The farmers walk:
How? Pick up heavy shit and walk
Why? Because it is good for you.
Thank you for reading…
For anyone who wants more information than I provided above keep reading. The farmers walk is an exercise classed as a loaded carry. In my opinion everyone should be doing some variation of a loaded carry. The farmers walk is the most basic. Here are the basics:
It’s really quite simple. Pick up weights that are heavy for you. You can use dumbbells, a hex bar, barbells, kettle bells, gym bags or if you have access to specialized farmers walk bars you can use those. It is important to pay attention to your body position. I’ve seen many people hunch over and stick their chins out. This is a no-no. Stand tall with your shoulders pulled back, eyes forward, grip the weight as hard as you can and take steps at a moderate pace. I will generally program 2 to 3 sets of 20-40 metres. As you progress you can try for more challenging distances such as 50 to 100 metres at a time.
The easiest set up for this is a space that is at least half the length of your walking distance. If your space does not permit this there are a number of options. The first is to set up 2 cones and walk in a figure 8 pattern – this ensures you are turning both ways when loaded up. During the winter I have about 20 feet to work with so my figure 8 is only about 15 feet to allow for space to turn. Another small space option is to set up small barriers such as 6″ hurdles and step over them. This creates a longer time spent on one leg at a time. To challenge your single leg balance even more you can step over each hurdle and bring your knee up to 90 degrees.
Now, it’s worth explaining why anyone would pick up weights, walk around with them just to put them back where they came from. How could this help? There are a number of benefits from performing loaded carries – specifically the farmers walk.
- Grip strength – A strong grip makes it possible to lift more weight in the gym on almost all lifts. If you can’t even hold yourself on the chin up bar it’s going to be pretty difficult to do a chin up. A strong grip is also very useful in many every day activities like carrying groceries, your suitcase, using tools, moving furniture, opening your own bottles, really anything that involves your hands. I’ll be honest, if I shake someone’s hand and their hand is weak I’m probably not considering them for my survival group when the zombie apocalypse hits. The shake doesn’t have to be crushing, but you can tell a strong hand from a weak hand. There are different types of grip strength but if you can’t manage a farmers walk I wouldn’t start to worry about things like large diameter grip or pinch strength.
- Hip and torso stability and strength – Walking with a load creates unstable positions by constantly being on one foot, then the other, then switching again. Gravity pulls your body down towards the opposite side of your stance leg. Your hips and torso have to work harder when under load to keep your body upright and prevent you from crumbling into a heap on the floor. If you cannot maintain a tall position or your hip keeps popping out side to side then the weight is too heavy. Dial it back and work your way up again. The various loaded carries challenge the torso in different ways. A single arm farmers walk – often referred to as a briefcase or suitcase carry will challenge one side at a time, and also requires less weight for the same torso strength benefits (but also yielding less of a grip benefit). Holding the weight at your shoulder (but not resting on your shoulder), slightly out-front of your body creates a torsion load and your body has to resist twisting and side bending. Farmers walks are a great progression or in some cases a great alternative to planks. I suggest periodically substituting loaded carries for direct ab training and see how you feel. There is no limit to how you can travel with the load, as long as you can maintain a good posture and it makes some sense or can carry over to your athletic or daily life I say go for it.
- Shoulder stability – Our body is pretty neat and has some protective measures built into it. Any time you grip something hard your rotator cuff will activate to prevent your arm from coming out of the socket. It is actually a common cue for anyone going through shoulder rehab to be told “grip hard” or “crush the handle”. This action is signalling the rotator cuff to do its job properly. I have seen and used it in many rehab situations of the labrum or rotator cuff and even found it beneficial when working with someone who has an impingement syndrome in their shoulder. If your movement is fluid and your shoulders are strong your chances of injury will greatly decrease.
Farmers walks can be built in to many areas of a program. If someone is struggling with shoulder or back pain and needs some activation work prior to training I may use it at beginning of the session. I have also used it at the end as part of a conditioning circuit because it will get the heart pumping or keep it up there if it’s already elevated. It can be paired with a number of exercises as long as the other exercise doesn’t require a ton of grip strength. A deadlift or row would not be a great pairing with a farmer’s walk. Honestly, there are very few limits to where and when it can be used because every situation is going to be different and the farmers walk and the family of loaded carries are so versatile.
I say go and get started as soon as possible but here are a few standards and challenges I think are worth working towards.
– For the average person I think you should be able to carry your body weight for 20 metres. So, if you weigh 200 lbs you should be able to carry 100 lbs in each hand and walk about 40-60 steps before fatiguing.
– For the athletic population you should be able to carry your body weight for 100 metres. I have actually had a group of 16-18 year olds do this. There was one athlete that weighed 275 pounds so he had to carry 275 pounds for about 200 steps! I challenged him and said I would carry the same if he attempted it. I am very proud to say we both finished alongside each other.
– Those that consider them self strong should be able to carry twice their body weight for at least 10 steps. The first step is working towards a double-bodyweight deadlift. Once you can do this, work on taking a few steps with it.
So, get out there, grab something you find heavy and start walking with it. Your hands may not agree initially but after some practice it will all be worth it. Watch how various exercises in the gym improve, take note of how your back and shoulders feel and watch your independence increase all because you followed some of the most basic instructions: Pick up heavy shit and walk.