Is It Better To Push Or Pull A Lawn Mower? (Answered)


Mowing your lawn is a chore that most of us would (usually) rather avoid. Any way of making the task easier is truly welcome but, as we all know, the easy way is not always the right way.

The best way to use a walk behind mower is to push it or let the self propulsion (if an option) do the pushing for you. Pulling as shown by proofs through physics does take less direct force, but the safety concerns, line of sight, and tendency to tip up the front wheels makes it less desirable.

Today we will be focusing on whether it is better to push or pull your lawnmower during operation. We go over the basic physics of each to establish the benefits and drawbacks in terms of effectiveness and safety. Let’s go! 

Should You Pull Or Push A Lawn Mower?

Maybe you are a part-time physicist who spends his/her free time wondering about the interrelatedness of gravity, friction, and forces in real-world scenarios. 

Or maybe (and most probably) you are simply looking for an easier way to get your fortnightly mow over and done with. 

Either way, it is a curious question. Push vs pull.

Walk-behind power mowers (which consist of self-propelled mowers and push mowers) normally work by going forwards. Self-propelled mowers, specifically will not even move in reverse while the blades and self-propulsion systems are engaged. Pulling is less safe if a bit easier.

Push mowers are specifically designed to be…well, pushed. You will not find any instruction manual that directs you to pull your lawnmower while it is in operation. In fact, most manuals are likely to advise you against such a move primarily for safety reasons.

The safe operation of power tools requires full concentration and (ideally) a sober mind on the part of the operator. Any senses relevant to the operation of a power tool like a lawnmower must not be obstructed in any way. 

Sight is one of these senses and, naturally, walking backward may obstruct your ability to see where you’re going. This is why manufacturers advise against pulling a push mower. It is also part of the reason why most riding mower manufacturers disable their machines from being able to mow while going in reverse.

That said…who really reads the manual anyway? 

While it is impossible to mow in reverse with a self-propelled mower, you can do so with a simple push mower.

You see, a push mower’s blade operation is completely independent of the movement of its wheels. This means the mower blades can rotate while the machine is stationary or moving forward and backward. 

Despite instructions against doing so, mowing in reverse is sometimes the practical, if not lazy, thing to do. You may need to reverse out of a tight spot or go over a certain grass patch again without disengaging the blades or even switching off the machine.

To see the one of the best selling electric mowers on amazon for those with small yards click this link…

The Physics Of Pushing Vs Pulling

Now, let’s look at the nerdy side of pulling versus pushing your mower.

When you push a lawnmower, you exert a diagonal (forward + downward) force on the handle. This is because the handle itself is angled diagonally. This “pushing” force is made up of two parts: forward force (F Cosϴ) and downward force (F Sinϴ).

The downward force adds a little to the weight of the lawnmower. The lawnmower’s weight combined with the F Sinϴ value gives us the lawnmower’s apparent weight.

Since the mower moves along the ground, it experiences a degree of friction. The greater the apparent weight, the greater the friction and, ultimately the more difficult it is to move the lawnmower.

When you pull a lawnmower, the opposite happens…somewhat.

The lateral force (F Cosϴ) stays constant because you are still moving the mower horizontally. However, the vertical force is applied upwards, which takes F Sinϴ away from the weight of the mower. This means reduced apparent weight and, as we’ve seen, lower apparent weight results in the mower experiencing lower levels of friction.

Therefore, from a physics standpoint, pulling a lawnmower is easier than pushing it. 

Remember:

  • Pushing mower = Weight of mower + F Sinϴ
  • Pulling mower = Weight of mower – F Sinϴ

There are many other great articles on this site about mowers. Check some of these out…

Effectiveness Of Pushing Or Pulling A Mower

Now that we’ve looked at the physics behind operating a lawnmower in either direction, let’s look at the general effectiveness.

For a simple push mower, mowing forwards or in reverse has pretty much the same effectiveness, especially over short distances. The blades keep on rotating and, provided the mower deck height is appropriate, they will cut grass regardless of what direction the machine is moving in. 

However, as we’ve seen in the physics section above, it is slightly more difficult to move a lawnmower forward than backward. The diagonal force on the handle adds to the mower’s weight, which forces it to overcome a greater degree of friction than it would have to if it were being pulled.

Pushing a mower over a very short distance (less than 10 feet) is, therefore, slightly less effective than pulling it.

The story is a little different over longer distances though.

Think about it…can you walk faster while going backward? Probably not.

Pulling a lawnmower may be easier in terms of apparent weight and friction, but walking backward is slower and involves constantly looking over your shoulder, which is not all that comfortable or effective.

Like with nearly every physics problem I had from high school through college, there are always ‘other variables’. If I then add this to the fact that I used a push mower nearly every day for ten years, a very clear then becomes apparent. The other variable is the direction in which you pull.

If for one would turn around when I wanted to pull a mower and walked straight ahead with the mower behind me. For me though, pushing was more efficient since in either scenario with pulling, you will spend a part of your time looking over your shoulder.

When it comes to self-propelled mowers, pulling while the machine is in operation is seldom a possibility. A trick commonly used for machines with front-wheel drive systems is to tilt the mower slightly and reverse while the rotating front wheels are off the ground.

Brands like Toro have recently come up with lines of self-propelled mowers that can cut while going in reverse. However, for the most part, you will not be able to move a self-propelled mower backward while the blades and drive system are engaged. 

All in all, it is far more effective to push a lawnmower than to pull it.

Safety While Pulling Or Pushing A Mower

Safety should, and always must be the number one priority for lawnmower operation. Lawnmower accidents are much more common than you would think. According to National Institute of Health (NIH) statistics, there are nearly 85,000 lawnmower-related injuries in the U.S. every single year.

There is a reason why your instruction manual advises against pulling your walk-behind mower. 

The main threat is pulling the machine towards you and any exposed extremities. Many people have suffered from severed toes, lacerated feet, and legs because of this very issue. 

Walking backward is also inherently more dangerous. Add a machine with vicious rotating blades and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster. Walking backward increases the risk of you tripping over unseen obstacles. You could also slip on wet grass and pull the mower onto your person, which would certainly be a bad day.

If you must mow in reverse you should take the necessary precautions. This includes:

  • Not mowing when the grass is wet
  • Not mowing in reverse on uneven terrain or hills
  • Wearing protective boots with high levels of grip.

As you can see, pushing your mower is a much safer practice than pulling.

The Final Touches On Pushing Or Pulling A Mower…

All jobs and especially residential lawn care done by a homeowner are not worth the serious injuries that can occur while pulling a lawn mower. It only takes one mistake to completely change an entire life.

The mowing capacity is the same either frontwards or backwards and the ease of use is only slightly noticeable while pulling. Sure, as a daily part of a lawn crew, I would sometimes succomb to the temptation to pull at least every now and again.

Yet, there are countless things I have accomplished in my life since that would have been completely impossible if an accident would have occurred. My advice is not to do it. Just ‘man up’ and push.

Here are some other articles on mowers you will like…

References

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K6tktXVrxY&ab_channel=CowanAcademy

Mathew Booe

Mathew has worked in landscaping professionally for over 10 years. He is a grandpa and frequently interviews other experienced landscapers and lawn care experts who are also grandpas for these articles.

Recent Posts