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Anyone who grew up in a snowy climate knows that there are three inevitable things: death, taxes, and a late winter blizzard. While the occasional six inches of powder can make a mid-week trip treacherous, it can also kill your back if you’re not ready for it.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t really think about how we shovel snow until we set something up. It turns out that we are naturally not as good at clearing snow as we might think. In fact, a CDC study found that from 1990 to 2006, an average of 11,500 Americans ended up in the emergency room for snow shovel-related injuries.
The most common? You guessed it: back injuries.
From ergonomic snow shovels to useful accessories, it’s pretty easy to improve your snow removal technique. Here are some easy ways to get rid of snow in your driveway.
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Get the best shovel
Your shovel makes a huge difference in how efficiently you clear snow. We recently tested the best snow shovels and the variety is amazing. Wide shovels, big shovels, small shovels, aluminum shovels, plastic shovels, shovels with metal shovels, shovels without shovels – many.
Honestly, you should have more than one shovel, especially if you live in an area that gets several storms a year. Our favorite budget pick is the 18″ Suncast SC3250 Snow Shovel/Pusher Combo with an ergonomic handle. This is a durable option that will last for years, and its construction ensures the correct shape, allowing you to lift the snow without leaning too far.
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You can also add second handles to snow shovels and other long-handled tools with something like the BackEZ Back Saver handle, which gives you more leverage but still requires tilt.
Either way, a spare shovel is always a good idea and means you can split the work between two people.
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Use your best form – and don’t forget to warm up!
The most important thing to remember about shoveling snow is that it is a workout. You can’t just put on your winter gear and expect to be ready to go. Snow, especially wet, can be quite heavy. Treat snow shoveling like you would any other exercise, do a light warm-up and make sure you stay hydrated.
Personally, we recommend stretching your back muscles before and after and keeping your back as straight as possible while shoveling. And remember, rise from your knees, not from your back. We love this Shiatsu Massage Cushion which helps loosen up stiff back muscles while providing much needed warmth. If you have soreness or pain in your back, be sure to talk to your doctor about ways to treat it.
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Take care of the rest of your body
You will want to change the grip of the shovel to protect your arms and hands. Alternating a shovel with the right and left hand. It may seem strange at first, but you will give your dominant hand a rest. You can also change the way you grip the bar at the end of the shovel by grabbing it with your palm either under the bar or over the bar. Using different muscles reduces fatigue and helps you dig safely with a shovel.
And remember: it’s slippery! Put something on your feet to provide traction. If you don’t have good boots, buy a pair of studded spikes like Yaktrax to avoid slips and falls.
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Dress in loose layers that you can remove when you’re warm, and stay hydrated – shoveling is hard work. Don’t rake after a few eggnog. Drinking alcohol can warm you up when you are actually getting colder and make you not notice when your muscles are tightening up.
If you start to feel chest pain, become short of breath, feel dizzy, or feel nauseous, take a break and check the American Heart Association’s warning signs of a heart attack. God saves man, who save himself.
Take your time with deep snow
If there is a foot or more of snow on the ground, don’t try to lift the whole pile with one shovel. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one foot of fresh snow can weigh between 3 and 20 pounds per square foot on your shovel. An ordinary snow shovel can hold from 1.5 to 2 square meters. feet of snow, so you can lift anything from 4.5 pounds (4.5 pounds like a feather) to 40 pounds that put strain on your spine.
Don’t risk your back. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends pushing the snow, and if you can’t avoid lifting the snow, scoop it up in small amounts rather than with a shovel. It might be slower to clean up the show little by little, but it won’t make you spend the next week lying on the couch with a heating pad under your back.
When lifting snow, think like a weightlifter. Keep your legs apart, back straight, and crouch so that the shovel is under the snow. Do not bend at the waist – keep your back straight and safe.
Consider using a snow blower
Another alternative for deep and heavy snow is to use a snow pusher such as the J&M Snowplow Pusher. The technique for using the pusher of a snow blower in deep snow is slightly different than in lighter snowfall.
In order to use the snow shovel in deep snow, you need to figure out where you are going to build the snow ramp. You push the snow to the top of the ramp, then either tilt the snowplow’s shovel to release the snow or, if you’re using a snow sled, quickly pull the handle back.
You build a snow ramp when you clear snow from your driveway, always pushing the snow up the ramp instead of lifting it up. With a large driveway and deep snow, these snow ramps can get very high, but it’s still safer to push your snow up the side of the new Mount Everest in your area than risk your back carrying hundreds of pounds of snow.
Another way to deal with deep snow is to shovel it when there is still light snowfall. During a thunderstorm, go outside once an hour with a snow shovel and clear the driveway of fresh snow. It gets boring quickly, and putting on boots and snow every 60 minutes is tiring, but it can save your back.
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Break the icy snow and remember the inside-out method.
Collecting snow from the ground is only part of the battle – it has to be put somewhere. Snow builds up quickly, and while turning a huge pile of snow into a fortress is an absolute pleasure, it also requires a lot of extra work.
For a generally flat road, we recommend the “Inside Out” method. For wide patches of snow, this means you first draw a clean line down the center of the roadway one patch at a time. Then you go down the driveway and shovel each side horizontally.
This has several advantages. First, you always shovel the snow in front of you, so you don’t have to twist your back. Secondly, this means that you usually move the snow the minimum distance required. It also distributes the snow evenly across the driveway so it doesn’t build up excessively in any one place and you don’t have to throw it higher than necessary.
Another pro tip? Use the edge of the shovel to cut the snow into “snow bricks” before digging with the shovel. By breaking up the snow into smaller chunks before shoveling, you give it room to move up, so you’re not just pushing the snow into more snow. This is especially critical when the snow on top is icy or has been lying for several days. A straight-edged garden shovel, such as the Fiskars Square Garden Spade, cuts through dense icy snow more easily than most shovels. Cut, then spade.
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If the snow is light, fluffy and fresh? You may not lift at all. In these cases, you can often just push it, eliminating the need to bend over and pick it up altogether. Snow shovels, such as the Garant Yukon, with wide, semi-circular, curved blades make it easy to clear such snow right off the roadway.
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Plow berm plan
It’s every snow blower’s nightmare: working late, shoveling snow, going to bed, and waking up the next morning with a sore back and a wall of ice-covered snow blocking the driveway. Snowplow drivers don’t want to get you, but sometimes it seems that way.
To prevent city plows from creating a mound of snow at the base of the driveway, you need to clear one more place for the road snow to melt. Clear the snow storage area on the lower right corner of the roadway, if you can see it from the street, in the direction of the blades, so that the blades direct most of their snow load there. Place any snow you are removing from your driveway to the left.
While you’re at the end of your driveway, make sure the mailbox is firmly supported and has a reflector on the side so it doesn’t get buried for the winter or knocked over by a plow truck.
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