by Karen Kimbel, Certified Pilates Instructor
For those who live in areas with snowfall, that means often breaking out the tools and keeping mounds of snow from piling up on your property. It is important to prepare your body to shovel snow as you would train for any sport.
Shoveling snow requires a lot of stretching, bending, lifting, and pushing. If not done with adequate strength, range of motion, and proper form, shoveling can be a dangerous activity. Practicing Pilates for shoveling will help increase balance and flexibility, as well as strengthen muscles with focus on the transverse abdominals (deep abs), and internal and external obliques. These muscles create the "girdle" that supports and protects your back, and will decrease your chances for injury, pain and soreness.
If a tree had a weak trunk, could it support the limbs? The answer, of course, is no. In Pilates, you practice movement as an extension of a strong and stable core – which provides the foundation for moving the arms and legs. This can be applied to every activity you perform. Follow these Pilates tips to build core strength, increase your spinal mobility, and protect yourself before you step outside.
1. Prepare in advance. Practice Pilates 2-3 days per week, and be sure to mix in cardiovascular training as well to condition your heart and lungs. Focus on strengthening the muscle groups used for shoveling including the core, lower back, legs and arms before the first snowflake falls and throughout the season.
2. Warm up. Most people do not warm up before shoveling, which increases your chance for injury. Learn Pilates mat work and do this as your warm up.
3. Good form. Squat with your knees bent and your back tilted – so that it is neither arched nor rounded. Engage your abdominal muscles by pulling your navel to your spine and lift using your legs as an extension of your core.
4.Choose the correct shovel for your size. And, go for smaller, more frequent loads of snow.
5. Take breaks and pace yourself. Use Pilates exercises to stretch your muscles and hydrate every so often. Taking your time shoveling will also minimize the strain on your heart.
6. Breathe… deeply and often. Practice timing your breath with the lift of the snow. The factors of cold air, strenuous lifting and high energy expenditure can contribute to a stress on a person’s cardiovascular system. Deep breaths help get more oxygen to the body's cells and reduces the workload of your heart.
7. Postural alignment. Square your hips with your feet in the direction you will deposit the snow. Turn your entire body at one time. Postural alignment and pelvic stability are key components of Pilates.
8. Shovel right away. Light powder is exactly that - light! Heavy, packed snow is not only tough to move, but it often requires over-exertion which raises blood pressures and heart strain. So, get out there right away.
If you have a history of back or heart trouble, do not shovel without a doctor's permission. Otherwise, if you've prepared for a day of snow shoveling with these tips, it will make this winter chore – and workout – a lot easier and safer.