Is snow shoveling cardio?

Snow shoveling is a common winter chore for many people living in cold climates. As snow piles up, shoveling it can be a necessary task to clear walkways, driveways and around the home. But is all that shoveling actually considered a cardio workout? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Cardio Exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio” for short, refers to any physical activity that raises your heart rate and breathing for a sustained period of time. Running, swimming, biking, and other rhythmic activities that get your blood pumping faster and boost circulation qualify as cardio.

The key factors that define a cardio workout are:

  • Continuous activity: Cardio involves repetitive motions for an extended time, usually at least 10 minutes or more.
  • Increased heart rate: Your heart beats faster and respiration increases to deliver more oxygenated blood to your muscles.
  • Improved circulation: More blood flow raises your metabolism and helps strengthen your cardiovascular system.

Regular cardio exercise has numerous health benefits, including:

  • Burning calories and fat
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Increasing stamina
  • Boosting energy

Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio per week, or 75 minutes of high intensity cardio.

What Makes an Activity Cardio?

For an activity to qualify as cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate should elevate to 50-85% of your maximum heart rate. This maximum rate is based on your age.

A simple formula to estimate your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, the max heart rate for a 40 year old would be 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute (bpm).

So for a 40 year old, a cardio heart rate zone would be:

  • Moderate intensity: 90-153 bpm (50-85% of max)
  • High intensity: 153-180 bpm (85%+ of max)

You can monitor your heart rate during exercise by counting your pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying by 6 to calculate your beats per minute. Wearable fitness trackers also make heart rate monitoring easy.

In addition to elevating your heart rate, an activity must be rhythmic and aerobic in nature to be effective cardio. This means repeatedly using large muscle groups in flowing motions. Examples include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, and stair climbing.

Strength training and interval workouts can technically count as cardiovascular exercise as long as your heart rate remains elevated. The more effort required, the more calories burned!

Is Snow Shoveling Cardio?

Snow shoveling certainly gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. It elevates your heart rate, improves circulation, burns calories, and engages multiple muscle groups. However, it may fall just short of being considered a true form of cardio.

Here’s why:

  • Sporadic motion: Shoveling involves frequent starting and stopping versus continuous rhythmic movement.
  • Slow pace: The pace of shoveling is not vigorous enough to significantly raise heart rate.
  • Insufficient duration: Clearing snow may only last 10-20 minutes for many people.
  • Poor technique: Hunching over and lifting improperly can limit aerobic benefits.

That said, snow removal still provides an excellent strength training element. Shoveling works major muscle groups in the back, shoulders, arms, core, and legs. It just may not quite meet the criteria for a sustained cardiovascular workout.

However, there are ways to potentially turn shoveling into more of a cardio boost. The key is to increase intensity so your heart rate stays elevated within the target zone for longer. Strategies include:

  • Warm up first: Get blood pumping with 5-10 minutes of brisk walking or marching in place.
  • Up tempo music: Create a soundtrack with energizing songs at 100+ beats per minute.
  • Minimize rest: Focus on constant motion rather than frequent stopping.
  • Go faster: Concentrate on maintaining a quicker shoveling cadence.
  • Take smaller scoops: Keep movements smooth and controlled.
  • Shovel longer: Extend your shoveling duration to at least 20-30 minutes.

Making adjustments in technique and pace to keep your heart rate up in your cardio zone will help maximize the calorie burn.

Cardio Benefits of Shoveling

Under the right conditions, snow shoveling could potentially offer some cardio-like benefits:

Calorie Burn

Vigorous shoveling for 30 minutes may burn 200-400 calories, similar to moderate cardio workouts like brisk walking. Shoveling wet, heavy snow requires more effort and burns extra calories.

Muscle Strength

Shoveling engages muscles in the back, chest, shoulders, arms, core, and legs. This strengthens and tones these muscle groups. Proper lifting form is key.

Heart Health

Any activity that elevates your heart rate for an extended time will help improve cardiovascular fitness. Shoveling may give your heart a modest workout.

Stress Relief

The repetitive motion of shoveling snow can have a meditative quality and boost mood. Outdoor winter activity also provides vitamin D.

Functional Fitness

Shoveling improves balance, coordination, grip strength, and flexibility – key elements of overall functional fitness. It’s an important real-life physical task.

So while shoveling may not provide the same level of cardio benefits as going for a jog or hopping on a bike, it can still be a functional full body workout that burns calories and engages the heart. Boost your pace and intensity to take it to the next level.

Tips for a Cardio Shoveling Workout

Here are some useful tips to maximize the potential cardiovascular and strength training benefits of shoveling snow:

Stretch First

Warm up your muscles with some dynamic stretches. Focus especially on your back, arms, and legs.

Lift Properly

Always lift snow with your legs by bending your knees and keeping your back straight. Avoid twisting as you lift.

Take Small Loads

Don’t overload the shovel with heavy snow. Take smaller scoops for a steadier cardio pace.

Use Ergonomic Shovel

An ergonomic shovel reduces strain on your body. Look for a lightweight model with a curved handle.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling snow to prevent dehydration.

Watch Your Pace

Work at an energetic but steady tempo you can maintain for 20-30 minutes.

Listen to Music

Upbeat music at around 120 bpm can help energize your shoveling pace.

Take Breaks

If needed, take short 1-2 minute breaks to catch your breath before resuming shoveling.

Maintain Good Form

Keep your shoulders back and head up. Don’t hunch over as you shovel.

Change Directions

Alternate the side you shovel snow to work both sides of your body evenly.

Make It Fun!

Get family members involved and make a contest out of who can finish shoveling their section first.

With preparation and proper technique, it’s possible to get your heart rate up and make the most of shoveling snow as a functional winter workout. Just be careful not to overexert yourself. Know your limits, take breaks as needed, and concentrate on safe lifting form.

Additional Winter Workout Options

If shoveling snow isn’t vigorous enough to qualify as cardio, consider supplementing your winter routine with other heart-pumping cold weather activities:

Snowshoeing or Winter Hiking

Strap on snowshoes or trekking poles to hike hilly trails and forests, providing low-impact cardio.

Ice Skating

Gliding across the ice rink gives your heart a boost and works the legs, core and glutes.


Climbing up hills in the snow to sled down ramps your heart rate.

Chopping Wood

Swinging an axe or splitting logs is great for full body strength and cardio.

Snow Blowing

Clearing snow with a powered snow blower provides cardio benefits similar to shoveling.

Cold Weather Running

Braving lower temps to run outdoors provides excellent high-intensity cardio.

Cross-country Skiing

This fantastic winter sport engages your whole body for an intense cardio workout.

Snow Sports

Downhill skiing, snowboarding, and sledding downhill get your heart pumping.

Indoor Cycling

Hop on a stationary bike indoors when the weather is too cold for outdoor biking.

HIIT Workouts

Do high intensity interval training inside – short bursts of cardio with recovery periods.


Crank up music and bust a move indoors for fun cardio exercise.

Don’t let winter weather slow you down. Embrace the cold temperatures with snow activities, winter sports, and creative indoor workouts that keep your cardiovascular system strong.

The Bottom Line on Shoveling as Cardio

So should you consider shoveling snow a cardio workout? The verdict is:

It depends! Shoveling does raise your heart rate and burns calories like cardio. But for most people it may fall slightly short of a vigorous rhythmic cardiovascular activity due to sporadic motions and short duration.

However, with a few adjustments, you can potentially transform snow shoveling into more of a cardio and strength training exercise:

  • Warm up first
  • Maintain proper form
  • Work at a brisk steady pace
  • Shovel for 20-30 minutes nonstop
  • Listen to motivational music
  • Take small loads
  • Minimize rest time

While not an equivalent substitute for going on a run, snow shoveling offers an opportunity get your heart pumping, burn extra calories, and strengthen your body during the cold winter months. Approach it as a functional fitness challenge to maximize the benefits!

Just remember to pace yourself, be safe, and take breaks as needed. Shoveling snow vigorously can put a strain on the body for some people, especially those who are older, sedentary, or have existing health conditions.

As with any exercise regimen, it’s wise to consult your doctor first if you have any concerns. With approval, a brisk shoveling session can be a creative way to mix up your winter workouts.


Snow shoveling may technically fall short of being true cardio exercise. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t elevate your heart rate and burn extra calories by shoveling with vigor and intention. Approach it as an opportunity to include strength training, improve your functional fitness, and raise your metabolism. Just emphasize proper form and safe pace. Your heart and muscles will thank you!

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