Introducing loaded carries: the first four to try

Having grown up in a farm rich area in Southeastern Wisconsin, I can say for sure that carrying heavy things around for long periods of time will leave you a weird kind of strong.  I distinctly remember catching up with an opposing discus thrower at a track meet against one of the teams from a more rural area.  Over the year, that guy had improved dramatically compared to the last time I’d  thrown against him.  I asked what he’d been doing in the weight room and he laughed…  His comment stuck with me:

“when you’re working on the farm, there ain’t much time or energy leftover for the weight room”.

He credited his improvement over that summer in large part to hauling and stacking bales of hay for hours and hours.  I verified his experience when that summer I got a job at a moving company…  After carrying pool tables and pianos in and out of basements for a summer, the stuff in the weight room just didn’t seem as hard!

I became a believer in the “loaded carry” for fitness and I believe you should too.

Loaded carries are one of those “exercises” that very few people do in the gym.  As a result, we’ve been missing out on one of the greatest tools for improving overall fitness imaginable.  It involves carrying, pulling or dragging a weight for a distance.

Loaded carries deliver a total body strength, balance and endurance challenge.  They work your core, improve total body strength, grip strength and posture.  Loaded appropriately, they can help prevent key losses in bone mineral density.  All of these improvements, of course, are developed in a directly applicable way to “real life”.  It is, after all, hard to imagine many things more “functional” than picking something up and relocating it!  

Here’s a look at a basic matrix we trainers might use to pick the right loaded carry for you: 

As you can see, there are a lot of options.

Let’s start with the four that are the easiest to learn and do:

The farmer’s carry or farmer’s walk:

 This loaded carry is the easiest to learn and do: two hands, pick up the heavy things, set good posture, GO!

The farmer’s walk is the best loaded carry variation to work grip strength and endurance.  It allows for a high load, which is absolutely crucial for maintaining and building strength and bone mineral density.

Start heavier than you’d think. A coach who’s opinion I value greatly has high school females starting in the neighborhood  of 50 lb/hand and working up to 1/2 bodyweight per hand for 40 yards.  

The rack walk: 

The rack walk is named for the position we’re carrying the weights in.  The “rack” is formed when we get a nice “shelf” on the front of our body to “set” the load on.  It is important to avoid “carrying” the load with the arms, and to keep the weight held tightly against the body.  The forearms should remain nearly vertical at all times.

This variation on the loaded carry is a great way to improve posture and abdominal strength.  It also helps us learn to breathe well under duress (although that’s where the bear hug carry really shines!).  Although we cannot choose as heavy a load as the farmer’s walk, this one is tough because of the placement of the load.  

The bear hug carry:

This is one movement that pays all kinds of dividends.  Its also one of those things we drop into the bucket of “simple, not easy”.  

The key is to keep your arms close to each other and hug the bag tightly against the body.  Staying in good posture and pushing the duration of this carry will really help anyone learn how to breathe under tension.  

Avoiding the tendency to reach under the bag, rather than hugging it against the body is important for getting the most out of the exercise.  

Marcela has about 100 lb of sand in this bag. 

The waiter’s walk:

My personal favorite loaded carry is probably the double overhead, but since it requires so much shoulder stability with tall posture, it isn’t the right place for most to start.  

We solve this by taking out one of the sides.  This has the added benefit of requiring a different kind of core strength that comes from asymmetrical loading (which we’ll touch up on in an upcoming post!). 

The key in the waiter’s walk is to keep the elbow locked out and the arm vertical.  Since so many of us lack good, stable overhead position, we see a lot of arms drifting forward and a lot of bent elbows.  This results in missing some of the primary benefits of the exercise and places undue stress on the neck and upper back.  The bicep should cover the ear from a side view.

I think you’ll find these movements to be an investment in your fitness that will pay great dividends in real life!  It’s been delightful for us to see the number of people doing them on the rise, for we know that just about everyone can benefit from implementing loaded carries in their fitness practice.

~Mark Reinke

They’ve given me the title Personal Training Director, but I really just love to help acac members and give my team the tools they need to do the same.  I graduated with a B.S. in Human Physiology and Biology from the University of Oregon and M.A. in teaching from Willamette University. I have over 15 years experience personal training and have also taught anatomy, physiology and biology. I love spending time outdoors with my family and growing, cooking, serving and eating great food.  Learn more about me and read more of my blogs on our website

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About Mark

I am a busy guy; husband, father, coach, mentor, gardener, outdoors man and cook are the primary hats I wear. To be the best of these I can be, I stay physically prepared for all those pursuits, and feed myself in a way that allows me to keep up the pace. I can help you to take the next manageable step in fitness and wellness to get you closer to your ideal self.