Strategies to Save Your Back This Winter
The winter snow is right around the corner, and while that conjures up images of sledding, building a snowman, skiing, hot cocoa, and those beautifully peaceful mornings waking up to a landscape covered in a cottony, picture-perfect winter wonderland, it also means shoveling and the potential back ache that ensues. In a study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and analyzed a few years ago by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Ohio, about 11,500 people in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to snow shoveling. On average, 100 of those injuries are fatal, generally due to heart attacks. So how do you make sure that you don’t become one of those 11,500?
Warm-Up before going out to shovel
Shoveling snow is no different than performing a high intensity workout. You need to warm your muscles up and ease into the workout. Try these simple exercises prior to going out:
Body Weight or Banded Squats
Doing these will get your legs warmed up and start to increase your body temperature and heart rate. Place the band around the thighs or simply screw your feet into the floor if you don’t have a band, and then sit your hips back and down as if you are sitting in a chair, while maintaining a tall posture through the spine. Note that the angle of your torso (hips to shoulder), should be the same angle as that of your lower legs (ankle to knee). Perform 10-15 squats making sure that the band doesn’t pull the knees towards the midline of the body or the knees don’t collapse in.
How to Perform a Banded Squat
You are doing this to mobilize the hips and spine. As you sink your belly towards the floor, look up while you breathe in. As you exhale, round your back towards the ceiling, tucking your chin and looking down and back between your legs. Breathe slowly and perform the movement with each breath. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
How to Perform Cat & Cow Pose
Thoracic Rotational Reach Through
These will warm-up your thoracic spine and upper back. Start off on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips, take one hand and reach under and across to the other side. Breathe out and as you then inhale, bring the arm back and then reach up towards the ceiling. Focus on keeping your hips stable. Perform 10 reach throughs each side.
How to Perform the Thoracic Rotational Reach Through
These will warm up your lower back and core. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your side, push your big toes, pinky toes, and heels down into the floor, lift your hips up off the floor, squeezing your glutes. Perform 10-15 repetitions, holding each repetition for 3-5 seconds.
How to Perform the Glute Bridge
Plan Ahead and Take Breaks
If it is going to be a larger snowfall, plan ahead and go out multiple times throughout the storm. Don’t wait until it’s done snowing, if possible. Heavier snowfalls add up quickly, increasing the intensity for your heart and the amount of work your lower back and legs will have to handle. If you find that you are getting winded or fatigued, stop and take a break. Give your body time to recover. Go inside, warm-up and hydrate. You will lose body water through sweat while shoveling. As you get dehydrated, your body has to work harder to perform the same task.
Push the Snow Instead of Lifting
When possible, it is best to push the snow instead of lifting it. By pushing the snow, you will be using your legs and core more than your arms and lower back. Using an ergonomic shovel will make this easier. If the snow is heavy and wet, take smaller amounts of snow instead of trying to push the snow across the drive and then trying to lift a large pile.
Stretch When You Are Finished
Your body has just completed a very intense workout. Your legs, core, back, and arms did a lot of work. Stretching can help alleviate any tightness that may follow after such a workout. Perform the following stretches:
Child’s Pose with a Lat Stretch
Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips and a little wider than hip-width apart. Walk both hands over to one side of the body. While gripping the floor, sit your hips back on your heels, slowly lowering your chest towards your thighs/floor. You should feel a stretch under the arm on the opposite side of the hands. Hold this stretch for 5 slow deep breaths, breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your belly and back with air, holding the breath for 4 seconds and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds. This will stretch your lats, lower back, and hips.
How to Perform Child’s Pose with a Lat Stretch
Supine Piriformis Stretch
Lying on the floor on your back, cross your right ankle over your left knee. Reach between your legs and grab the back of your left leg and pull the leg towards your chest as you lie your head and shoulders back down on the floor. Hold this stretch for 5 slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your belly and back with air, hold the inhale for 4 seconds and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
How to Perform the Supine Piriformis Stretch
Supine Glute Stretch
Lie on your back, bring your knee up towards your chest. Hold it into the chest and perform 5 slow, deep breaths. Then gently pull it across your body towards your other shoulder. Try to keep the hips and back on the floor or bed. Hold this stretch for 5 slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your belly and back with air, hold the inhale for 4 seconds and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
How to Perform the Supine Glute Stretch
Supine Hamstring Stretch
Lie on your back with both legs straight and your toes pointing up to the ceiling. Lift one leg and grab behind the thigh, making sure to keep that leg as straight as you can, and not allowing the leg that is on the floor to turn out. Focus on pressing the heel straight up to the ceiling. Hold this stretch for 5 slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your belly and back with air, hold the inhale for 4 seconds and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
How to Perform the Supine Hamstring Stretch
By warming up, planning ahead, taking breaks, being smart about how you shovel, and stretching after, you will be able to join your winter and take advantage of all of the fun that winter has to offer. For more exercises and other health tips, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.