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3 Variations to Make Farmer’s Carries More Fun

Don't just go back and forth.

The farmer’s carry seems simple. You pick up a heavy weight and start walking. Right around 20 yards in you come to the realization it’s harder than you thought it’d be.

Your shoulders ache, your grip starts to fail, and it becomes a mental battle against oneself. You may feel like letting out a few choice words and dropping the weight, but you realize there are other people around, including a grandma who is warming up with your max.

You’re better off not drawing any unnecessary attention to yourself anyway.

Carries have been around forever, but some lifters avoid them like the plague. Why? My guess is,

  • They’re hard
  • There’s no muscle pump
  • What muscle does it work again?
  • Where’s the mirror?

But the benefits are many.

farmers carry
BLACKDAY/Shutterstock

Benefits of Farmer’s Carries

Holding a heavy weight and walking with it will do wonders for your fitness. 

  • Better posture – Carrying heavy weights in your hands with rounded shoulders will not only be uncomfortable but increase the likelihood of injury. Doing it with back, core tight, hips square — the way you’re meant to be standing — helps drill good posture into your body.
  • Better breathing patterns – Breathing into your chest when you’re lugging around heavy weights is harder than you think. Deep belly breathing is a better way to breathe and carries reinforce this breathing pattern.
  • Shoulder strength – Your rotator cuffs are taxed to keep your shoulders in your socket and shoulders in good position.  
  • Core and hip stabilizers – Every step you take is a single leg stance, hence maintaining good posture without tipping to one side or the other puts these stabilizers to work.
  • Grip strength – Grip strength is important if you want to lift heavy weights, open a pickle jar or hang on for dear life. Most importantly, a strong grip helps you live longer, especially if you find yourself hanging from the edge of a cliff.  (1) 

When you’re looking for exercise variety because regular carries are dull or you’re looking for a new challenge, take these three carry variations out for a spin. You’ll be glad you did.

Or not. Either way, the pickle jar doesn’t stand a chance.

[Related: The 4-move circuit for a bulletproof rotator cuff]

1. Figure 8 Trap Bar Carry

Carries take up a lot of space and some gyms don’t have 20 or 40 yards for you to walk. This is the perfect opportunity to take the figure 8 carry for a spin.

Walking in a big figure 8 pattern allows you to get yards in in a limited space and the trap bar makes turns easier as it places less rotational torque on your lower back than dumbbells.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestions 

Use great deadlift form to pick the weight up and resist the urge to hurry. Walking at a slow, deliberate pace makes your turns easier and extends your time under tension. Keep your chest up, shoulders down to maintain good posture and when you’re finished, stop your body, and lower the weight with control.

I’m a fan of pairing carries with squats or presses because these exercises don’t tax your grip. For example,

  • 1A. Bench Press
  • 1B. Figure 8 Carry, 1 or 2 figure 8s

[Related: 4 trap bar exercises that aren’t deadlifts]

2. Offset Carries

Offset carries is using a higher load on one side of the body in the easiest carry position while using a lighter load in a harder (overhead, rack, or waiter’s) carry position. With the offset carry, there is a larger demand on the core to maintain stability and neutral spine, which you see me struggle with in the video.

The greater the offset, the greater the demand for core stability and strength to maintain good posture even when using the same overall load. That’s a major benefit of offset loading. 

Form Tips And Programming Suggestions

This is either done with kettlebells or dumbbells, although I find kettlebells more a challenge. Start with a load of 50% (or below) less than the heavier side in the offset position.

For example, in the video I’m using a 53-pound and 26-pound kettlebell. But feel free to go up or down from there. You’ll know when the offset load is too great.

You can program this in a couple of ways. Try pairing a carry with a press, squat or any exercise that doesn’t demand too much grip strength. For example,

  • 1A.  Squat Variation
  • 1B.  Rack Offset Carry, 40 yards on each side

Or as a finisher using all three of the offset positions:

Overhead, Rack, Bottoms Up & Waiters Carry. 40 yards of each. Then swap sides and repeat. Do 2-3 rounds at the end of your training.

After this, you’ll never question what muscles the carry trains.

[Related: 4 farmer’s carry workouts for fat loss]

3. Trap Bar Deadlift Carry Combo

Deadlifts strengthen your posterior chain and improves your ability to produce force and power. The farmer’s carry train your shoulder stability, core strength, grip strength, and is a fantastic exercise to improve your overall work capacity. Put them together and magic (plus pain) happen.

Your deadlifts are pristine because they’re performed with a lower % of your 1 RM, allowing you to dial in great form and technique. After the deadlifts you get to walk when your grip is already taxed.

This combination is a test of physical and mental strength you’re sure to enjoy.  

Form Tips And Programming Suggestion

Using great deadlift technique is a given. Lift powerfully and lower under control. It’s important to stay tight in your upper back for both the deadlift and walk. While walking, please walk deliberately and avoid hurrying for safety reasons.

This combo is taxing and is best performed at the beginning of your training. If pairing with another exercise, a mobility or recovery exercise works best. For example,

  • 1A. Trap Bar Deadlift (3-5 reps-70-80% 1RM) and Carry (20-40 yards)
  • 1B. Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch, 60 seconds each side

Wrapping Up

Farmer’s carries are always hard, but challenging yourself with different loads, equipment and combinations makes sure they never become boring and keep the gains coming.

Don’t be surprised when you’re asked to open all the jars. 

Featured image via BLACKDAY/Shutterstock

Reference

  1.     Christina Musalek 1, Sylvia Kirchengast Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age-A Pilot Study 2017 Nov 24 Int J Environ Res Public Health;14(12):1447.

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