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More and more fitness trainers and professionals the world over are gravitating towards simpler, holistic movements that train multiple parts of the body simultaneously. Such workouts - whether they are compound exercises (movements that exercise multiple muscle groups simultaneously) or part of what is known as functional training (exercises that mimic real-life movements) - save time, are more efficient and make workouts more intense and engaging.

Loaded carries - of which the farmer's carry is an example - have become a staple among fitness professionals across the world. The reason: they are simple, effective and they target multiple muscles and joints, with multiple benefits for our overall health. They are not only considered a strength training workout; they also double up as excellent endurance building exercises.

The farmer’s walk or the farmer’s carry may have been popularised by strongman competitions held around the world, but ordinary people from all walks of life - quite literally - have been practising this exercise in their daily lives for centuries.

Much like some of the simpler yet essential bodyweight exercises like push-ups or squats, farmer’s carry must be viewed as an integral part of any fitness programme, as a single movement practically works every part of the body. But the maximum gain occurs in the person’s overall posture.

  1. Types of farmer’s walks
  2. Farmer’s walk benefits
  3. How to do the farmer’s walk correctly
  4. Alternatives to farmer’s walk exercise
  5. Takeaways

Farmer's walk can vary, depending on the kind of weight you want to carry across the length of the gym floor and your technique:

Equipment choices:

  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Barbell
  • Trap bar

Choices of technique:

  • Single-arm farmer’s walk, using a dumbbell
  • Double-arm farmer's walk using dumbbells or a barbell
  • Overhead, keeping dumbbells or a barbell lifted above the head
  • Uneven farmer's walk, which requires lifting weights of different grammage in each hand.

The multiple benefits of farmer’s walk are the reason why an increasing number of people are being encouraged to perform it as part of their workout routines in the gym. Some of the main benefits are:

  • Muscle growth: An exercise like the farmer’s walk allows one to lift heavier weights than one is used to. This results in muscle hypertrophy or increased muscle growth.
  • Increases cardiovascular strength: The lung-busting exercise also helps the heart pump faster and harder due to the heavier workload, helping you increase your cardiovascular capacity.
  • Develops a strong core: You have to brace and engage the core muscles to walk upright with the weights in both hands. This helps to develop a stronger core.
  • Improves posture: Walking with heavy weights requires one to make a conscious effort to keep the spine straight and upright, allowing it to extend fully. Farmer's carry helps to improve overall balance in the body as well.
    This exercise is especially beneficial for those who spend a lot of time sitting down or those who have poor posture.
    Poor posture and constant sitting can result in compression in the lower back over time. (Read more: Exercises to improve posture)
  • Stronger posterior chain: Another ripple effect of performing the farmer’s walk is on the muscles in the back of the body - also called the posterior chain - including the back, glutes as well as the muscles in the legs. 
  • Improved grip: Carrying heavy weights in your hands will require you to grip the weights as strongly as possible, which in turn helps in lifting heavier weights. 
  • Boosts functional strength: The real life benefits of farmer’s walk are immense, as it helps to build strength to perform daily tasks more efficiently. Increased pulling strength in the hands also helps you improve your performance in other exercises like the deadlift as well.

The farmer’s walk not only helps build stamina but also strengthens your arms, back, core, shoulders as well as legs. The exercise is versatile in the sense that it can also be performed at any stage of the workout routine.

Equipment required

A pair of dumbbells or kettlebells of the same weight.

Sets and reps

3 sets for 30 seconds each

Technique

  • Pick up a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and stand up tall. Tuck your chin in slightly.
  • Walk briskly from one end of the room to the other with even paces. Do not take long strides.
  • Continue for about 30 seconds or as long as you comfortably can.
  • Keep the weights down slowly at the end of the walk.
  • Take a breather and repeat for the next set.

Tip: Loaded carries work best when performed with the heaviest set of weights you can pick up and walk over a certain distance. However, bracing the core and keeping the back straight is essential, otherwise the exercise can end up doing more harm than good.

The essence of the farmer’s walk exercise is the fact that is it the simplest movement one can perform with weights in a gym, making it effective as well as accessible to people in any physical state. However, here are some other exercises that can also be performed in its place:

Farmer’s walk has proven to be extremely effective in boosting functional and core strength, as it conditions several parts of the body in one go.

The simple movement also means that athletes do not shy away from performing the exercise, although sometimes too simple as people tend to ignore it as well.

However, with the right technique and form, one can expect to benefit on multiple levels on their journey towards fitness.

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References

  1. Keogh JWL et al. A Preliminary Kinematic Gait Analysis of a Strongman Event: The Farmers Walk. Sports. 2014 Jan; 2: 24-33.
  2. Winwood P et al. A biomechanical analysis of the farmers walk, and comparison with the deadlift and unloaded walk. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 2015 May; 9(5):1127-1143.
  3. Holmstrup ME et al. Fat-Free Mass and the Balance Error Scoring System Predict an Appropriate Maximal Load in the Unilateral Farmer’s Walk. Sports (Basel). 2018 Dec; 6(4): 166. PMID: 30544822.
  4. Struder JF The Neuromuscular and Muscle Damage Responses to the Farmers Walk: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Exercise Science. 2019. 2(11): 90.
  5. Hindle BR et al. The Biomechanics and Applications of Strongman Exercises: a Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 2019; 5: 49.
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