Shovel work is physically demanding, as anyone who has cleared a driveway would attest. But is it considered exercise?
Anthony Wall, a personal trainer accredited by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the director of foreign business development at ACE, says it depends on how you define a workout.
Shovel work during a major storm doesn’t qualify as exercise if you’re talking about a type of physical activity that is planned, structured, repeated, and has the intention of improving health or fitness, according to the definition of the term provided by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). However, that is not the full story.
Shoveling can undoubtedly be categorized as cardio, and Wall claims that if you do it frequently, you’ll probably develop some strength as well.
But before you grab the shovel because the activity can be physically demanding, think about the risks.
Shoveling is a form of cardiovascular exercise.
Shoveling definitely counts toward the 150 minutes of physical activity per week advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wall argues, even though it’s arguable whether shoveling should be referred to as exercise. He claims that because you perform it for a longer period of time than with a traditional strength-training routine, it fits more within the cardio category than the strength category.
Don’t be deceived by the activity’s routineness. According to Stephen Morris, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Washington Medicine in Seattle, shoveling is quite physically taxing and probably more physically demanding than you might typically want to do for exercise. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can even simulate maximal effort on a stress test (a device used by doctors to gauge how hard your heart is working during physical activity). Your chance of having a heart attack may even increase if this type of exercise is out of the ordinary for you.
And there’s a reason why you feel hungry afterward: according to Wall, shoveling snow can burn 600 calories in an hour. He claims it is more comparable to a protracted HIIT workout.
So while shoveling can be considered physical activity, it is much more demanding than what a “good” vigorous activity should be for the reasons we’ll discuss (see below).
Several muscle groups can be worked out by shoveling.
Painful after shoveling? That comes as no shock. Unless you often perform similar movements, such as when gardening vigorously, this task will put stress on your muscles in ways they are not used to, according to Wall.
The number of muscle groups you use depends depend on your technique, according to James Gladstone, MD, Mount Sinai’s chief of sports medicine in New York City. Don’t let your back, shoulders, and arms carry the entire load. Put your legs and core into it, he advises, as this will likely increase your efficiency and help your upper body feel less fatigued.
Be Aware That You Might Need to Modify Other Weekly Exercises
Depending on how hard you shoveled and how hard your regular workouts are, you may need to change your workout schedule after shoveling snow.
Wall asserts that walking is always safe and actually beneficial for discomfort, regardless of how sore you are. It might be ideal for you to reduce your training miles for at least a day or two if you’re, say, in marathon training and felt completely exhausted after shoveling.
Give your body adequate time to recuperate after shoveling if you’re planning a strength-training session, especially your upper body, which likely did the majority of the effort. If you have an upper-body day planned, Dr. Gladstone advises switching it out for a lower-body day or a less strenuous activity.
Go a little more slowly than usual during your regularly planned sweat session if the snow removal felt difficult for you, regardless of what other exercise is coming up for you. When it comes to working out and gaining muscle, there are two phases: the breakdown phase and the buildup phase, according to Gladstone. “Those have to balance out in some way.”
A recipe for injury, according to him, is trying to reach a new PR on the squat rack just after shoveling your driveway.
If you live somewhere that experiences heavy snowfall every year, you can also use your workouts to get ready for the snowy season. Gladstone claims that while it’s difficult to replicate snow shoveling precisely, kettlebell movements get the closest.
Consider the Risks of Snow Shoveling
Think again, the experts advise, if a lengthy, intense workout sounds like a fun challenge. This kind of high-intensity exercise carries some risks, especially if you’re not used to regular or severe exercise.
According to statistics found in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, over 11,500 persons suffered injuries from shoveling snow between 1990 and 2006. According to a study that was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in February 2017, men experienced a 16 percent greater risk of heart attacks on days after snowfall than on days without it.
According to Dr. Morris, shoveling snow might be risky on several different levels. It’s not a common activity for most people, and Morris notes that it’s simple to overdo it because the surface area of your driveway and sidewalks—or how much snow has fallen—is the trigger to stop, rather than a self-determined cue like a fixed time or level of exhaustion. Contrary to walking or working out for 30 minutes, most individuals don’t shovel for a set period of time; instead, they do it until the job is finished.
Major muscle groups are stressed, which increases the risk of injury, especially lower back pain. Snow shoveling has been linked to conditions including rotator cuff tendinitis and elbow tendon inflammation in Gladstone.
And then there’s the fact that shoveling snow is done in an environment that is very chilly. Despite the extreme cold, many people will start removing clothing because they feel warm. Morris claims that’s bad for the vascular system. “Your body’s peripheral vessels are all wide open because they are attempting to expel all of this heat. Then, as soon as they take off their coat, they are blasted with frigid air, which is a shock to the body. According to him, this shock can cause heart attacks, strokes, and fainting in some people.
Because of this, it is advised that pregnant women and those with a history of heart disease, stroke, or severe high blood pressure completely avoid shoveling snow. Morris warns against taking it on too lightly.
Snow shoveling is undoubtedly physical activity, but it’s much more demanding than typical exercise should be. You may surely count it against your minutes of physical exercise unless you want to use a snowblower.
If snow shoveling becomes a regular part of your regimen, be gentle with yourself during other workouts. Ask someone else to clear the driveway if you have any health issues that make strenuous activity risky.