Ok, ok, so maybe not the BEST exercise, but definitely one of the most efficient exercises for building overall strength. If you have ever watched the Strongest Man competition on TV then you have seen this exercise. I'm talking about the Farmer's Walk, (also known as the farmer's carry) a simple yet effective exercise to build strength in many body parts with limited equipment and a low movement IQ. If you can walk and hold on to a weight/s, you can perform the Farmer's Walk. You don;t have to be training as an athlete or to bulk up in order to do this exercise. Woman of all ages and young children can also do this, just use a proper weight. I'll explain more on this later.
You can use either dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, or if you are lucky and you or your gym has them, specifically designed barbells that allow you to add weighted plates. The farmer's Walk is a great addition to most workouts and can be done as a stand alone strength exercise, or at the end of your regular workout. There are several different variations when performing this movement, simply by holding the weight in various positions.
- holding both weights at your side
- holding both weights overhead
- holding the weight in only 1 hand
- holding 1 weight overhead and 1 weight at your side
All are effective but will target a slightly different muscle group or put more emphasis one one muscle group. If you want to see how strong your core muscles are, try the 3rd variation (holding weight in only 1 hand) and walk for 30-50 yards. Then initial tendency will be to lean the body, but if you really focus and use your core muscle (abs, low back) to maintain an upright posture you will get a great workout for the mid region. Pretty hard, huh?
Why do you need to do this exercise?
Because it is very functional! You may have heard this word thrown around in your gym when referring to exercising. Functional exercises are ones that mimic what we do in our normal daily living (squatting, pulling, pushing, carrying). Now you may be thinking, I don't carry kettlebells every day. You're right. However, you probably do carry groceries, boxes, baby seats (if you have kids - and maybe even twins), wheel-barrels when doing yard work,etc. It doesn't get much more functional than that.
How much weight should you carry?
As a general rule of thumb, when you first try this exercise, choose a weight no heavier than 1/2 your body weight. The goal is to grab a weight that is heavy enough that you can't swing back and forth easily, but one that you are able to pick up with proper lifting form. However, I would suggest choosing a weight that for 50 yards (think half a football field) is challenging, and repeat that length 2-3 times with 30 sec. rest. It should be very challenging towards the end of the determined length, almost to the point that you want to drop the weight. As this length becomes easier add more distance before adding weight. I've heard of some people carrying weight for 10 min. at a time. Damn! When you can carry the weight for 200 yards (2 lengths of a football field) then add more weight and return to your 50 yards distance and repeat this cycle working up to 200 yards. When picking up and setting the weight down, try to focus on proper form much like a deadlift exercise (bending legs while keeping back flat).
Which muscles are used during this exercise?
As I mentioned earlier this exercises involves many body parts; which in turn recruits many different muscles. I'll start with the obvious muscles. The legs (glutes, quads, hammies, calves) are all used in order to walk with the loaded weight. The shoulders and upper back are used to hold the loaded weight up. Your forearms are used in order to hold on to the loaded weight. Now here is where you will be amazed by the effectiveness of this exercise. Your abs, low back, and hips are all used to help stabilize your body while walking with the loaded weight.
There you have it, a simple yet effective way to build strength. Now start carrying some heavy weight and prepare to compete against Thor and Vladimar.