We’ve been slammed by snowstorms lately here in the Northeast. Since we made it through most of January without significant snowfall, many thought we’d be spared this winter. But I grew up here in Boston, so I had a feeling that our luck would eventually run out. And did it ever: 20-30 inches fell across Massachusetts during last week’s blizzard, with more coming down today.
A major challenge in dealing with all this snow? Removing it. Which means lots of shoveling. It’s a time when, no matter what each of us does for a living, we all become manual laborers if we want to leave our homes.
One of my favorite things about fitness is finding the real life applications of the strength and endurance created in the gym. I love hearing stories from members whose consistent Koko workouts have allowed them to hike to a taller peak, move heavy furniture or hoist that suitcase up into the overhead baggage compartment of a plane with ease. So when one of my Koko FitClub members suggested that we develop a Snow Shoveler’s workout, I loved the idea of a program designed to aid such a practical application of strength and endurance as snow shoveling.
Of course, since such a program would only appeal to Koko members living in snowy climates, it may not be a top choice for our Smartrainer program development team. Fear not, my frosty friends: if you are Smartraining consistently, you already have what it takes to attack that snow with a vengeance. Your Koko strength and cardio training has prepared you for this labor-intensive endeavor of shoveling snow. Let’s learn how.
Snow shoveling really is a total body workout, involving all the major muscle groups and movements:
- As you scrape that shovel through the snow along the ground, preparing to scoop up a load, you’re activating your “Push Muscles”. Think Pectorals and Triceps, like you’d use in a Chest Press.
- As you lift the snow, all kinds of forces are at work inside your musculoskeletal system. You’re hip-hinging, as in a Romanian Deadlift, and engaging the posterior chain.
- With the heavy stuff you may need to squat a bit — as in, well, a Squat.
- As you lift that snow and throw it, you’re using “Pull Muscles” like the Lats, Rhomboids and Biceps.
- All that heavy lifting and throwing also requires cardiovascular strength and endurance, which comes from a strong, healthy heart through cardio training.
And of course, throughout all of this, is the necessity of a strong core. Shoveling snow can be back-breaking work, but a strong core can allow you to shovel for hours, and then hop out of bed the next day and do it again (which is actually becoming a little too common around here). The next time you’re grinding through a tough set of trunk rotations or even just bracing during a heavy biceps curl, think about how important the exercise is to keeping your core strong and your body ready for the physical challenges that are inevitable throughout life.
In college, one of my part-time jobs was riding around in a snowplow, shoveling walks, sometimes for 12 hours or more. I can’t say I never felt an ache in my back, but I always felt like I could get up and do it again the next day. Almost 20 years later, I am incredibly thankful that I’ve kept fitness as an integral part of my life. Here’s why: Even during last week’s blizzard, when it felt like I had been shoveling all day, I had no pain in my back. My balanced workouts at Koko have kept my muscles strong and kept them working together in unison to maintain proper form for what can be for many, a “back-breaking” endeavor.
A serious shoveling concern worth mentioning is the very real risk of heart attack from lifting heavy, wet snow over and over. So, for some people, it is well worth paying the kid down the street $20 to shovel for you. Doctors generally advise anyone who may be at risk of heart attack against shoveling, yet each year we hear sad stories of people suffering cardiac problems and heart attacks while shoveling. Shoveling is hard work, and it’s never a good idea to jump right into an activity that is beyond your current fitness or intensity level. It’s the same reason why we start every new Koko member with a Strength Assessment. This allows us to customize the program to individual ability and progress the program gradually, never pushing too hard, too fast.
Although any well-designed exercise program could help get your body ready for the white stuff, I’m partial to the way we build programs here at Koko. A well-rounded, total body strength workout that changes over time will keep your bones, joints and muscles strong, and ready for that labor-intensive task of clearing snow. And consistent cardio training, especially of the HIIT variety (High Intensity Interval Training) has been proven to strengthen the heart, helping you feel strong inside and out, and confident that you can take on whatever challenges life (or the weather) throws your way.
For those of you battling winter storms, be safe and enjoy your own shoveling workout. And for those of you in warm climates where snow removal is a non-issue? We’d like to invite ourselves to your house for a vacation, please!
Certified Personal Trainer, Master FitCoach
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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.