Shoveling Snow A Full Body Workout . . . And Feels Good On My Back!

It's that time of year again and the white fluffy stuff will soon be falling (or in a lot of places already is!). Depending on your perspective, it can be an exciting and fun time of year but for most it’s a nightmare. The thought of the cold weather, shorter days and shoveling snow can deter people from leaving their home let alone want to be outside. Since we are not bears that hibernate all winter we will need to be doing the not so fun activities that come with winter.

In my clinic I see many back and shoulder related injuries from athletes, weekend warriors and the general desk jockey. Coming into the colder months when the snow starts to fly, I'm still seeing a lot of repetitive and sport injuries but the ones from snow removal are on the rise.

Realizing last winter after sitting and eating for three days, my back was getting tight and sore from not exercising. We had a couple of feet of snow already fall before Christmas and needed to be shoveled, especially at the end of the drive way where the city plow pilled a mound of compact snow.

I, like most Canadian’s put on my snow gear, grabbed my shovel and went to work!

I thought to myself how can I make this more like the strength and conditioning activity we do at my facility?

I took the principles I use and teach with deadlifting, kettlebell swings and medicine ball tosses. I gripped my shovel, hinged at the hips and plunged the shovel into the snow. I braced my core, took a sniff of air to increase intra-abdominal pressure, locked my shoulders into place and lifted the snow with my body and hips and heaved it to the side with very little effort. I continued to do so for 8 – 10 reps, then switch to the other side to repeat another 8 – 10 reps. By using my strength training techniques and good body mechanics, I was getting a great gluteal, core, upper body and cardio workout all in one! Using the RKC power breath technique, allowed me to repeatedly perform the movement while protecting my back and increase body movement efficiency.

At the end of shoveling for 45 minutes, my low back felt looser, my mobility was restored from the 3 days of sloth, my heart was pounding and my glutes and lats were on fire. We often see and use functional old school exercises such as tractor tire sledge hammer chops, tire flipping, dumbbell/kettlebell farmer carries and other various strongman functional/practical exercises to improve performance, durability and injury prevention for our clients and selves. If we look outside our windows you don't have to travel to the gym to get your workout done, just get out into the practical real world and apply your strength and conditioning principles to everyday activity. After all that's why we should be training in the first place isn't it?

To train for the upcoming snow season, I recommend the following exercise program below in the order written out. You'll notice a mix of strength and mobility exercises for the first two circuits avoiding fatigue with all lifts and skills. The final circuit is a bit of a finisher for building quick hip drive, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Rest 30 – 60 seconds after each round of exercises, depending on your ability to recover, to perform the next set with perfect technique.

A1 Barbell Deadlift 5 sets 5 reps 85% max

A2 Push Up, Alternate Single Leg 5 sets 10 reps

A3 Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch 5 sets 6 reps (each side)

B1 Inverted Bar Rows 4 sets 8 reps

B2 Medicine Ball Lateral Toss 4 sets 10 reps (each side)

B3 Alternate Hip Rotation To Talk Kneeling Kettlebell Halo 4 sets 10 reps

C1 Kettlebell Swings 3 sets 20 reps

C2 Medicine Ball Slams

C3 Single Leg Balance On Bosu Ball 30 sec each leg 3 sets


Article Written by:

Tom Swales, PT

MPT, ATC, FCAMPT, CAFCI, CSCS, MCT, RKC

Learn more about Tom here


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