Home Ergo Myths: The Bent-Handle Shovel is Best Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: humantech on January 18th, 2012

By Kevin Perdeaux, CPE

The ‘ergonomic’ bent-handle shovel is not new to the market, and is a far more popular choice than the traditional straight-handle shovel. However, despite its popularity, why doesn’t the ergonomic shovel render the traditional straight-handle shovel obsolete?

bent-handle ergonomic shovel The two shovels are designed to provide mechanical advantages in different situations. The bent-handle shovel is designed using the principles of biomechanical stress to the low back for pushing tasks. When push force is applied as the hands move vertically from the hips, either above or below hip level, the off-axis forces create increased strain to the low back. The user applies push forces through the midsection of the trunk to avoid unnecessary low back strain. However, this mechanical advantage is optimal only for pushing the snow, not lifting.

If you have ever used the bent-handle shovel, you may have noticed that the angle of the shaft positions the load such that it is difficult to raise the shovel blade end. When you attempt to lift the shovel, to clear the top of a snow bank for example, the front hand often must lift higher than is required with a traditional handle because of the angle of the shovel shaft. The front hand also bears more of the overall weight due to an inefficient lever created by the handle design. The traditional shovel handle is straight and allows for more optimal hand positioning for easier lifting.

So the next time you are out for a marathon of shoveling, go easy on your back and use the straight-handle shovel for lifting and the bent-handle shovel for pushing. Selecting the right tool for the task is important…even for snow shoveling.

Image courtesy of homedepot.com

8 responses to “Ergo Myths: The Bent-Handle Shovel is Best”

  1. Paul Perry says:

    Accepting that a convexly bent handle is actually worse that the traditional straight handle, I wonder whether a bend in the opposite direction might be a help? It would be rather a fluke if a totally straight handle was optimal.

  2. Steve K says:

    Rubbish. The angle of the handle keeps the weight low to the ground, thereby limiting how high you have to pick up the weight to chuck it. The shovel pictured does seem like a knock-off (the severe, high up angle doesn’t look like the ones I’ve used), but I seriously doubt the author has decades of shovel work experience, as I do. The good snow shovel also has a slight play in the head, to facilitate content removal.

  3. Jay says:

    This is crazy. The bend handle is way easier to lift. That’s why it is bent. The straight handle is meant for pushing and its stronger for that. The bent handle works because you don’t have to Ben over as much to grab the shovel lower to lift it. The handle puts it at arms at your side height so it’s easy to lift.

  4. Jay says:

    I do snow Plowing and shovelling for a living running other crews.

  5. Fert says:

    I too think you have it JUST the opposite. I have been using the bent-handle shovel since they came out, and find it less effective for pushing, and MORE effective for lifting! This is because with it for lifting one uses his arm muscles, NOT his back muscles. Granted, for light snow a straight handle is best. I use them to PUSH the snow to the edges of the driveway, then go the the bent to lift it over the pile from last time. Since I got a bent, I use the snowblower far less often! They are simply amazing, and NO back aches anymore!

  6. Fert says:

    I too think you have it just backwards. I have had one since they came out, and find it less effective for pushing, and FAR more effective for lifting. This is because I now use mostly my biceps, and not my back. Since I got it I use the snow blower far less by using a push shovel to push the stuff to the edges of the driveway. That’s why they call it a PUSH shovel! Then I go get my trusty BENT and lift the snow over the snow bank. If you do it right and stand sideways to the bank, you can us a sideways pivoting motion with your ARMS, not back, and throw it FARTHER and higher than with a straight handle. If you try to throw it straight ahead, some may come off the back of the shovel. Get one with a TALL back scoop. If you need to shovel, do yourself a favor and get a BENT! You need to get used to it, and use your arms. Give it a chance. I have seen people use them once and says it’s no good because they did not understand the technique. It’s called a learning curve, people!

  7. Jed says:

    Kevin you are totally wrong! After working with bent shovel will never go back!!

  8. Dr Andrew Murro says:

    NOt sure you know much about the body mechanics of shoveling. The entire purpoose for the bend in the handle is to allow the secondary hand to grab the shovel withouth having to bend as far at the waist. Its bending at the waist that increases the stress on the lower back more than it need be. If an individual is trained to overcome their neural patterning to bend when shoveling, this tool can help eliminate alot of lower back stress by making it easier to bend less.
    Twisting while shoveling is where the real damage comes from and a higher contact point on the handle, becasue it is bent, allows the individual to rotate the torso less to get the secondary hand out there on the handle.
    A straight handle is better for pushing.

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