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6 biggest shovelling mistakes you're probably making and how to fix them

From clothing options to choice of shovel, this is what you need to know about shovelling this winter.

Man shovelling snow off his driveway
Shovelling snow is a rite of passage for Canadians, but it's also a health risk for some people. (Photo via Getty Images)

Canada gets a lot of snow.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, 65 per cent of the country's land mass has snow for more than six months a year. Even the least snowy city — Victoria, B.C. — gets approximately 33.4 cm of snow a year.

Shovelling snow is a rite of passage for Canadians, but it's also a health risk for some people. It can lead to back pain, injury and even heart attacks.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has estimated that if you shovel for 15 minutes, you'll move an average of 1,000 kg of snow. Thus, if your shovelling form is poor, you could increase your risk of illness, injury or death.

Read on to learn the six biggest snow shovelling mistakes you're probably making — and how to fix them.

young woman and elderly woman shovelling snow off stairs
Wear layered clothing when shovelling. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #1: Wearing the wrong clothing

Dressing for shovelling can be tricky. You don't want to be cold when you first head outside, but you don't want to overheat once you get moving.

If your body heats up quickly and can't cool down, you could develop heat-related symptoms like cramping, light-headedness or heat exhaustion. You need to be able to shed layers as you warm up.

Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics like synthetic or wool. Moisture-wicking synthetics work well as base layers because they absorb sweat. Sweat is dangerous for shovelers because it evaporates in the cold and can bring your body temperature down too quickly.

Wear a wind and moisture resistant outer layer. Start with warm gloves, a hat and a scarf — but take them off if you feel overheated. Finally, don't forget warm socks and waterproof boots.

Additionally, your layers should be comfortable and easy to move in.

person in boots shovelling snow into a pile
Shovelling will hurt more if you use one that's too heavy, tall or short. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #2: Using the wrong shovel

Shovelling will hurt more if you use one that's too heavy, tall or short.

Firstly, choose something that's designed to shovel snow. Using garden shovels and shovels made for dirt will be too heavy. A good snow shovel should be sturdy and weigh approximately 1.5 kg.

The handle should be long enough to reach your chest while you're using it. Short shovels mean extra bending, which is harder on your back.

Blade size also matters. Larger blades — the kind you'll find on push shovels — pick up too much snow for safe lifting. If you have to throw your snow, choose a 25–35cm blade. It will restrict you from lifting unsafe amounts of snow.

Check out Yahoo Canada's shopper-favourite shovel, the Snow Joe Strain-Reducing shovel, currently on sale for $24.

Senior couple warming-up and stretching in forest before winter hike.
Always stretch and warm up before shovelling snow. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #3: Shovelling 'cold'

If you walk outside into the frigid air and start shovelling immediately, it's the same as working out without a warmup. Your risk of injury increases because your muscles are cold.

Instead, complete a five to 10 minute warmup before heading outside. Start slow with gentle body movements, then increase the intensity slightly. This pumps oxygen-rich blood to the major muscle groups.

Cool-downs are also important. Before you reward yourself with hot cocoa on the couch, do five to 10 minutes of gentle stretching to prevent cramps.

A man in a yellow parka shovels snow from a walkway after a snow storm.   Snow is chest deep and the shovel has snow flying in the air.  Country rural scene with copy space in the snow image bottom.
Do not throw snow too high or too far. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #4: Throwing snow too high or too far

If you live in one of Canada's snowier cities, then you know that shovelling gets more challenging as the winter progresses. The snow is just as heavy, but the piles are higher.

It's tempting to keep throwing snow on the same pile, but that also puts more stress on your body. Never throw snow higher than one point three metres or further than one metre.

Depending on where you live and how much space you have, this might take some planning. Figure out where you'll put the snow before you get started. Try to push the snow where it needs to go instead of throwing it.

A person using a snow shovel in a snowy landscape. Only the lower part of the person is visible. Low angle shot with snow piles in the foreground.
Keep our back straight when shovelling snow. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #5: Doing the twist

Classic dance crazes have no place in your shovelling technique. As an Ontario chiropractor told the Toronto Sun, it's all about maintaining good posture. That means:

  • Keep your back straight

  • Bend your knees to pick up the snow

  • Lift with your legs, not your back

  • Keep your upper arms close to your body to avoid strain

  • Turn your whole body instead of twisting your spine

When you have to turn to dump snow, point your foot in the direction you want to go. This helps you keep your back straight.

Man with siege at winter, Vancouver.
Take your time when shovelling now. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mistake #6: Shovelling everything all at once

It's frustrating to shovel your entire driveway and/or walkway during a storm, only to come back outside and do it all again.

Moreover, that's also a more dangerous strategy during big storms. Prolonged heavy-duty shovelling puts more strain on your heart, back and joints.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed a 16 per cent higher risk of hospital admissions due to heart attack after snowstorms of at least 20cm compared to snow-free days. The risk of death from a heart attack was 30 per cent higher.

You can't control how much snow falls, but you can control how much time you spend outside. One fitness expert suggests moving 10 to 15 snow-filled shovels and then taking a brief stretch break — but there's no hard and fast rule.

If you feel tired, take a break. Drink some tea or room-temperature water. Keep your blood sugar up with light snacks. It's better to take more time to finish than to rush the job and give yourself a heart attack.

Side view shot of man shoveling snow off sidewalk in winter in suburb
Health is more important than speed when shovelling snow. (Photo via Getty Images)

Straighten up and shovel right

It's important to shovel smarter and feel better once you're done.

Start with the right clothes and shovel. Warm up first. Push when you can and bend with your knees when you have to lift snow. Finally, take your time — health is more important than speed.

Having a comfortable shovelling session and a pain-free rest of your day is the Canadian dream.

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