Homegrown cardio

Posted: February 3, 2013 in cold weather, Exercise, Groundhog Day, Holidays, Physical activity, snow, Weather

I often complain about the generally crappy weather we have here in the northeast/mid-Atlantic region. Especially lately, where it seems that spring lasts all of about three days. We go from chipping icicles out of our undies to melting in a puddle seemingly overnight. There are a few days that make it worth it here and there, however… sunny days with a nice breeze and mild temperatures.

However, it’s the snow that I’d like to talk about. We get snow. Sometimes a lot, most times not, usually mixed in with rain, ice, sleet, and other unsavory stuff. This is a mixed blessing, though. It makes things look pretty and muffles a lot of the background noise, making it otherworldly quiet. Snow is also good for cardio. I know you’re not pounding a treadmill, but the bending, scraping, lifting, tossing of shoveling gets the ticker pumping. Like any kind of exercise, you have to be careful and be smart. I found the following tips on safe shoveling from Popular Mechanics and thought they were very appropriate:

Be careful when shoveling... it can lead to a heart attack.

Be careful when shoveling… it can lead to a heart attack.

1. Stretch first

Don’t be in a hurry to get outside. Stretch thoroughly using the same sorts of moves that runners, mountain bikers and other athletes use. Stretch your hamstrings, stretch your back, and stretch your shoulders. Then dress in removable layers, grab your shovel and resist the urge to fly at the white stuff just to get the job done. Pace yourself. Start slowly and ramp up to speed.

2. Don’t move snow twice

Before you even take your first scoop, decide where you’re going to dump the snow. Drop the first shovelful farther away from where you are standing, then dump remaining snow closer and closer to where you are. That way, the last scoops that you shovel are moved the shortest distance. Don’t block access to snow that needs to be removed by piling it up in a way that will force you to move it twice.

3. Move snow the shortest distance possible

Consider that everything from a driveway to a patio to a walkway is really a rectangle, and rectangles have a center point. Move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge.

4. Clear cars first

Brush snow off cars then clear around the cars.

5. Do the foreground then the background

For example, to clear snow from a rectangle, first shovel a strip clear along the perimeter of the rectangle. Then, moving from the center to the edge, push the snow into the cleared area. Next, lift and throw the snow out of the area.

6. Maintain proper posture:

  • Use your leg muscles as much as possible – push snow when you can and use your legs to lift when you can’t push it.
  • Keep your back straight as you move from the squat position to the upright position.
  • Use your shoulder muscles as much as possible.
  • Hold the snow shovel as close to your upper body as possible.
  • Keep one hand close to the shovel blade for better leverage.
  • Don’t twist your upper body as you throw snow.

7. Keep hydrated

Take bottles of water out with you and keep them accessible, either in the car or on the front stoop or somewhere else convenient.

8. Rest frequently

Clearing an area by hand means that you may lift and carry anywhere from hundreds of pounds to tons of snow.

9. Be thorough but not fussy

The sun is relatively strong this time of year. Clear an area, spread de-icer if necessary and then let the sun do the rest. The fact is, any surface color that you expose in shoveling (gray, green, brown or black) will be far less reflective than a thick blanket of snow, and remaining snow will melt more easily from that darker surface.

10. Don’t overdress

You need to stay warm, but if you overdress you’re going to be soaked in sweat in no time. Dress in loose-fitting layers that you can peel off as you heat up.

11. Whenever possible, team up

Shoveling with a friend or neighbor is inherently more enjoyable than shoveling on your own. Plus, it’s quicker to get the job done with two or three sets of hands.

12. Go easy on the de-icer

Once the area is clear, all you need is a thin scattering of de-icer to keep it that way. If you’re scattering by hand, throw the salt, pellets or granules low along the ground so they bounce and roll into a uniform layer.

13. Whenever possible, get a head start

It’s easier to remove snow in thin layers than wait until all the snow is down to have at it. If it looks like your area is going to get dumped on, try to get out there and shovel it in several passes.

14. Maintain your equipment

The front edge of a snow shovel takes a beating. If it’s metal, hammer it straight when it gets bent; if it’s plastic use a utility knife to carve off the burr that forms on its end. Tighten a loose handle by driving a large hex head sheet metal screw through the blade socket and into the handle.

15. Stretch when you’re done

Stretch gently when you’re done and use an ice pack and ibuprofen to take care of inflamed muscles. Rest and remain hydrated.

Read more: 16 Cardinal Rules for Snow Shovelling – Popular Mechanics

In other news, yesterday was Groundhog Day. Yup… we have a holiday dedicated to a large rodent that allegedly can predict the weather.

Rodent. Weather. Gotcha.

philThere are many marmot meteorologists, perhaps the most famous is Punxsutawney Phil. Based in Punxsutawney, PA, Phil is the subject of all sorts of folktales. Like, for example, he’s 127 years old because every year he’s given a drink of groundhog elixir or some such rubbish. He does his weather bit in an area outside of town called Gobbler’s Knob. The other 364 days a year, he lives in a section of the Punxsutawney Library. Part of the wall is glass, so if you really want, you can walk by and gape at him as he sleeps, eats and does groundhog stuff.

Orphie looking a bit moth-eaten.

Orphie looking a bit moth-eaten.

Other “famous” groundhog prognosticators include Lancaster County’s own Octoraro Orphie. Now, Orphie is bereft of life, but apparently that doesn’t make much of a difference to the groundhog lodge people. Guess you get enough booze into them and Orphie will start dancing along with the pink elephants. Apparently the festivities include dancing the Groundhog Jig. I guess that’s what those crazy kids are calling it these days.

It made me wonder, though… how did the idea that groundhogs can predict the weather come about?

Like many things, it has its roots in ancient traditions. Apparently, the old weather tradition used a badger or sacred bear to make the prediction. The holiday began as a custom of the Pennsylvania German populations of southeastern and central Pennsylvania. Most of the modern traditions involve guys in top hats and free-flowing booze. It’s worth researching, and if you’d rather watch than read, check out the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day“.

In the meantime, know that Phil predicted an early spring, Orphie predicted six more weeks of winter, and neither one of them is right very often.

Phil’s accuracy is around 39%.

But it’s an excuse to stand on a hillside in Punxsutawney, drink heavily and try not to freeze.

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