Muscle Over Motor

It’s definitely late fall here in Colorado, and the trees have dumped most of their leaves onto the ground.

In my neighborhood, this invariably triggers a flurry of lawn contractor activity. A pickup truck pulling a long trailer full of equipment pulls up, a fleet of young guys gets out and each picks up a leafblower, then for the next hour they blow leaves and gasoline fumes back and forth at each other while the surrounding square mile of city becomes a toxic and ear-splitting war zone. Eventually they manage to get a portion of the leaves into plastic bags in their trailer and they motor off.

Just a few days ago, we had an early snowstorm here, which dropped a quick few inches of luxurious fluffy powder onto the newly blown lawns. I was enjoying a casual bike ride through the stuff on my way to the grocery store when I glanced over and noticed a shockingly irrational specter: One of my neighbors was clearing the light powder from his short sidewalk with a SNOWBLOWER!

Like 99% of the snowfalls in this region, this was a quantity of snow that could have been easily swept aside with a shovel, or a broom, or even a tiny little bird feather… but this able-bodied gentleman was out there doing his duty with a gas-powered appliance. The stench leaking from the crude 2-stroke engine left a stain in the air that could be smelled from 500 feet away.

Earlier in the week, when the temperature was in the 60s, other neighbors were using gas-powered lawnmowers to slowly mow their lawns while simultaneously sucking up and chopping the autumn leaves into the lawnmower’s bag, which they then threw out with their weekly trash.

All of these events led my brilliant engineer’s brain to come up with a few new Inventions:

Imagine a leafblower so advanced that it harnesses the power of your abdomen and biceps, while sucking away your stored fat reserves. Yet it operates nearly silently and costs under 15 bucks. With just a simple wooden handle and a few ounces of sturdy bent plastic or metal prongs, it could be lightweight and quite wide, and be able to clear thousands of square feet of densely-packed leaves per hour, leaving you feeling refreshed and healthier and more connected with Nature every time you use it.

Imagine a snowblower so supreme that it works a complementary set of muscles to the leafblower above: your shoulders and your lower back, as well as the hamstrings and portions of the gluteus. It also operates with silky silence, and it ALSO gets 100% of its power from the ultimate renewable resource – your beer belly.

You would assume this futuristic device would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? Wrong! This too is under fifteen bucks.

My next invention is an advanced motorcycle that weighs less than thirty pounds and costs less than three hundred dollars. Yet it has a range of over a hundred miles per day, and you never have to find a power outlet to plug it in, because its power source is – you guessed it – the cellulite stored in your ass which gets converted into muscles in your legs and calves as a side effect of the transportation!

I know I am blowing your mind with these inventions, but I actually have working prototypes right in my garden shed and garage.

I also have a lawnmower with a spinning reel of sharp metal blades that gets its power from me pushing on the handle, and even a boat (which I am demonstrating for you in the picture below), that is 11 feet long, and able to navigate everything from tranquil lakes to roaring ocean surf waves to car-sized river rapids.. but which deflates to fit in a bike trailer, weighs less than 25 pounds, costs less than $100, and is also powered entirely by muscles.

boulder creek

Yee Haw! Motorboats be damned.

I think you might be noticing a pattern here. And the pattern is of course Muscle over Motor.

It’s more than just an article. It’s a Founding Principle of Mustachianism, because when you embrace it, it adds great fun to your life even while it simultaneously strips away the fat from your physique and your budget. It’s one of the most powerful little three-word sentences you can embrace.

Because of the power of Muscle over Motor, you should be deeply suspicious of anything with a motor. A motor represents a shortcut to getting something done. That sounds good on the surface, but you must consider what you are shortcutting.

A motorboat will get you across the lake quickly, but wait a minute, you like being on the lake – so why not use your muscles to actually earn your trip across it? It takes longer – that is a good thing. You will enjoy the beers on the deck afterwards much more when you really deserve them.

A Hummer will get you up the logging road and across the rocky meadows. But dude, you’re sitting in a glorified Lazy-Boy recliner and pushing on a pedal. What kind of wussy way of climbing a mountain is that? Leave the motor vehicles where the pavement ends and put on your hiking boots like a Real Man or Woman (or a pair of old flip-flops if you want to be even more badass like some of my old-school Colorado friends).

If you want more speed than walking and the ability to cross dozens of miles of terrain per day (as well as catching much more air on the descents), try a mountain bike instead of an SUV.

A Harley – of course with its quiet stock mufflers replaced with illegal straight pipes – will get you through some beautiful rocky canyon roads and allow you to ruin the outdoor dining of thousands of people in the hopping downtown Chicago restaurant districts. But a nice lightweight road bike will get you up the same roads and let you hear the birds at the same time, and your resulting muscular physique and healthy glow will get a lot more positive attention in downtown Chicago than the overpriced motorcycle and standard-issue black leather “Independent-minded Renegade Harley® Rider” Halloween costume ever will.

If you need to carry a few bags of cement over to a neighbor’s house, try a wheelbarrow or a dolly instead of a pickup truck. If you need to get up to a different level of a building, give me a break, you don’t need an elevator or escalator… find the stairs! You work on the 63rd floor? I envy you!

In the gym, the machines with fancy paint jobs and HD displays are to be mocked, because there is already a much more effective yet simpler tool that helps you exercise, namely the chunks of metal with handles on them in the free weights section.. or better yet, in your own garage or basement or living room or friend’s house.

Even if you’re missing some of your younger physical abilities or you are in a wheelchair, you can still use what you’ve still got to kick as much ass as possible!

The thing about this philosophy is that it keeps you very busy, which means it keeps you out of financial trouble as well.

If you are following Muscle over Motor, your leisure time is packed with active high-effort outdoor activities which you love. And because of this, you don’t even have time to take up expensive hobbies like waterskiing behind a powerboat, or jacking up your Jeep so it has higher ground clearance so you can drive it around the trails at Moab, or riding ATVs around to shoot at animals. Sure, these can be fun activities as well, but we all have a finite amount of time and money.

So which activities do we choose: the expensive ones where you sit on your butt and twist a throttle? Or the low-cost ones that also make us healthy and develop our physical skills?

This isn’t a perfect rule, because there are exceptions. Motors are still useful when we’re trying to get some serious work done. I’m not suggesting that the world’s excavator operators climb down out of their cabins and pick up garden shovels, or that carpenters sell their table saws and start cutting 16-foot trim boards with a handsaw. Taxi drivers may or may not want to switch to rickshaws, and accountants should definitely not give up their computers.

But when applied to most of your life, this whole idea of powering your own damned recreational activities (including lawn care) is a great one. It’s another form of Insourcing, but it applies to everyone, not just homeowners with chores.  If you find yourself tempted to use a motor when a muscle will do just as well, you should imagine me hovering behind you and reminding you of the slogan every time you reach for a gas-powered lifestyle accessory.


This is email #14 of roughly 35 in the MMM “Just the Classics” boot camp series. You can always find the original versions of any of my posts in .

  • Dan Jones April 8, 2015, 11:09 am

    Could we get an entire post on ne’er-do-wells who take millions of dollars worth of automobile and motorcycle research into making the things we drive as quiet as can be and turn them into noise-makers for adults who didn’t get enough attention as kids?

  • Rick Ortiz November 21, 2015, 8:48 am

    Besides the content of the article I dig the construction and composition of the article. The “inventions.” It’s funny because these days an adult who chooses to walk or ride a bike to work or the store is assumed to have lost their license due to a DUI. Using muscle power over mechanical power is beyond comprehension for so many.

    Thoreau said (I paraphrase): My wood warms me twice; once when I cut it and again when I burn it.

    • Eldred November 22, 2015, 5:00 pm

      “It’s funny because these days an adult who chooses to walk or ride a bike to work or the store is assumed to have lost their license due to a DUI. ”

      Or people think the person just can’t AFFORD a car.

      • Frugal Bazooka August 3, 2016, 4:40 pm

        lmao…this is so true. Strangely, I’ve been programmed to do the exact opposite…if i see someone riding a bike, I assume they read MMM and have a million dollars.

  • Matt in Dallas May 6, 2016, 10:07 am

    Same thing here in suburban Dallas – armies of lawn guys wielding loud, 2-stroke equipment. I use a Fiskars rake, compost my leaves, and enjoy the exercise. Homeowners nearby have taken to using gas-powered tools where an electric version would at least cut down on noise.

    I however choose to sometimes contribute to the fumes & loudness: I recycle downed urban trees, milling my own lumber using a big chainsaw mill.

    Moving here from the northeast, I was surprised to see giant elms, oaks and even walnuts chopped up and tossed in the landfill – not even kept for firewood. I now have several thousand dollars’ worth of amazing, free lumber in my woodshed. I design and build furniture with it.

    My giant chainsaw is deafening and spews nasty fumes, but I don’t see any other way to cut these trees up. So I would say there’s a small but definite place some of these 2-stroke monsters. Hand sawing is not an option…

  • Jason Detwiler June 9, 2016, 2:18 pm

    So how much is the time worth? I have a little over an acre and I push mowed it one time. It took 4.5 hours to do a crappy job with a 23″ Craftsman push mower I bought in 2005 and split with two other guys (at the time the three of us lived on the same street and had a total of 3/8 acre combined, so we split a mower 3 ways for $210 or $70 each). Cutting the grass this way costs me 4.5 hours (5 if you count weed whacking and cleanup) and about $1 in gas.

    I bought a 1989 John Deere 318 with a 50″ deck for $600. I put $73 into rehabbing some parts and fluid changes. It takes me an hour to do a crappy job or 80-90 minutes to do a nice job, plus about 30 minutes for weed whacking and cleanup. I cut the grass roughly once a week from March to October. I take about $5 in gas to cut the grass. So say that’s 39 of 52 weeks in a year times 3 hours and 3 dollars. So for $600 I save myself 117 hours and spend $117 in gas. If I depreciate the cost of the mower in the first year, we can call that first year $7/hour, roughly. After that, you can say I spend $100 in routine maintenance (generous guess), plus the $117 and say it’s $217 to save 117 hours, so about $2 per hour saved.

    I think I’m OK with this, but please tell me if that’s totally off base. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I play basketball for cardio and lift 4 times a week (525, 410, 550…so I’m not weak but not the strongest either at 200). I only lift and play ball either early in the morning before work or during lunch so that I don’t miss family time. I have a wife and two young kids. I care to spend my time with them rather than saving $2-5 cutting the grass. I think these estimates represent an even greater savings of time against a manual mower, given they seem to be smaller and likely slower than even the push mower. Please check me on this. I’m new to mustaching, but if you told me I could pay you $6-15 dollars in order to spend the evening with my kids instead of push mowing a lawn…I’d definitely do it.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2016, 10:02 pm

      Dude, your calculations sound pretty reasonable, but that lawn sounds like HELL! Is there any other option than owning a your own personal acre that you have to mow every damn week?

      I have about 0.05 acres (2000 square feet of grass) that I mow in 15 minutes with a muscle-powered reel mower during Colorado’s short spring season, until the hot dry summer dries it out enough to stop growing. Then there is 1.3 acres behind me, which I share with a few hundred neighbors and the city mows it – it’s called a “park”. It seems like a more efficient use of that much land since there is plenty of space for everyone.

    • Kevin April 19, 2018, 2:13 pm

      seems to me like most people dont get much mileage out of a lawn. it’s just kind of a weird status symbol/pseudo aesthetic thing that people spend effort on because their neighbours do. A yard naturalized with native vegetation would be a great boon to your local environment, and would cost nearly nothing in time and money to upkeep. conversely, you could put a bit of effort into a vegetable garden, and then have your yard pay you back in food. this costs some time, although i’m guessing not too much different than the 4.5 hours you spend cutting your grass, but costs almost nothing in dollars.

    • Nice Joy April 20, 2018, 7:39 pm

      Forget the grass and make it a great orchid with all kinds of fruit trees . Now you don,t have to move the grass but save a lot on your grocery bill. Ignore the perfection of moved grass, throw some wild flower seeds all around the orchid, let the leaves fall and stay in the orchid.. Get a flock of chickens and let them roam around and produce eggs for your family. Your imagination is your limit…

  • Jeff Schroeder August 2, 2016, 7:29 pm

    This is a mustachian principal I never realized I’ve followed for some time. Living in the City of Chicago, I have a pathetic yard like most people who don’t want to spend 2 million $$$ on their home do. That being said, I couldn’t justify a noisy and annoying ICE lawnpower and instead opted for the Fiskars Staysharp Reel Mower. I have this one in specific purchased from a local hardware store:


    Besides being very good for the environment and a nice, albeit short, workout to use, the flywheel on it spins much faster than some of the older reel mowers. This means you literally get more bang for your buck.

  • Moof August 12, 2016, 10:37 am

    I took your other advice and bought a used bicycle trailer from some friends who used it about twice. Earning your groceries via muscles is great! I toss my 3 year-old in and pedal the two and a half miles to Trader Joe’s, grab as much as I can stuff around him and pedal back. He has a blast, and so do I. These are by far the only memorable in a good way grocery trips I can think of. Similarly weekend before last I threw the kid in the trailer and pedaled the 8.5 miles up Sylvan Hill to the Oregon Zoo and had one of the shorter but most memorable zoo trips yet! The kid loves it even more than riding the light-rail train there. By far this is the most brutal, yet effective, insomnia cures so far.

  • Nigel Pearson August 30, 2016, 7:32 pm

    I love this article. I currently have an electrical lawnmower. I’m hoping I can sell it to get enough money to buy a reel mower. Isn’t it funny how the manual items are cheaper, easier to use, and they also happen to last longer?

  • Kory Reynolds September 28, 2016, 10:43 am

    Interesting thoughts, and I agree for the most part except for the consideration of time. When it comes to lawn care – I completely agree, we manually rake our 1 acre of cleared land, and I have a self propelled walk behind Honda mower for an every other week mowing, which drastically reduces my time from a push blade style mower due to the steep/uneven/rocky features of our land. For snow clearing…we live in an area that it is not uncommon to get 10′ of snow a year, and we have a 250′ uneven/steep gravel uphill driveway…I’ll keep my snowblower so I can spend my time after a snowfall enjoying the day, rather than spending. Time is a consideration, and depending on situtation, motors certainly speed up the process.

  • Mr. Bare Face November 17, 2016, 1:34 pm

    I’m a big fan of simply mowing over the leaves that have fallen. They make great (free!) compost for the lawn! A great benefit is that this is also takes less time than the rake & bag.

    My Honda lawnmower only cost $50 on Craigslist and has been going strong in my .5 acre yard for 5 years now.

  • Veganomie December 20, 2017, 12:47 pm

    Opinion on Halloween? I used to like it. I kind of still do, but I recently learned that it’s the holiday that’s the second most money spent on, after Christmas. It’s not even a holiday. Nobody gets the day off. I used to want to do costumes, but now I see the wastefullness of buying a costume you will only maybe wear once or a few times, buying fattening candy and killing kids slowly with it (they don’t even bike or walk from house to house, lazy, self-entitled parents DRIVE them to all kinds of neighborhoods to maximize their candy stash). Excessive amounts of alcohol and candy. I suppose I’m just a killjoy now.

  • Rachelle P. April 18, 2018, 1:11 pm

    If someone was to choose to have a car for their method of transportation, is it better to buy a used car to save money or a more expensive car to increase the chances of the car’s longevity? What do you believe is a “good” amount of money to spend on a car?

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 19, 2018, 10:53 am

      Hi Rachelle, definitely a used car (4 cylinder 5-door hatchback) and the sweet spot in the US market is about $5,000, choosing a car with the lowest miles possible. For people with intensive commutes and a bit more money to spare, a used Nissan Leaf or other electric car is now a reasonable option at under $8000 for a relatively new one, saving you gas and most types of maintenance forever!

  • karlthebruce November 5, 2018, 10:53 am

    My wife has suggested several times that I buy a chainsaw, but each time I have said no. It’s much more gratifying to use a handsaw for trimming or removing trees, even for cuts that take several minutes and require taking breaks.

  • FullyBearded JuniorMustachian November 2, 2019, 1:22 pm

    As always, I’m many years late to arrive at the article, but I just thought I’d throw my 2 cents in just incase I’m not the only person in 2019 reading through the full list of every article.
    I didn’t find a single person on this subject discuss the topic of XERISCAPING! I’m actually quite surprised you don’t do it yourself, MMM. Plant native plants and fill sparingly with cosmetic rocks (optional) and literally never touch or spend money on your yard ever again. Native plants don’t need your attention because they’ve already been growing in the area you live in long before you started caring about your yard. The only reason your yard would need attention is if you’re trying to do something to the plants in your yard that the plant is not supposed to do. (like making grass stay 1 inch tall, or keep flowers alive outside their intended bloom cycles, or introduce foreign plants to an environment they aren’t well suited for, which causes you to need to baby them, expensively).
    A well xeriscaped yard is cost-effective, water-wise/conserving, beautiful and environmentally friendly.

    • Jason November 21, 2019, 8:49 am

      Starting from scratch here, but we will get there as well. Xeriscaped yards are very interesting looking, and engaging for kids. I don’t think I’ll ever have zero lawn, but here, lawns don’t need watering or additives. Enough shade and laws require little cutting too.

      Might as well post on old articles, that’s where everyone starts, and where all the classic MMM wisdom is. I’ve read them all, and occasionally pull up one at random to re-read like a favourite book. I’m glad comments don’t get locked so sometimes there is new discussion.

    • SisterMaryMutt March 10, 2020, 8:39 pm

      Until your neighbors raise a big stink about you letting your yard “go wild and unkempt.” A homeowner here in Kalamazoo, MI actually had to go to court over their xeriscaped yard due to the neighborhood’s predominant fuss about the homeowner’s “wild yard” dragging down property values. Eventually the homeowner won, but it was a long, dragged out, miserable process that created lots of enemies.

      Just warning folks what they might be in for if they go the xeriscaping/”letting their yard go” route, especially if there’s a homeowners’ association.

      Not taking sides. I don’t live in that area.

  • Cam December 31, 2019, 1:35 pm

    after 5 years of shoveling, my wife just got me a snowblower for Christmas. I’ve been an on and off reader of MMM for a long time now but have never really adopted the wisdom. That said, I couldn’t help thinking of MMM as I struggled to pull the monstrosity out of my small garage, fiddle with knobs, add gas (that I drove to the gas station to get just for this activity), then turn the thing on only to destroy the peaceful winter wonderland of my neighborhood with the noise. After spending pretty much the same time it would have taken me to shovel, I looked over my work instead of feeling satisfied from a clean driveway, there was just emptiness. On top of that, the driveway still had a solid inch of now packed down snow! (this would be inexcusable in my shoveling days). I live in Minnesota, so we get a good amount of snow but with my wife and two sons (ages 5 and even 2) pitching in, the old fashioned way is way more fulfilling. I’ve been debating wether to take the thing back and just upgrade my shovel…. pretty sure I have my answer.

  • Jade March 10, 2020, 8:32 pm

    I’m especially with you on the push mower — great, cheap, energy efficient device that not only mows the lawn but also helps keep you in shape…and quietly! But, all good things come to an end: When the blades got dull, I COULD NOT FIND ONE BUSINESS IN TOWN THAT COULD/WOULD SHARPEN THE BLADES! It was a town of only 8,300 people, and the biggest town for its county & the 4 counties around it.

    Thought I’d try to sharpen them myself, but the chore of A) removing those blades, B) buying what I’d need to sharpen them, and C) learning how to sharpen the blades myself brought the whole plan to a screaming halt. Perfectly good, new push mower then sat in garage for years, never to be used again.

    Sometimes time moves on and doesn’t allow you to go back.

  • Jay Berwanger December 17, 2020, 10:24 am

    Read this article a few months ago …shoveled my driveway today . Removed 8+ inches of heavy wet New England snow. Felt great. I plan on helping my elderly neighbor later for more fresh air and exercise. Muscle over Motor baby!

  • Angie September 2, 2021, 11:53 am

    Huge fan of hypertrophy and scaring people with heavy deadlifts at the gym myself.

    But yeah I think this post resonated with me in 2 ways:
    1) Don’t take shortcuts when you don’t have to (more philosophical).
    2) Do things that enhances your cardio and makes you healthier while moving your way through life. It adds up to a lot. Example: one can drive 5 minutes to and from work, or walk 30 minutes per day to/from work. You need to go to work anyway, and you need to knock out 30 minutes of cardio minimum per day anyway, why not just throw that in your commute?


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