If You’re Going to Dig Out Your Car, You Might as Well Do It Right

Rob Fletcher, a fitness trainer from Rockland County, explains how to safely shovel after Orlena

Since winter storm Orlena slammed New York City on Monday, February 1, Rob Fletcher has dug 15 cars out of the snow out of the goodness of his heart. 

“How and why? Because I can,” said Fletcher, 58, who is a certified fitness trainer with a background in strength and conditioning. 

Rob Fletcher shoveling snow.

Rob Fletcher shoveling snow.

Fletcher, who lives in Sloatsburg, New York, has made a habit of digging out as many cars as he can for neighbors and friends for the last 30 years.  But for the friends, family, and neighbors Fletcher can’t lend a hand to in person, he’s started posting instructional videos on how to shovel snow safely on his social media accounts. “Hopefully, it’s preventing someone from hurting and injuring themselves.”

“People get too much in the habit of just dumping snow, getting the shovel and [they] go out there and digg and push and pull without taking proper steps to protect themselves,” said Fletcher. “That’s what leads to, unfortunately, many injuries.” 

Unbeknownst to many, several muscle groups are activated by shoveling snow, an activity that tends to involve throwing snow to the left and right of oneself. Shoveling snow without taking the correct precautions can lead to lower back injuries, and even cardiac injuries and heart attacks According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, those who are 55 and over are “more likely” to incur chest pains and cardiac arrest from snow shoveling. What’s more, a 2017 blog published by Harvard Medical School noted a 34 percent increase in heart attacks in men “the day after an eight-inch snowfall.” “Higher rates were noted when even more snow fell,” the study continued.

Fletcher points out that when it comes to unburying your car from mounds of snow, the options are limited.

“People have their snowblowers,” said Fletcher, but when it comes to digging out a car, “you’re going to have to shovel.”

And shovels in New York City sold like hotcakes after Orlena. Segundo More, owner of 73rd Street Hardware, Inc., said he has no more shovels in stock, barely a month into the new year.  As a superintendent, More does an immense amount of shoveling himself. “I shovel many buildings,” he said, estimating that he clears snow from the sidewalks of between 25 and 30 buildings in the surrounding blocks on the Upper West Side. “But we do that every year.”

Fletcher’s main tips for people like More include staying hydrated, lifting from one’s legs, not one’s back, taking breaks, and pacing oneself. And “don’t just go out there.  Warm up,” said Fletcher, who recommends some light movement like calisthenics and stretching before shoveling. 

Rob Fletcher warming up before shoveling.

Rob Fletcher warming up before shoveling.

Fundamentally, Fletcher stresses that “you don’t have to get it all done in one shot,” either, especially after a heavy snowfall like Orlena. In fact, shoveling as the snow is falling — every two to four inches if you can manage it — will keep the load of snow you’re throwing lighter, which makes the physical activity easier on your muscles.

Other than that, he says, shovel with a strong posture by engaging your core, and standing with your legs apart, one foot in front of the other. Most importantly, face your torso in the direction of where you’re throwing the snow.

While Fletcher doesn’t think snow shoveling will become New York’s latest fitness trend, he urges cooling down and stretching as you would after any other workout. But prepared for some soreness. Even he says he’s sore after shoveling this year.

“It was challenging!” Fletcher admits.

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