While I firmly believe in individualization and program design built around injury history, movement limitations, and experience level, there are certain things I feel the entire population (athlete or adult) can benefit from doing (and doing so safely). This week`s installment is going to look at one of my all-time favourite exercises/lifts, which attacks various components of athleticism, strength, core, and overall badassery.
Installment 1: Why Everyone Should Farmer Walk
In my opinion, loaded carries and more specifically farmer walks, are the single most effective exercise you can perform in the gym. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to call them the most ‘functional’ exercise you could do, either. Whether your goal is to improve athleticism, single leg stability and strength, core stability and posture, full body strength, or add some muscle mass, farmer walks can get you there.
- Pick up some heavy weight and walk for a desired amount of distance or time.
- Sandbags/Carry Straps
- Farmer Bars
The Advanced Notes:
- Maximal Loads: Every once in a while it’s nice to step up to the bar and see what you’re made of. For times like these, making the walk look picture-perfect pretty is easier said than done.
- Sub-maximal Loads: A vast majority of your training sessions will/should be spent utilizing sub-maximal loads. With these loads, it`s important to focus on some cues in order to truly maximize the benefits of the exercise.
- Benefit #1: Single-leg stability
With maximal weight, depending on distance, the “2am drunk stumble home from the pub” becomes a problem. When using submaximal loads, it’s important to address this and make this a main priority of your lift. Keeping the hips square and aligned with the knee, ankle and shoulders, while simultaneously emphasizing heel drive will go a long way in reaping the full benefits of the lift. Ensuring that the hips are not adducting and internally rotating (i.e. drunk stumble), especially in a single leg stance, are paramount for improving athleticism and long-term joint health.
- Benefit #2: Core Stability and Posture
If done properly, farmer walks are an excellent exercise for improving core stability and posture under load. World famous spine health expert Stuart McGill has even gone as far as calling them a “moving plank” for their potential core stability benefits. Preventing the weight from pulling you into a forward or downward posture is half the battle. Think of ‘staying tall’, core braced, and balancing a glass of water on your head. You control the weight, not the other way around.
- Benefit #3: Improving Athleticism
A lot of athletes are strong. In terms of relativity, it isn’t uncommon to see athletes squat and deadlift 2.5-3x their body weight, or perform chin ups with an additional 60+lbs around their belt. But put farmer walks in a lot of their strength programs, and they turn into cars on black ice. The athletic and sport-specific carryover between controlling single leg stability while maintaining a braced core under load will do wonders for majority of athletes, regardless of their sport.
- Benefit #4: Overall Strength
There is a reason that grip strength is still tested in a wide variety of junior and professional sport fitness testing. Grip strength is an excellent indicator of full body strength, and will do wonders to improve your rotator cuff and overall shoulder health.
- Benefit #5: Adding Mass
If you’re looking to put on mass, whether for sport purposes or flex-Friday competitions, utilizing exercises that recruit large amounts of muscle is your best bet. And when you factor in that farmer walks work the grip, forearms, traps, upper back, lats, core, glutes, and legs, you have a serious bang for your buck exercise. Pair it with a logical exercise for a superset, or load on the weight and walk for a maximal distance with proper posture.
- Benefit #6: Fat Loss
Because farmer walks use such large quantities of muscle mass and are performed with heavy to extremely heavy loads, their intensity is high. Higher intensity = increased metabolic effect. Pair a heavy load with an extended walking distance and you get an even greater metabolic effect that leads to EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption – which results in increased caloric burn hours after you stop exercising. #winning). Not to mention farmer walks are much safer than similar multi-muscle compound movements like squats and deadlifts in a fatigued state. Remember, injury prevention is always the end goal.
If you are looking for something that will make your numbers, fitness and movement quality skyrocket, try adding them into your regular programming. Stay tuned for Installment #2 of Why Everyone Should…
Train Smart and Hard.