Shoveling snow is hard work and can be dangerous to your health or lead to injury. In some cases, depending on your health, age or fitness level, this physically intensive job is better left to someone else. But if you do feel up to tackling a driveway or sidewalk full of snow, at least take these precautions to make it more likely you’ll get the job done without getting hurt.

Warm up properly. Going from your warm comfy house out into the cold with a shovel in hand is a recipe for pain and injury. Your muscles need time to loosen up or you risk getting hurt. So before you grab the shovel, spend about 10 minutes warming up by walking and stretching.

Dress appropriately. Dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer than it actually is because your body will quickly heat up. Wear layers so you can remove them if needed as you heat up. Wear shoes with good treads that will provide you with enough traction to prevent slipping. If it’s really cold, wear a hat and keep all exposed areas of your body covered to avoid frostbite.

Select a shovel. Ever see those funny looking shovels with the curved handles and wonder why they look like that? They’re called ergonomic shovels and they’re designed to minimize bending and decrease lifting to help protect your back from injury. Choose a shovel for your height and strength. A smaller shovel will help you avoid lifting more snow than you should. A shovel full of snow can weigh as much as 20 – 25 pounds.

Maintain proper form. Always face in the direction that you’re moving and pivot your entire body if you need to change direction or move snow. Avoid twisting and lift from your legs, not your back. Bend your knees, with your legs about hip width apart, and keep your back straight.

Avoid lifting as much as possible. Whenever you can, push the snow out of the way rather than picking it up to move it. If you have to pick up snow, don’t overload the shovel or throw it. Instead, walk it over to where you want to dump it. Whether pushing, lifting or carrying snow, don’t reach too far in front of you or you’ll risk straining your muscles or losing your balance.

Take breaks. Shoveling snow is a physically strenuous activity. Stop every 15 minutes or so to take a break. Drink water to stay hydrated, stretch, stand up straight and walk around.

Listen to your body. If you feel pain or stiffness, take it easy or ask someone to finish the job. If you have shortness of breath or chest discomfort, stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention.

Get help. If there’s a lot of snow, you’re in poor physical health or you feel the job is more than you can handle, get someone to help you. Better yet, invest in a snowblower or hire a neighborhood kid or a professional snow removal company to do the job for you. The cost is often well worth the price of preventing pain or injury.

There’s no reason to risk injury just because it snows. Take these precautions to help prevent injury and you’re less likely to be sidelined by injury or wind up in the ER.