The weather in St. Louis is fickle. That can mean a 70-degree day in December. Followed by a record-breaking snowfall a few weeks later.
With the foot of snow that dropped Sunday capped by a couple of days of bitter cold and strong wind, a lot of people are still dealing with packed snow and slick spots.
And there could be plenty more winter storms and frigid days to come. Last year, 14 inches of snow fell in March, which the National Weather Service doesnt even consider a winter month.
Those snow shovels probably still have a lot of work ahead of them.
Or, more accurately, the folks wielding the shovels do.
Shoveling is one of the most high-intensity exercises you can do, because you engage all your major muscles, says Bill Jaggi, the executive director of the Safety Council of Greater St. Louis.
That includes quadriceps, glutes, biceps, triceps, back and abdominals. A great workout, unless poor technique leads to avoidable aches and pains.
The legs should be doing the brunt of the work, Jaggi says, but lower-back strains are among the most common shoveling injuries. These can happen when shovelers bend at the waist, lift more snow than they should be carrying and twist to fling their load instead of turning their whole body to the side and then letting the snow drop off the shovel.
Most people think youre setting yourself up for a heart attack when shoveling, Jaggi says. And, in fact, at least two men in Harvester and in Altondied last week after being stricken while clearing the snow in front of their homes.
But those occurrences are actually rare, says Jaggi. Muscle strains and sprains happen a lot more frequently.
Jake Fitts, a performance coach at the Sports Medicine and Training Center in Crestwood, emphasizes the need to warm up before heading outside.
And that goes for people who plan on running or walking outside in cold weather, too. Fitts says folks who get injured whether shoveling or working out often havent warmed up sufficiently.
It can be as simple as dynamic stretching moving the body through a range of motion, he says. That includes arm circles, lunges and marching. They help improve flexibility and increase body temperature and blood flow.
Dress in layers, and make sure your fingers and ears are covered. A neck gaiter or scarf can be pulled up over the mouth to protect the face and lessen the effect of breathing extremely cold, dry air.
Walkers can probably get by with snow boots, but runners will need to wear a trail shoe with good tread. Some runners prefer to add removable spikes to their shoes, such as Yaktrax. And pay attention, Fitts warns. Often, slippery spots are difficult to see.
As soon as you come inside, get out of sweaty or wet clothes and do some cool-down stretches.
On bitterly cold days, it might be worth it to move the workout indoors. When its below 10, I wouldnt personally be going outside, says Fitts. And if Im not going to do it, I wouldnt recommend it.
When a big snowfall makes being outdoors mandatory, take your time, and be conscious of the fact that youre doing something you dont normally do, Jaggi says. Snow introduces an extra layer of resistance to any movement. Youre plodding, enhancing your steps.
Also, a lot of people dont realize how tired they are, says Fitts. Make sure youre taking breaks.
Its worth doing a couple of rounds, Jaggi says, shoveling when there are 2 or 3 inches on the ground, and then again later when the snow has stopped.
He suggests using an ergonomic shovel, the kind with a bend in the handle, to reduce stress on the body. Push the snow, rather than lifting it. And use a smaller shovel to keep from picking up more than you can carry.
The snow itself is a factor, too. Wet snows are much heavier and harder to shovel. If rain fell before the snow, a layer of ice may be underneath. Jaggi recommends wearing an old pair of golf shoes with metal spikes if its especially icy.
In addition to working the major muscles, shoveling snow is also a cardiovascular workout, raising your pulse, breathing rate and body temperature. How quickly you shovel, how much youre lifting and how much you weigh all affect the intensity of the workout.
If youre elderly or not in good physical condition, hire it out, he says. They know how to dress and handle the snow.
But if youre in reasonably good shape and eager to keep your driveway clean and dry, Jaggi boils it down to three points: Wear good shoes, keep warm and pace yourself.
You dont want to get yourself into a situation where the red and blue lights are coming at you, he says.
- ^ Harvester (www.stltoday.com)
- ^ Alton (www.stltoday.com)
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