Manhattan living is apartment living, and apartments are the dwelling of choice for people on the move.  And between you, your family, friends, and co-workers, someone always seems to want you to help out on that dreaded ordeal: The Do-It-Yourself Move.  Heavy boxes, unwieldy furniture, and all those clothes on hangers.  Five floor walk-ups, tight corners, and June humidity.  At least you finally get to use your hard-won Tetris skills to pack the U-Haul.

So what can Tom Sawyer teach us about avoiding unpleasant chores?  That they’re often just a matter of perspective.  He famously convinced his friends to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence by making it seem like a fun opportunity. All he did was trick his friends into thinking the work was fun — and then they even paid him to let them do it.  For my first half-dozen moves (mine or others), I viewed it as a chore and a favor to my friends.  But then I pulled a Tom Sawyer — on myself — and I started to view moving as an opportunity to do an intense workout.

Here are 10 reasons why moving apartments can be an awesome workout:

  1. You’re lifting heavy objects (lots of good squats)
  2. The weights usually don’t have perfect handles (hand strength)
  3. The weights usually aren’t evenly balanced (stabilizers)
  4. You have to perform multiple movements at once, like carrying, walking, and climbing (coordination)
  5. You have to coordinate your movements with other people (more coordination and teamwork)
  6. You have to navigate hard corners and narrow doorways (focus, adaptive strength, and problem solving)
  7. It usually lasts longer than a typical workout (good to occasionally push your endurance)
  8. You get nice intervals of intensity and rest (carry up a load, go back down)
  9. There are clear functional goals beyond “looking good” (don’t break stuff, move it all in, get the U-Haul back in time)
  10. You are helping others

There are people who pay personal trainers $75 an hour — and then pay movers $300 to move their boxes for them.  Here’s a brilliant idea: scrap the personal trainer for a week and move the boxes yourself.  Save money, get a workout, help out your friends, and be in a positive frame of mind while you’re doing it.  Everybody wins.

Just don’t lift with your back!

7 Responses to “The Tom Sawyer approach to moving apartments”

  1. Gire Vik says:



    This is so true! This might become a new workout program in itself. People before did these themselves – carrying rocks, logs and what-have-you. Today we call that odd object lifting and is becoming popular again, since these functional work outs truly work. Well people can argue about that, but it worked for me.

  2. David Csonka says:

    This is funny, and incredibly timely as I am moving to a new apartment this week. Luckily, since I go to a CrossFit gym now, I have a handful of fantastic friends who also just happen to be able to deadlift more than twice their body weight.

  3. ben says:

    I love this post. So many of us think exercise as this discreet, only-in-the-gym kind of thing. Wrong. Another great example from my own worklife – moving/arranging kegs of beer at a bar. Hoisting one on top of another is great core work, lower back and quads get great work. Its also good mental work as youre constantly on guard as you work with all the kegs to avoid injuring yourself. On delivery days i feel like ive had a good real-life, farmer-style workout.

  4. lynn says:

     Good for you! I put that same attitude to work this when I had to move a crapload of boxes from the attic and the shed to the Salvation Army this weekend. And I did it all in 80-plus weather. Man that tall glass of ice water felt good by the end. It really is all how you look at things.

  5.  Great post. One of my favorite workout experiences ever was in helping a friend move.  It was a great workout, and also it was proof to me that my workouts were working properly – I was carrying stuff all day, up and down stairs, and I felt fresh at the end of it while everyone else was complaining and kvetching about their aching muscles.  Nice to have proof that your workouts are actually a benefit for real work.  

  6. Alishahndra says:

    You had me at "Tetris."  Also, I wonder if the slightly nomadic lifestyle of hippies/artists is emotionally beneficial to homo sapiens (…she ponders 3 weeks prior to moving cross-country and into an artist filled apartment).  How does consistently moving into a new place affect humans?  I assume there would be a fair amount of moving in the original hunter gatherer lifestyle.

  7. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the perspective. I have to move soon and I plan to read this list for the benefit of myself and those helping me. Somehow I doubt my friends will see my moving as an opportunity to build hand-strength without it. 

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