Did you know that there is a right way and a wrong way to shovel snow? Lots of people who live in areas that normally get less than an inch of snow in a given snowstorm usually have never learned to shovel the snow in the right way. This means that if a big snowstorm rolls through and drops a foot or more of snow, the people often over-exert themselves when shoveling the snow. Many people actually die from heart attacks from over-exertion that is brought about by shoveling incorrectly. Many more have to pay a visit to the emergency room for pulled muscles.
I grew up in an area of the Cascade Mountains that was well-known for heavy snow, every year. In fact, that location got just under 97 inches of snow for the month of December 2015. January and February are known for being the high-snowfall months, so a lot more snow has fallen there since December. The following year, the snowfall was far greater, too. Growing up in a place like that, we learned the right way to shovel snow, safely. There wasn’t a great deal of choice.
First, I should explain that there are two basic kinds of shovels. I call them push shovels and scoop shovels. The names are descriptive. Push shovels are used to push snow out-of-the-way. They work well with an inch or so of snow, but they are inadequate for shoveling deeper snow. That is when a scoop shovel should be used.
Scoop shovels are designed to scoop up the snow so it can be lifted out-of-the-way and deposited to the side. This needs to be done with deeper snow, but it needs to be done right and this is when people normally make a mistake.
The wrong way to shovel
First, let me describe the wrong way of shoveling snow when it is a few inches to a foot or deeper. The shovel is held with one hand at the end of the handle or near the end of it and the other hand about halfway down the handle.
The person bends and the shovel blade is brought under the snow, then the upper hand (the one holding the shovel mid-way down the handle) is brought up, lifting the snow with the bicep muscles of the arm. The person then straightens up, turns about 30-45 degrees to the side and ‘tosses’ the snow off to the side. They then turn back, bend and repeat the process.
Shoveling the snow this way puts a huge stress on the biceps, lower back, thighs, shoulders, and neck. It may not sound like the neck muscles would be used, but they are. To repeatedly lift and move 10 pounds of wet snow can easily cause over-exertion. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Also, remember that a cubic foot of snow can easily weigh in excess of 15 pounds.
Shoveling the right way
To shovel the snow the safer way, wiser way and right way, the stance is similar. However, the feet are farther apart and the upper hand grips the handle nearer to the blade, over-hand rather than under the handle. The biggest difference is how the snow is moved.
As with the other way, the blade is brought under the snow, but what happens next is the key. Instead of lifting the snow with the upper hand and arm, the arm is held rigid and the lower hand and arm push DOWN. In effect, the upper arm works as the brace of a fulcrum or lever. By pushing the end of the handle down, you are lifting the scoop because of the fulcrum. In other words, you are using your arm as a lever, which takes much less muscle-power.
Next, instead of turning the entire body, the shovel is swung to the side in a continuous movement and abruptly halted so that the snow flies off and out-of-the-way.
By shoveling snow in this way, most of the work is done with the shoulders. Very little work is done with the muscles of the lower back and since it is far easier to push down than it is to lift up, less energy and muscle power is needed. This method is also much quicker once you get to it because movements are minimized. You are basically just scooping and flinging the snow to the side rather than actually lifting it up and moving it.
It does take a little bit to get used to, but it pays off to shovel snow the right way when it is deep. When I was 8-years-old, I was using this method to shovel a swath three feet wide and 30 feet long to remove between 6-12 inches of snow several times a day. If a kid can do it, an adult should have no problem doing the same thing. An adult has a height advantage. I’m not better than anyone else, I had simply been taught the right way to do it.
Of course, it pre-supposes that you have a shovel that has a handle of the right length. The movements should be comfortable so the handle shouldn’t be too long or too short. If the handle is too short, the fulcrum doesn’t operate efficiently. If it is too long, you can end up using more muscle power from your upper arms and the middle of your back.
If you find yourself needing to shovel deep snow, try doing it the right way and see if it doesn’t save you time, effort and muscle pain.
I’ll add two tips. First, don’t shovel more than a foot deep at a time. If the snow is two feet deep, first remove the top foot, then repeat the steps to remove the other foot of snow. Otherwise, you will be trying to move too much weight at once.
Second, if the snow is wet and tacky, sticking to the shovel, take the shovel inside, dry it off, then spray the blade thoroughly with vegetable cooking oil spray. This may need to be done more than once, but as long as the oil is coating the shovel, the snow should slide right off of it.
Note: The man in the top picture is shoveling snow the wrong way! His arms and back muscles are doing all the work.