You’ve been there before. You pick up a bag of groceries and figure you can walk them from your car to your house pretty easily. Thing is, when you put the groceries down in your house, you’re tired.
Why? Because you just did a tougher workout than you expected. You accidentally did an exercise called a loaded carry, and quickly learned that simply walking with a large load can sometimes be a worthy challenge that can build muscle, burn fat, and make you stronger.
Yet somehow, in the gym, the loaded carry is one of the most underutilized workout moves there is. It doesn’t have to be that way for you, though. Learning how and when to use loaded carries can easily transform your workout regimen, and help you finally get the training results you want.
What is a loaded carry?
Loaded carries are a very general term for a vast group of moves. The moves are all pretty simple: You are holding an external load and moving it from one point to another. This sounds primitive in the grand scheme of fitness: You’re picking something heavy up, moving it somewhere, then putting it down. And in truth, it is simple, but the benefits are staggering.
You’re tapping a host of muscles. Start with the shoulders, where the rotator cuff is called into action to complete its primary responsibility, stabilizing your shoulder joint. Heavy weights are pulling your shoulders down, so the rotator cuff needs to kick in to insure the heavy weight doesn’t pull your arm out of its natural placement. Your scapula is also naturally depressed down, adding some eccentric pull to your upper traps while forcing your lower traps into action, too.
And your core muscles are on fire. Moving with weight wakes up a host of core muscles (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques) to stabilize your midsection, ultimately avoiding any unwanted turning, torque, or bending.
Lastly, most locomotive movements begin with the feet. Extra weight challenges the foot and ankle complex to stabilize and function as usual under extreme duress.
Your Keys to Loaded Carries
The move is simple, but don’t make the mistake of picking up whatever you want and using it. Keep the following factors in mind.
Where the weight sits is very important. Holding weight on one side only will challenge your core, while holding dumbbells or any load with both arms will evenly pull downward on the body.
Load style matters
Different objects will challenge your body in different ways. Kettlebells will pull directly down on your body. Barbells will challenge your wrist and forearm stability, if you hold one in each hand. Hex bars let you use larger loads, but because they’re each a giant piece, they won’t challenge your core stability quite as much. Choose a load style that will help you achieve your goals.
Height on the body matters
You don’t just need to hold weights at your sides. You can also hold weights at your shoulders (known as the racked position), or even hold weights overhead, performing so-called “waiter’s carries.” Each move has its challenges. In general, as weight moves closer to overhead, your core stability faces increased challenges.
Which Loaded Carry is for you?
Rarely do you find a movement that can be a powerlifting basic, a metabolic finisher, and a rehab move all at once. But that’s the magic of the loaded carry. This move really should be in every routine. The question: What carry is best for your training goal?
Loaded Carries For Conditioning: Hex Bar Farmer’s Carries
If you are looking to challenge your system to its limits, this is your move. You have a stable piece, so your core isn’t challenged, but you get to load up on weight and elevate the stress on your body.
How to: Start with a loaded hex bar. Lift it off the ground with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your hands at your sides, walk forward. Aim to cover at least 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.
Loaded Carries For Shoulder Strength: Farmer’s Walks
Use dumbbells or kettlebells for this one. Now you’re walking with individual weights in each hand; this makes each arm (and shoulder) do their own work. You’ll really challenge your shoulder girdle with these.
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Heavy carries and heavy quad god swings have been the foundation to the Spartan training as of late. T-minus one week till race day!! 🕺🏼⚔️🕺🏼 @mindpumpmedia @spartanrace @spartan #science #farmerswalk #work #904fitness #strength #functionalfitness #personaltrainer #legday #workout #fit #functional #instagood #gym #beachbody #workoutmotivation #crosstraining #results #personaltrainer #fitness #warrior #inspiration #strong #athlete #steelmace #fit #work #gymmotivation #warriorfitnessjax #fitfam #spartanrace #flexfriday
How to: Start with relatively heavy dumbbells. Pick both up. Once you are standing, slowly walk forward while maintaining control of the weights, hands at your sides. Cover 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.
Loaded Carries For Core Strength: Racked Carries
Testing the core with more attention means developing strength. Here, you’ve got weights on your shoulders, so your challenge is to not collapse at the lower back. You’ll want to start with light weights on this one, but expect plenty of return in terms of core challenge and core stability benefits.
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Ever been like, “I’m bored as shit with my training” Offset kettle bell front rack walks for the win. Not sure if anyone else has coined these before but they suck. Kettlebell front rack walks are challenging enough, these are just the icing on the cake. My gym only had one 53lb KB so i was like, why not just off set it with a lighter one and have some “fun”… Hella core and shoulder stability and endurance with these. Fantastic training for those working on their anterior core strength for front rack position in general. Obviously just make sure you switch the side that has the heavier load. Enjoy! music @sandervandoornofficial #abs #coreworkout #coretraining #sixpackabs #kettlebell #kettlebellworkout #frontrackcarry #shoulders #endurancetraining #strengthandconditioning #fitness #instafit #crossfit #bodybuilding #strengthtraining #swolelife #manimalstrong #reebok #thesesucked #embracethechallenge #roguefitness
How to: Start by lifting dumbbells or kettlebells off the ground, feet shoulder-width apart, hips just below parallel. Then lift them to your collarbone on each side; your palms should face each other. Make sure your arm is tight to your body, and maintain some tension in your mid-back. Once standing, walk forward, aiming to cover a distance of 20 yards in controlled fashion. Do 4 to 6 sets.
Loaded Carries For a challenge: Vertical Hex Bar Carry
This one is just a good challenge. It’s one thing to carry with weight on each side, but the stability demands are different when the weight is distributed in front of and behind you.
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Looking to add some challenge to your loaded carries? Try the Vertical Grip Hex Bar Carry! The weight splitting the front and back taps into grip, scapular stability, and overall grit. Try a much lighter weight for this one, it’s a different beast. #fitness #muscle #strength #hexbar #farmerswalk #hypertrophy #conditioning #menshealth #equinox #performbetter
How to: Stand inside a hex bar, with the weights set up in front of and behind you. Lift the hex bar, then walk forward. Cover a distance of 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.
By David Otey, C.S.C.S.