That time has come again here in Minnesota when we head out in to the cold morning air with great enthusiasm. We put on our boots, say hello to our neighbors, and set forth to clear off our driveways and sidewalks.
For the first few minutes we can't help but marvel at the beautiful fresh fallen snow. We breathe in the cold air and feel invigorated by the task at hand.
Unfortunately, before long, many of us ourselves standing up frequently to give our low backs a rest. When we are done we head in side for some hot chocolate, a couple ibuprofen, and some icy hot. After a few weeks of this, many find themselves making chiropractor appointments or walking the aisles of Walgreens looking for a back support brace.
SHOVELING ISN'T BAD FOR YOUR BACK
Shoveling isn't bad for your back. Shoveling POORLY is bad for your back. If done correctly shoveling can actually improve your back health!
So what is the trick? Well, for starters, avoid the "Hunch Back" position. Shoveling, or doing almost anything, in a rounded or arched position puts undo stress on the muscles of the back.
Furthermore, putting ourselves in this "arched" back position, then adding a load, THEN adding in rotation is a recipe for disaster.
A NEUTRAL SPINE IS A HEALTHY SPINE
The best way to avoid having an angry back is to maintain a healthy neutral spine position. When we lean over to scoop up snow the movement should come from our hips hinging/rotating and not our backs flexing.
TRAIN AWAY PAIN
Fortunately, there are some simple exercises that we can do to move better and strengthen our backs. Here are three exercises that can improve your movement quality, develop strength and help you say goodbye to that sore lower back for good.
BEGINNER: The Dowel Drill
One of the easiest ways to test and teach our bodies to hinge properly is to use the Dowel Drill. Simply grab a wooden dowel, broom stick or your old hockey stick. Standing tall, hold the stick behind your back so that you have 3 points of contact: 1) Your tail bone 2) in between your shoulder blades and 3) the back of your head.
Once you have all three points of contact simply "hinge" forward by pushing your tailbone the the wall behind you. Have a friend or family member watch to make sure you are maintaining all three points of contact. Practice the Dowel Drill until you have mastered it.
INTERMEDIATE: The Deadlift
There are no shortage of manuals, ebooks, youtube videos, websites, and blogs that can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how to perform a proper deadlift. However, for our purposes we just want you to practice picking up some weight (kettlebell, laundry basket, etc) while maintaining that same neutral or "flat" back.
ADVANCED: The Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing can be a great tool for creating balance, stability, motor control, and YES, a strong, strong back! The swing is a simple exercise. However like with most exercises, when done correctly can improve your strength and resilience; But when done incorrectly can lead to injury. So please seek out proper instruction.
According to Dan Buettner, author of 'The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest' and Minnesota resident, one of the the secrets to longevity is to engage in purposeful movement. Shoveling snow falls well within the category of purposeful movement, so get out there start shoveling; It may help you to live longer.
PROBLEM OR SOLUTION?
For most people, lower back soreness and pain is not something we have to live with. Try these exercises to improve your movement quality and overall back health. And remember, in regard to back soreness, when done correctly...
"Shoveling snow will go from being the problem to becoming the solution"