. So, we know that it isn’t always possible to only push snow ahead of you- sometimes you’ll have to lift and throw the snow off to the side or up over a snowbank. Keep the shovel close to your body when you lift; the further away from you, the more strain you put on your back. Also, if you must twist to get the snow off to one side, you may want to alternate your dominant hand and therefore which side you twist to. This will help alleviate muscle strain by distributing the work equally to both sides of the body.
Slow down a little bit. Each year, you hear about somebody who has had a heart attack trying to shovel after a very heavy snow. Getting up early will mean you can slow down, instead of having to shovel at a marathon pace. If you have a very deep drift of snow, you can shovel off a top layer of four or five inches, and then come back and shovel off the lower layer. This method takes longer, but you’ll be less likely to strain your back or hurt your heart.
Don’t overuse salt and ice-melt products. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, if the temperature is lower than about 25 degrees, these often just sit on the snow and don’t do anything. These are really best used when the temperature is just a couple degrees below the melting point. Secondly, these products are usually not environmentally friendly. Even simple rock salt can damage your lawn in the spring after accumulating all winter. It’s best to use the salt only on a few strategic spots, like the place where your roof always drips onto the sidewalk, or on the spot directly below your front steps.
Expect to be sore afterward. If you have one inch of fluff on your sidewalks, you may not end up very sore from shoveling snow. However, if you end up having to shovel six or more inches of heavy snow, it’s likely you’ll be sore later in the day or even the next day. This is because you’ll likely be using muscles you don’t normally use, or using them more strenuously than you usually do. The best way to combat this is to do some simple stretches before and after shoveling and to take a painkiller like ibuprofen. Some stretches that might cut down on shoveling soreness include shoulder rolls, hamstring stretches, and stretches for the lower back. Don’t be too proud to pop a pain pill or two, either. Ibuprofen is an especially good choice since it not only treats pain but also lessens inflammation.
All this advice can be summed up in a few words: plan ahead, equip properly and be kind to your body. Keep those things in mind, and you should be able to shovel your way through heavy snowfalls with minimal aches and pains.
Bonus information: click here to see a great How To video about removing ice from your driveway.