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Beware the Pitfalls of Winter Activities

July 4, 2024
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A person shoveling snow with a shovel

When the falling snowflakes tell you to grab a shovel, consider how easy it is to make the wrong moves and hurt yourself. Snow shoveling requires upper body strength and endurance. Warm up to any yard work by exercising your primary muscles that include biceps, deltoids, rotator cuff, forearm and parascapular muscles. Do it before and after shoveling.

Simple exercises like arm circles, pendulums, forearm and upper trap stretching will help loosen these muscle groups. Proper posture while shoveling is a must. Stay upright, head up, shoulders back and don't hunch forward. Good postural habits will prevent rotator cuff impingement, strain on neck and upper back and puts the upper body in position for the greatest mechanical advantage to create force and leverage. You'll also use less energy.

Once you've got that snow shoveled off the porch, now comes the real trial: moving the heavy  snow from the driveway or walkway. The body's trunk and core are being tested, requiring the lumbar spine and hips to generate force to move piles of snow. The strain is on your obliques, glutes, and hip rotators along with the lumbar extensor muscles. What that means is there's a lot of muscle groups interacting to get that snow off the ground.

Never bend from the waist when shoveling. It is vital to squat and bend your knees with each shovel of snow you pick up. Keep a flat back while you lift. This takes the stress off the lower lumbar spine eliminating the possibility of strains and sprains or worse injuries such as herniated discs and sciatica. Helpful, also, are warm up and cool down exercises such as hamstring, knee to chest, and trunk rotation stretches.

Winterize your body. For you anxious snowbirds with skis already racked up on the roof, prepare yourself with proper exercise. Knees, hamstrings, calves, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps all come into play on the slopes. Many of the exercises used in preparation for yard work, apply to winter sports. Trunk rotation stretches, hamstring stretches, light weight workouts with dumbbells for biceps, triceps and deltoids are important in preventing serious injury. Squats with light barbells for your quads, hamstrings, and glutes strengthen these important stress absorbing muscles.

The spine and lower back also take a heavy shock, absorbing a beating during both skiing and snowboarding. Prepare yourself with warm-up knee to chest exercises, trunk rotations and quad and hamstrings stretches.

The physical torque on the hips is another skier's stress moment. Whether you're maneuvering moguls or into competitive downhill events, hips can take a beating in twists and turns.  One of the most overlooked muscle groups which plays a dramatic role in performance is your hip rotators.  The same potential injuries pertain to snowboarders who perform more like gymnasts than skiers. Torso twists, hip movement, high impact landing all combine to test even a professional's performance. So, warm up on the carpet, floor, or exercise pad before you take on the powder. Proper exercise techniques, either at home or with a professional physical therapist or trainer, can keep you fit and in action throughout the winter.

Kyle Branday, MSPT/CDN

Kyle Branday, MSP/CDN, is a licensed physical therapist and partner at Amity Physical Therapy, founded 18 years ago by Michel Dow MSPT and CEO/Director. The practice has offices in Woodbridge, Hamden, Milford, Wallingford and Branford. Branday is a graduate of Quinnipiac University with his Masters in Physical Therapy.  He works with patients of all ages and ability levels, treating high level athletes with fractures and sprains to gait and balance dysfunction in the elderly. He can be reached at 203-389-4593, or visit

This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.

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