The Benefits of Farmer Walks and Loaded Carries

loaded carries

“If you think you are only strong if you can lift a certain number, whatever that number is, you will feel pretty weak most of the time. Strength is not a data point; it’s not a number. It’s an attitude.”
Pavel Tsatsouline,Kettlebell – Simple & Sinister


The world would be a stronger place if everyone lifted something heavy and carried it.  There’s really not many people I can think of that wouldn’t benefit form performing loaded carries.  It’s pretty simple to.  You pick up something heavy like a rock, heavy sandbag or punching bag, a wheelbarrow, you get the idea, and take a walk from point A to point B.

Simple and yet very effective.

With loaded carries you strengthen your core, grip, increase muscle size, improves posture, work capacity, coordination and builds confidence in your abilities.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  So I looked towards other strength experts to see what their position is when it comes to farmer walks and loaded carries.




GRAB SOMETHING HEAVY AND WALK

Now I’m not the only strength enthusiast and practitioner who believes loaded carries should be done.  The legendary strength coach, Dan John, considers loaded carries as a game changer.  He wrote:

Find that missing ingredient and you’ll build more muscle faster, drop fat quicker, and kick any ass on any field of play. And I’m going to tell you what that missing ingredient is for most weight-trained men. Ready?

It’s the loaded carry.

The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and athlete.

Personally I’d listen to Dan John.

Loaded carries can improve your overall performance and make you useful when you have to help carry groceries or better yet move a couch alone.  The great thing with loaded carries is the amount of variations that can be used and are implemented for various performance goals when it comes to athleticism, strength, conditioning, rehabilitation, or even competition.

STRENGTH IN YOUR HANDS

Have you ever shaken someone else’s hand and felt the brute power of their grip? It’s the kind of grip that makes your hand feel like a little child.  Or maybe it’s just me.  I doubt it.

In an interview, Tim Ferriss, the Four Hour Week guy, asked Strength Expert Pavel Tsastouline, “What would be the easiest and fastest way to improve your strength?”

Pavel who co-authored, Easy Strength, with Dan John answered, “Strengthen you grip and core.” It was a simple answer.  When it comes to being able to grip more weight it transfers over to being able to life more weight which then leads to more strength gains, muscle size, and a body that is strong and solid.

Note: Easier exercise to start doing other than loaded carries or plate pinches.  Grab several weights that you can pinch between your fingers and thumbs and work on holding them together for time.

DEVELOPS STRONG HEALTHY SHOULDERS

Shoulders are one of the main areas that people complain about being sore or achy.  A well known physical therapist, Charlie Weingroff, found that heavy farmer carries actually causes the shoulder blades to set in a stable position and activate the rotator cuff muscles cause by a PNF response.

Eric Cressey, of Cressey Performance, uses overhead carries such as waiter walks to help with shoulder and core stabilization.  With overhead carries, you use a much lighter load because the center of gravity changes causing your body to have to stabilize the weight compared to the farmers walk.

Note: If you are looking to improving your shoulder health try this exercise from Eric Cressey, 1-arm bottoms-up kettlebell carry.

ATHLETICISM AND COORDINATION

Let’s be honest.  Feeling and being athletic is awesome.  Movements feel easier and our bodies feel strong.  So it was interesting when I learned how farmer walks and their variations improve athletic performance, especially when it comes from a source like Stuart McGill, author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.  His research found that farmer walks activate and stimulate the entire abdominal wall, obliques, and all to create a strong trunk foundation.

When the trunk of our bodies are stable and strong, there are less energy leaks.  The trunk, or core, is the center of all movement.  If you have a weak and unstable core, then you will overcompensate in other areas of your body.

Did you know? Aside from improving athleticism and coordination, loaded carries can also improve breathing.  Bill Hartman at Intelligent Human Performance, wrote:

Carrying the load increases abdominal activation and reduces rib flare to improve diaphragm position.   Ribs will approximate a more “exhaled” position.  Breathe in through the nose and exhale strongly through pursed lips to maximize the effect on the abdominals.

MUSCLE AND STRENGTH GAINS

The more muscles you stimulate the more energy you expend.  When your body is under a heavy load for a certain duration of time it stimulates a hormonal response for hypertrophy.  With the high levels of muscular tension your whole body is working to perform exercise.  You upper back and traps will particularly benefits from farm carries.

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you when your shirts don’t fit you the same.

Here’s an exercise I do whenever pull out my plates for a training session:

IT’S MORE THAN JUST CARRYING A WEIGHT

At an ‘Aha Kane Conference, which is a weekend for Native Hawaiian men to meet and learn what it means to be a Native Hawaiian man, the participants take place in a competition called hāpai pōhaku (boulder lifting).

For the competition there are three stones that needed to be lifted.  The final stone is the largest and heaviest and must be raised from the reclined position of Hina to the upright position of Kū.  Out of all of the participants in the competition, only one man was able to lift the last stone and he was a kalo farmer, and kanaka maoli who served the land.

The symbolism of the idea of being able to carry a weight goes beyond the physical aspect.  ʻAha Kane shared:

Hāpai pōhaku is not simply a demonstration of brute strength. Kāne must also lift pōhaku comprised of intangibles like family responsibility and commitment to bettering the community and be fully dedicated to bearing the weight of these important kuleana.

Keep it Kū!

Daniel Aipa