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Calories Burned Digging & Shoveling Dirt

For a variety of reasons you may have to do some digging and shoveling. One benefit of these activities is that they burn extra calories.

Whether it is dirt, snow, coal, or anything else, shoveling these materials helps you move more.

The average person can expect to burn around 192 – 330+ calories per 30 minutes of shoveling at a vigorous effort (about 10 to 15 lbs/minute). This number will vary from individual to individual due to a variety of factors.

For example, a 125-pound (56 kg) individual will burn around 192 calories while shoveling for 30 minutes at a vigorous effort (10 to 15 lbs/minute).

On the other hand, a 215-pound (97 kg) individual will burn around 330 calories while shoveling for 30 minutes at the same intensity.

This article will also show you a more detailed chart that takes multiple factors into account, differences between different types and intensities of digging and shoveling, and more.

Biggest influences on calories burned

A fact that many people find annoying is that the number of calories you burn while doing something like digging and shoveling is hard to predict and measure correctly.

This fact can make things like weight loss feel like a guessing game when you are trying to balance these numbers with the calories in food.

Even so, good estimations for the number of calories burned while digging and shoveling can be a helpful starting point. By taking a few important factors into account you can make your estimations more accurate.

Some of the biggest factors that influence how many calories you burn while digging and shoveling include:

  • Weight: To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more you weigh, the more energy your body needs to fuel its movements.
  • Body composition: Body composition is how much of your body weight is made up of different tissue. Two people can weigh the same but for one individual most of the weight can come from fat while the second individual has a lot of muscle. The reason that is important is that the same weight of muscle requires more energy than that weight in fat.
  • Intensity: If you’re looking at calories burned per minute of digging and shoveling this can vary a lot by moving your body at a fast vs slow speed.
  • Material you are shoveling: Digging and shoveling can be done in a wide variety of surfaces and with a variety of materials. There will be a big difference between some powder snow and heavy mud.

Hidden calorie burning from digging and shoveling

There are many other aspects that make it even harder to put how many calories you burn while digging and shoveling into an exact number. This includes the fact that the calorie-burning effects of these activities are not limited to during the workout.

As mentioned, how much you weigh plays a relatively big role in how many calories you burn. This doesn’t just apply to your workout, this is also the case during everyday activities.

Some people also build or preserve some muscle mass by digging and shoveling. This amount of muscle mass will definitely not be as much as something like weight lifting but it does help you burn more calories day in, day out.

It is however extremely hard to put this amount into a number since this muscle mass will be so different from person to person. Individuals more experienced with resistance training may not build any muscle by digging and shoveling.

Next, doing an activity at high intensities can also cause something called “afterburn”. This is basically having an increased metabolism for a while after you stop doing the exercise.

Lastly, by moving more you influence the levels of certain hormones that in turn can benefit your metabolism.

Estimations of the number of calories burned while digging and shoveling usually don’t take these effects into account.

Estimations calories burned digging and shoveling

The centers for disease control and prevention simplifies the number of calories burned while digging into between 3.5-7 calories per minute for light shoveling (less than 10 lbs per minute) and more than 7 calories per minute for heavy shoveling (1).

In reality, there are tools to make more precise estimations. To calculate calories burned during certain activities more specifically you can use a formula with MET values.

A MET value is an activity-specific value to indicate how intense a specific type of movement is. This number represents how many times more intense the activity is compared to sitting still.

You can use this in the following formula: METs x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) / 200 = calories burned per minute

Estimations for METs while digging and shoveling depend on the intensity and what you shovel. These vary from 4.3 at digging worms for fishing to 8.8 at vigorous effort shoveling (more than 16 lbs/minute) (2).

You can look at the number of calories burned while digging and shoveling dirt from different perspectives. The first table will show the calories burned with the MET estimation of shoveling 10 to 15 lbs/minute at a vigorous effort for different body weights and time intervals.

After that, you can find a chart comparing the number of calories burned for different intensities and types of shoveling.

Again keep in mind that these are estimations. This formula doesn’t take into account certain important factors that do influence the number of calories burned while digging and shoveling dirt.

To put these estimations into perspective, 100 grams of boiled potatoes contains about 87 calories (3).

Calories burned while digging and shoveling

One of the most convenient ways to see how many calories you burned while digging and shoveling is by looking at how much time you spent doing it.

The numbers below are estimations for shoveling at a vigorous effort (10 to 15 lbs/minute).

Weight Person
1 Minute15 Minutes30 Minutes60 Minutes3 Hours
125 Pounds (56 kg)6 calories96 calories192 calories384 calories1152 calories
155 Pounds (70 kg)8 calories119 calories238 calories476 calories1428 calories
185 Pounds (83 kg)9 calories142 calories284 calories568 calories1705 calories
215 Pounds (97 kg)11 calories165 calories330 calories660 calories1981 calories
Chart of calories burned with vigorous effort shoveling

Calories burned with types of shoveling

Shoveling and digging is a wide category of different intensities and types of digging. These activities will often burn different numbers of calories.

In the table below you can find estimations of calories burned with a few of these like digging worms, shoveling snow, shoveling coal, etc. when doing the activity for 30 minutes.

Weight Person
Shoveling Type
155 Pounds (70 kg)185 Pounds (83 kg)215 Pounds (97 kg)
Digging Worms
157 calories188 calories218 calories
Spreading Dirt183 calories219 calories254 calories
Shoveling Sand183 calories219 calories254 calories
(<10 lbs/minute)
183 calories219 calories254 calories
Shoveling Snow
(Moderate Effort)
194 calories232 calories269 calories
Shoveling Dirt
Or Mud
201 calories240 calories279 calories
Shoveling Coal231 calories275 calories320 calories
Shoveling (10 to
15 lbs/minute)
238 calories284 calories330 calories
Shoveling Snow
(Vigorous Effort)
275 calories328 calories381 calories
Digging Ditches286 calories341 calories396 calories
(>16 lbs/minute)
322 calories385 calories447 calories
Calories burned per 30 minutes during shoveling types

Ways to burn more calories while digging and shoveling

The number of calories burned while digging and shoveling is certainly not something set in stone. There are a few ways you can increase this amount per time interval.

The challenge for most people is fitting in activities in their busy schedules. They want to burn as many calories in the least amount of time, which means burning more calories per minute of digging and shoveling.

If you do have more time, spending more time digging and shoveling will generally burn more calories although at some point overtraining may cause the reverse.

A more obvious way to burn more calories by digging and shoveling is by working at a faster speed. At some intensity point, you also get the added afterburn effect.

The second way to burn more calories with digging and shoveling is by making the weight you have to carry around heavier.

In theory, you could do this by wearing a weighted vest or wrist weights. A more realistic method for an activity like digging and shoveling is building some extra muscle mass outside of your work with other exercises.

Can you lose weight from digging and shoveling?

Digging and shoveling are activities that can help you burn good amounts of extra calories. In combination with good habits in other lifestyle areas, this can then lead to weight loss.

A pound of body fat is about 3500 calories (one kg +-8000). How long it takes to see weight loss results from digging and shoveling will also depend on the number of calories in your diet.

One person might eat more than the other. This might make it so they need to exercise longer or more intensely to see the same weight loss results. You can even lose weight without exercising so there are many factors that influence it.

10 sessions of 30 minutes of digging and shoveling can help you burn an extra 2380 calories which are about 0.68 pounds of body fat. 30 sessions 7140 calories (= +- 2.04 pounds of body fat) and so on…

Keep in mind that losing weight too fast can be suboptimal. In general, a 500 calorie deficit per day is considered to be a healthy weight loss rate.

Muscles used when digging and shoveling

When digging and shoveling, you use muscles like your lower back, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, biceps, quadriceps, calves, and chest.

Resistance training beginners and possibly even intermediates can grow and strengthen some of these muscles a nice amount with digging and shoveling.

For individuals more experienced with resistance training, digging and shoveling may not be enough to build a lot of muscle mass.

Both groups of people generally benefit from giving their bodies enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow their muscles after an intense session of digging and shoveling.

Should you dig and shovel to burn calories?

As you can see, digging and shoveling are activities that can burn a nice amount of calories. That being said, there are also other activities that can help you burn even more calories in a shorter amount of time.

You should likely see the number of calories burned while digging and shoveling as a nice benefit of this task. Once you are done with this chore you can turn to even more effective activities to see even more results.

If calorie burning is your main goal and you regularly have to dig or shovel, implementing some exercises in your schedule specifically for building muscle can be helpful.

The extra muscle mass will help you burn more calories day in, day out, including during your digging and shoveling sessions.

Also keep in mind that the things you eat stay important no matter what movement routine you’re following. It’s hard to out-exercise a bad diet.


Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.