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Originally published October 5, 2010 at 3:12 PM | Page modified October 5, 2010 at 3:12 PM

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Can you dig it? A little advice about snow shovels

5 tips on how to shovel snow without getting hurt.

Chicago Tribune

If the first snows of winter have left you aching and sore, you might want to brush up on your snow-shoveling tools and technique.

Michael Lambert, who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minn., knows about snow. Now he's the operations manager of Lowe's in the Brickyard shopping center in Chicago, and has some advice about a task that hardly anybody puts much thought into.

1. Push, don't toss: Snow shovels are designed for pushing snow aside, not scooping it up and tossing it, Lambert says. "Snow is very heavy," he says. "If you start picking it up, you are going to wear yourself out very quickly." Every winter, there are reports of people who have heart attacks from the unaccustomed exertion of snow shoveling, so choose your tools to make it easy on yourself. Have a snow thrower? You still need a shovel or two for tight spaces and exceptionally wet, heavy snows.

2. Pick a pusher: The traditional snow shovel, with a flat, rectangular blade, creates a wall of snow that you stop and push off to the side every few feet. The other kind, with a deeply curved blade, "will work more like a snowplow," Lambert says. As you push it ahead of you, the snow falls off to the side. It's good for long, straight sidewalks or driveways.

Lambert says a car shovel, with a scoopy blade but a handle short enough so it fits in the trunk, may be the best thing for clearing out a tight spot such as a side street parking space.

In recent years, ergonomic snow shovels, with a bend in the handle, have become popular. They allow you to stand up straighter as you push for less back strain. But where that curve is placed makes a difference, so ...

3. Try it out: The person who will be doing the work should try out any new shovel in the store; what feels right for a 6-footer may be hard to handle for someone 5 feet 3 inches tall. You may need more than one shovel if the chore is shared. Lambert suggests trying out the tool with your big, thick cold-weather gloves on, to be sure your gloved hand will fit into the D-handle at the end of the shaft. Shovels range from under $10 to upward of $40, depending on design and materials.

4. The right spot: When you shovel, think about where you are pushing that snow. You want it to go somewhere the melt water can drain away, rather running back onto your sidewalk to freeze and create an ice slick. And don't pile snow against the house, Lambert says; when it melts, it can seep through the foundation like a heavy rain.

5. Now or later: Though this is a topic of perennial debate, most authorities say it is safest to shovel snow early, rather than waiting until the snow stops falling. Fresh snow is lighter and easier to handle. If you wait, the snow may pack down to create an icy lower layer that is hard to scrape away. So shovel twice when the snow is 2 inches deep rather than waiting to struggle with the ultimate 4 or 5 inches. Dress warmly, rest frequently and take it easy.

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