Preventing Low Back Injuries from Snow Shoveling

They say this upcoming blizzard will be a ‘Historic’ one.  This has inspired me to write this article to help make sure that everyone of our Spartans is being safe during the winter season. Every winter it seems like you always hear about someone ‘throwing out’ their back during shoveling. So, Spartan Fitness has created an investigative approach in to finding out why these injuries occur and how to reduce the likelihood of a crippling back injury. You will find this article to have many different solutions since biomechanics is a deep and complicated subject. Some answers will be simple technique issues, while others are aiming to get to the root of the problem.

1)Improper Warmup: Many injuries occur because the body is inadequately warmed up. Before doing any vigorous activity always warm the body up. Granted, you may want to jump right into shoveling, but do yourself a favor and take 5 minutes beforehand to warmup.

  • Sumo Stretch

    Dynamic Warmup: Top position of the Sumo Stretch. Straighten the legs out and hold for 5-10 seconds.

    Dynamic Warmup: Sumo Stretch- Bottom Position. Keep the feet flat. Hold for a couple seconds.

  • Trunk Rotations

    light trunk rotations for the dynamic warmup

    Dynamic Warm up: Trunk Rotations. Nice and light.

  • Shoulder Circles

    Shoulder Rotations to prep the shoulders for lifting/shoveling.

  • Light Squats

    Light squats to warmup the lower body.

  • Twist+Reach with Shovel

    Top half of the Twist and Reach to prep the body for dynamic squats and rotations.

    Lower half of the Twist and Reach, a warm up specific to shoveling movements.

2)Improper Recovery:Recovery is equally as important as the work. Instead of the typical shovel-drive to work-sit at your desk all day method, develop a strategy that includes time throughout the day to recover with proper myofascial release, stretching, nutrition, and rest. An active recovery the following day to improve the healing process should also be built into the strategy. Don’t just sit down.

Modify the lat stretch by turning the trunk for an enhanced lower back stretch.

Seated Hamstring Stretch. Slightly bend the knee and reach forward, relax the foot.











Stretch the lats by pulling on a solid object or door frame.

Slightly bend the knees and reach down and towards one heel for a gentle lower back stretch.


3)Poor Technique:

Better shoveling form. Using the legs and shortening the lever.

Grip high on the shovel to shorten the lever.

  • Be symmetrical- It is easy to use only your dominate side. Allow yourself to take small breaks with one side to allow your non-dominant (slightly awkward) side to do some of the work. This will also allow the dominant shoulder to get a beak as well.


4)Lack of Conditioning:Injuries quiet often occur when a person goes from a non-conditioned state to vigorous activity. If the body is not properly adjusted to the sort of torque, stress, and demands that come from shoveling snow, then a person is at risk for an injury. Condition the body through exercise and training to best prep it for these high demands. Exercises need to be functional, on the feet. Sitting on a machine will not condition the body for shoveling.

5)Lack of Specificity: The closer we can replicate movements, structural and metabolic demands in the gym, the better. Here are two great exercises that closely mimic the movements of snow shoveling.

  • Twist and Reach (Woodchop) with a Medball: This exercise will replicate the twisting and required leg movements to safely execute snow shoveling.
  • WarHammer (Sledge Hammer): This exercise will enforce the requirements for proper hand positioning during snow shoveling and the twisting demands.

Correct Hand positioning for both Warhammer and Shovel. Less stressful on the back and shoulder.

Incorrect Hand position makes for a longer lever and greater torque.


6)Let go of the Ego: Getting tired? Take a break. Injuries to the low back tend to occur during states of fatigue, when the internal structure is most at risk. Start early to give yourself the time to not rush and take small breaks when needed.

7)Efficiency: Not every scoop needs to be lifted and thrown over the shoulder. Push the snow ( like a plow does). This is less demanding on the body and just a smarter way to shovel. Throw over the shoulder only when you need to.

8)Improper Core Conditioning: Training the Core is a complex task. We should train it for the specificity of its role. Heavy lifting will not help in injury prevention due to the lack of specificity during snow shoveling ie. No one is shoveling 300lb scoops of snow.

  • Anti-Rotations: Ideally we are including Anti-Rotational exercises that create great forces onto the structure. The deep core muscles are challenged by preventing rotation or collapse. Situps and Crunches will not do the job. Train the Core for what it was meant to do-stabilize the spine.
  • Core Endurance/Threshold: Once fatigued the Core’s ability to maintain stability of the spine is reduced. Train the core to last longer (back to back exercises) and you will be training it for injury prevention.


It is not a mystery as to why so many low back injuries occur during the winter months. Just like when a sedentary person plays a recreational sport twice a year and comes back injured or aching with severe DOMS. If we are not exercising, especially specific to the demands of shoveling, then we should expect to run a higher risk of a back injury. We always warmup before and recover properly after a tough workout, we need to do the same for snow shoveling. These are all logical and reasonable conclusions to snow shoveling injury prevention.