Carry your way to a stronger body
We’ve all seen those individuals who have this raw brute strength, gained from years of laboring work. These are the people who are often described by terms like farmer strong, old man strength, etc. What exactly did these individuals do to get so strong? Often times they are people who worked professions that required a great deal of carrying loads.
Carrying a weight around offers a variety of benefits. Depending upon the kind of carry performed, we can see benefits stability at a number of joints ranging from the ankle to wrist. Along with the increases in stability that can be gained, carries can also be utilized for pushing fat burning by being used as finishers, or can help to add slabs of muscle when done with high intensity.
Where to start?
When performing carries there are a few points to decide - the carry type, the variation, and the implement to be used.
The implement - KB, DB, barbell, etc. - is not what signifies a carry (most carry types can be done with any implement) but it does play a factor in the difficulty and type of stress of the variation.
KB’s will have a greater sway during movements such as suitcase carries, farmer’s carry, etc. They also provide the benefit of bottom’s up carry where we can work on higher level shoulder stability.
DB’s will have the ability for greatest loading as the are smaller, more centrally located and easy to control. They are also generally available at the majority of gyms people have access to.
Barbell’s provide an increased demand on the wrist musculature to stabilize through movements such as ulnar and radial deviation.
Bands can be used in a number of manners for carries. The simplest option is using a band as additional loading or the load in general. The band can be added on to KBs, DBs, Barbells, etc to increase the loading (though you may no longer be able to walk depending upon the set up). Bands can also be hung off the implement and held onto to increase the sway and unpredictability of the movement. This has its advantages and disadvantages - increased demand on stabilization, decreased loading and general challenge.
Before we get into the actual exercise selection, let’s preface that there are a ton of variations of each of the following. Ranging from walking forward, walking backward, walking laterally, side stepping, carioca stepping, changing direction midway, bottoms up, combination carries, etc. There are hundreds of variations that will only be limited by your imagination. Keep in mind the intent of why you choose a carry variation and don’t pick something for the sake of being different.
Check out the video for all of the exercise options!
Putting it all together!
As we stated, carries can be utilized in a variety of places in a training program. Here are a few recommendations
- Warm up
By using a lighter load, we can keep a moderate-high pace and get our heart rate elevated. As well, by using a variety of variations you can get the body prepped up for the training session you are about to embark on. For example, using a farmer's carry for 30 steps, into a rack carry for 30 steps, and then into a goblet carry for 30 steps - repeating 3 times - you'll get your heart rate up, get your body temperature up, and also have addressed stability for the hip, spine, and shoulders.
- Paired with a main exercise
Carries can be used as "fillers" in between main work exercises as they are not as fatiguing and can be of great benefit for addressing weak areas. This is also offers the benefit of getting more work done in the same time frame. For instance, in between sets of high bar squats you could go and do waiter's walks. The waiter's walk is non-competing to the squat, so it shouldn't interfere with how much weight you can use.
Pushing the pace on carries is a great way to finish a workout. Whether you're doing just carries or combining them with some other exercises, you can get your heart rate high and work a ton of muscle groups all at one time with them. A few of my favorite options are to have clients do a series of unilateral carries continuously. For example, doing 25 steps of a waiter's walk with the left arm, then 25 steps of a rack carry - 1 arm with the left arm, then 25 steps of a suitcase carry with the left arm, then switching to the right to start over. This keeps the body working for a longer period of time, but we emphasize one side of the body at a time.
In essence, carries are a great bang for your buck exercise category and something to consider adding into your training program.
Move well, lift heavy, stay healthy,
The Strength Therapist