If you’re new to the farmer’s walk, it will quickly become a staple in your strength training programs. Walking with weights can build endurance, improve cardiovascular fitness, and strengthen various muscle groups from head to toe. And the best part? Anyone can do it from anywhere.
The farmer’s walk, or farmer’s carry as it’s also known, has traditionally been categorized as an exercise for the shoulders and core, but trust us, it works virtually every major muscle group in your body. To perform the movement, simply grab two weights such as the best adjustable dumbbells, kettlebells or a trap bar and go for a walk. Where you travel is entirely up to you!
Whether you are a beginner or not, the exercise can be adapted to any difficulty. Plus, if you’ve already brought your groceries home, you’ve already nailed it. Below, we explain how to do the farmer’s walk with the correct form, the benefits, and a variation you can try from home.
Farmer’s walk: advantages
Before we dive in, why would anyone do the farmer’s walk?
Strength and conditioning exercise has been around for years and has since been popularized by the CrossFit and functional training communities. Because this is a compound exercise that targets more than one muscle group, it closely resembles familiar movement patterns — walking or climbing while carrying weight — and can improve movement quality and posture, and build strength and muscle.
The farmer’s walk is also a super efficient way to get your heart rate up. You could walk on level ground, uphill or upstairs to make the exercise even more difficult. The movement mainly strengthens the biceps and triceps. shoulders, back, core and legs – even the chest under heavier loads. It also dips your toes into a cardiovascular workout, and you can get a lot out of its simplicity without heavy weights if you’re just starting out.
As we age, building stronger bones, joints and muscles becomes paramount. Farmer’s walking, especially when done with heavy weights, contributes to a process called bone loading. Putting stress on bones, such as during resistance training, stimulates bone growth and could prevent injuries associated with aging.
Farmer’s walk also combines isometric and isotonic exercise, meaning muscles like the shoulders and core are activated without shortening or lengthening (isometric contraction) and others move (isotonic contraction). Some research has even shown that the exercise provides muscle activation similar to a deadlift with less strain on the lower back.
I recently did the farmer’s walk every day for a week—here’s what happened and what I got out of it, including an insight into the benefits for your body and how exercise recruits muscle.
How to do the farmer’s walk
You can choose free weights like kettlebells or dumbbells, or opt for groceries or fill water bottles if you don’t have access to weights. Gym goers could also use a trap with weights loaded on both sides. A general rule of thumb is to load heavier for strength training and lighter for cardiovascular workouts.
Working on one side with only one weight is a great way to challenge balance, coordination and stability. We’ll use two kettlebells as an example, but you can substitute the weights and still follow the instructions below.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and two kettlebells placed on either side of your feet.
- Bend your knees and lower into a squat, keeping your chest lifted and your weight evenly distributed across your feet. Looks ahead
- Grab both kettlebells, engage your core and put your shoulders back and down
- Push through your heels to stand up. Begin walking without leaning forward, backward, or to one side.
Consciously clench as many muscles as possible and pull your shoulder blades back and down to keep them from hunching over. Stand upright as you walk while maintaining a firm grip on the weights.
You might work for a set number of steps or measure for distance. Try 2-3 sets or rack up as much distance or time as possible against a time limit or rep goal. For an example of how to program a farmer’s walk, check out this 5-step Metcon workout.
Farmer’s walk: variants to try
You could try walking up hills, climbing stairs, or using different weights to progress the movement and develop lower-body power, but my favorite way to mix things up is to use the farmer’s grip. To do this, simply follow the above steps without walking.
Holding the weights in a static standing position helps develop grip strength and muscles in the forearms, arms, shoulders, core and upper trapezius (the muscles of the upper back). A great way to further test your grip strength is to hold a barbell plate instead of free weights.
Start with a 20-second hold and a short rest, then progressively increase the time. You might add a farmer’s grip during you-go-i-go workouts when you’re waiting for a partner to complete their reps.
The farmer’s walk: common mistakes
These are the most common mistakes we see.
Curved or rounded shoulders
As the primary muscles fatigue, the shoulders may begin to internally rotate. Internal rotation of the shoulder can cause tight chest muscles and overworked and weaker back muscles, while also preventing the rotator cuff muscles from activating.
The rotator cuffs are muscles that surround and support the shoulder joint, and without them working optimally, injuries are more likely to occur. The farmer’s walk and farmer’s hold work the upper body hard to maintain postural stability and balance. He tries to keep your shoulders pulled back and down, resetting your posture as you notice your form slipping.
Under heavy loads, it is tempting to lean to one side, forward or backward. Imagine a piece of string crossing the midline and coming out the top of the head. Then imagine someone pulling that string up, creating a tall posture and lengthening the spine.
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