Shoveling the driveway has always been one of the most hated chores. But did you know it also has the distinction of being one of the most dangerous?

During a 17-year study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, nearly 200,000 Americans visited the ER with snow shoveling-related ailments. Of these, 54 percent reported soft-tissue problems, 34 percent had lower-back injuries, and 1,647 individuals actually suffered fatal heart attacks.

This winter, don’t let your haste to clear away snowy remnants put your health in jeopardy. Instead, learn how to shovel your driveway with both speed and safety in mind.

Before you shovel

1. Choose your shovel wisely

There are more shovel varieties than you might imagine and picking the right one matters. For instance, if you live somewhere that gets seriously heavy snowfall, consider adding a pusher shovel to your garage arsenal. You can use it to guide snow to the edges of your driveway first, and then break out a deeper-sided shovel to lift at the end. Or, if your driveway is particularly uneven, you can save time with an all-plastic shovel, which is less likely to catch on bumps and cracks than ones with a steel front.

But that’s only scraping the surface. Check out this Consumer Reports guide to finding the right snow shovel for your situation.

2. Dress for the conditions

It’s tempting to throw on a hoodie and sneakers in your rush to put this annoying task behind you. But don’t forget: it’s winter. Dress in several light layers to keep yourself insulated without getting drenched in sweat. Boots with no-slip soles will help you avoid tumbling on icy ground, and water-repellant gloves, socks, and hats retain crucial heat as the temperature drops.   

3. Stay off the snow

Dense, packed snow is a pain to move, so try to stay off the driveway before shoveling. If you know you’ll have to drive somewhere early in the morning, park on the street the night before to avoid flattening the snow as you leave. Even walking on freshly fallen snow makes clearing it that much harder.

4. Grease the shovel

Spraying lubricant onto the edge of the shovel will help keep snow from clinging.  A multi-purpose spray (like WD-40® or one from DuPont®) is an easy choice you might already have around the house. Even some non-stick cooking oil can do the trick.

5. Prep your body

Shoveling the driveway is surprisingly strenuous work on par with sprinting on a treadmill. We doubt you’d go for a hard run without first prepping your body, so why not do the same before shoveling?

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, which happens just as easily in the cold as the heat. Steer clear of nicotine and coffee (no matter how much that hot cup of joe calls out to you). These can put added stress on your heart as your blood gets pumping. Also take a few minutes to stretch or walk around to warm up your muscles.

And, perhaps most important, if you’re not a regular exerciser, get the green light from your doctor before heading out for another season of shoveling.

During shoveling

1. Tackle snow right after it stops falling

For the lightest resistance, shovel the snow as soon as possible. While it’s easy to procrastinate, especially with a chore this mind-numbing (and body-numbing, for that matter), it’ll only get worse if you wait.

2. Fine-tune your technique

Not to sound too much like your personal trainer but … lift with your legs, not your back. Here are a few other pointers to try:

  • Hold the shovel close to your body to avoid wrenching
  • Keep your feet waist-width apart
  • Remove snow in layers rather than all at once
  • Only load your shovel a quarter-full or (at most) half-full with each scoop
  • Always point your feet in the direction you’re moving the snow
  • Take breaks as needed

3. Find the right pattern for your driveway

Vertical or horizontal strips? Walk from the middle or from the edge? Push the snow or toss it? Unfortunately, there’s no tried-and-true method for the fastest shoveling. Depending on your strength, the width and length of your driveway, and the density of the snow, almost any of the above could work. You may need to test a few methods before you find the magic combination for your blizzard-born woes.

Are you ready for El Niño?

Knowing how to shovel your driveway safely and efficiently can be a big help this winter, but it’s not the only way to stay prepared. Since El Niño will be increasing the risk for unpredictable weather around the nation, check out Esurance’s ultimate El Niño Survival Guide for handy tips that’ll help keep your vehicle, home, and loved ones safe.

Related links

The do’s and don’ts of preparing for severe storms

5 snowmobile safety tips you’ve never considered

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Alex

As copywriter for Esurance, Alex had professional experience in everything from film to literature to (thanklessly!) correcting the grammar in friends' emails. As a fervent Minnesota sports fan, he spends most of his non-writing time gently weeping into cereal bowls.