It's highly functional, boosts endurance, and builds full-body strength
I lug the 70 lb dumbbells, drop them in front of me, brace myself, and set the timer. As I lift them and walk around the gym in circles, I get weird stares. “Why’s he just carrying them around instead of working out with them?”, they must be thinking.
But little do they know I was indeed working out, performing one of the hardest and most beneficial exercises there is. As I feel my forearms burning, upper back fatiguing, and grip failing, I drop the dumbbells.
As I wipe away the heavy perspiration and chug some water, I wonder, “This is such a taxing and effective exercise yet I don’t see a single soul doing it.” Despite being quite famous in strength and conditioning circles, this exercise is relatively unknown to the average fitness enthusiast.
So without further ado, let me present to you.
The Farmer’s Walk
Picking up something and walking from point A to point B is one of the most normal things we humans do. Be it carrying shopping bags, a suitcase, or a luggage bag.
Famous US strength coach Dan John rates it the #1 exercise in terms of overall impact
The farmer’s walk is just that — picking up something heavy with your hands and walking until your grip gives out. So, it’s easily one of the most functional exercises you can do.
Strength and conditioning coach Jack Lovett calls it “The epitome of training efficiently” while famous US strength coach Dan John rates it the #1 exercise in terms of overall impact. Here are a few of its benefits:
- Developing a strong core brace that ensures the spine remains neutral by protecting against both shear and compressive forces. This improves posture, boosts your strength on other lifts, and protects the spine from injuries.
- Enhanced proprioception, also called the “sixth sense”. This is your sense of where your body parts are positioned and moving with the load while maintaining a braced core enhances it.
- Increased willpower and focus. Well, because farmer’s walks are just tough and taxing to do.
- Highly functional. As I said earlier, this movement is something we constantly do in real life.
- Muscle growth because of the extended period of muscular tension, especially in the upper back, forearms, and legs. Muscle tension is one of the three mechanisms of building muscle.
- Improved intermuscular coordination. Maintaining a proper posture while moving through space clutching heavy weights needs the proper coordination of different muscle groups.
A Few Different Variations You Can Do
One of the best things about farmer’s walks is their versatility. You can do them pretty much anywhere. The only equipment you need is — something heavy that you can grip. Here are a few different variations:
The Regular Farmer’s Walk
This is the standard vanilla version. If your gym doesn’t have the farmer’s walk handles, you can use dumbbells, a trap bar, or kettlebells.
If you are at home, you can use buckets filled with water or luggage bags filled with random heavy stuff. You just have to get creative. As to how to perform these correctly, check this video out.
One Arm Carry
This is the natural progression from the two-arm version. This variation works your obliques much more than the standard one as you have to keep your torso straight while the weight is pulling you down on one side.
This also works your stabilizers more and can also help even out muscle imbalances. Here’s a video on how to perform this correctly.
The Zercher Carry
Now, we are stepping into prime “Kill my core and upper back” territory. The Zercher carry involves carrying a barbell in the crook of your arms and it just burns your core and upper back muscles.
You can also do these by hugging heavy flour sacks or sandbags as Alpha Destiny does in this video.
This is the best variation to work on your full-body stability. This can increase the strength of your obliques, shoulders, and spinal erectors. Since this is much harder than the other three, you won’t be able to as much weight.
You can perform these with dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells. Here’s a video showing how to perform these correctly.
How to Incorporate Them Into Your Workout Program
Irrespective of whether you are training for strength, muscle gain, performance, or endurance, these can be integrated easily into your workout program.
Since the farmer’s carry involves very little Range Of Motion (ROM) and is largely isometric, it produces very little muscle soreness and hence you can recover from it pretty fast.
This means that you can perform them frequently and still not hamper your recovery. Here are three ways to incorporate them into your workout program:
1. As Part of Your Warmup
Since they work the entire body and work your cardiovascular system, a few low-intensity sets of farmer’s walks can help activate your musculature and get that heartbeat ramping before your workout.
Also, you can use them in a movement-specific fashion. You can do Zercher carries before Zercher or front squats, overhead carry before overhead squats or snatch practice and standard ones before deadlifts or barbell shrugs.
2. As Part of Your Main Workout
You can program these into your main workout plan, track the weights and time, and progressively overload. You can vary the intensity by using lighter weights and walking longer or using heavier weights and lesser walking.
Farmer’s walks can carry over really well to deadlifts, squats, barbell rows, and barbell shrugs. Here’s one way and here’s another way to program them.
3. As A Finisher
This is how I enjoy doing the standard farmer’s walk. I do 3 sets till failure using the 30 kg dumbbells at the end of my pull workout, so twice a week. You can use:
- Heavy farmer’s walks at the end of your arms or back workouts to fatigue the forearms and traps, respectively.
- Light but longer farmer’s walks at the end of your lower body workout to fatigue the legs mainly. Or at the end of your cardio workout to burn more calories.
- Moderate but fast farmer’s walks at the end of your lower body, Olympic weightlifting, or sprint workouts to fatigue the legs.
These are just examples and my ideas. Be creative and experiment for yourself.