do your damn farmer's walks (seriously)
Alec Enkiri | 11/8/19
Yes, the pictures in this post will most likely all be blurry. Thank you for asking.
The farmer's walk is the quintessential loaded carry. You pick up something heavy in your hands and you walk with it. It's elegance lies in its simplicity. Not only is this one of the easiest weight room movements to learn it is also arguably the most functional strength training exercise in existence (Note: I'm not really a fan of that word due to the connotations that have recently been attached to it, but it does get the point across. However, most people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of carryover from the weight room into real life, but I'll touch on that in a future article). In a bare bones sense, the luxuries of modern living have, sadly, rendered the need for most physical capacities obsolete. If you don't want to you pretty much don't have to - it's kind of as simple as that - and it shows. However, of all the physical things we don't have to do anymore, picking shit up and carrying it from point A to point B isn't one of them. I've personally been called on to move shit around (generally furniture, which is the bane of my freaking existence) more times than I would care to recount, and I assume I'm not the only one! Until we have personal robots to lug around our suitcases, carry our groceries, move our furniture, etc. etc. etc. (hell, I would even argue that shoveling snow falls into this category), it seems that possessing the ability to transport heavy shit from here to there without breaking your back in the process will be a useful skill to possess.
But honestly, it goes beyond just the surface level, readily apparent, specific functionality and skill transference of the exercise itself back into real life. To me it isn't so much just that the loaded carry, and the farmer's walk specifically, overloads and mimics an activity that we need to occasionally be prepared to do, and ensures that that capacity does not degrade, so that when we are called upon to occasionally do it we are prepared to do so safely and efficiently with great ease and minimal risk to ourselves in the process. But it's also more so the effect that it has on the body in totality. It's not so much that simply possessing this capacity can save you in a pinch, but more so that the act of performing it, cultivating it, and improving upon it keeps your body healthy, strong, and overall resilient in ways that normal weight training does not.
There are a myriad of reasons for this (which I've touched on in the past in this video and might go into more detail on in a future article), such as the unique effect these exercises have on core strength/stability and hip strength/stability (among other things), but suffice it to say, due to the nature of the exercises it's difficult if not impossible to recreate these effects with other weight room movements. This is why farmer's walks and other loaded carries are so important.
And I love my farmer's walks! If you've followed me for any length of time you've probably seen me do some form of loaded carry at one point or another. Trap bar carries, farmer's walks, barbell carries, front rack carries, zercher carries, overhead carries, etc. If I had a yoke I would carry that (definitely going to get one one day) and if i had sandbags I'd carry those too (definitely need to rig some of those up!). Pretty much anything I can get my hands on I'm going to carry it. Sometimes heavy weights for short distances, sometimes lighter weights for longer distances or just with less rest.
500lbs Zercher carry
Actually, one of my favorite methods for loaded carries is what I call a "density block." Basically what you do is pick a weight, pick a distance, and pick a pre-designated chunk of time, and then do as many carries as you can in that time frame. Next week keep the weight the same but try to get more reps in in the same amount of time, hence increasing the density of the work. You can tinker with the variables however you want to create different variations of the density block, but the protocol remains the same. Now this shit is tough. It builds fortitude, grit, total body strength, hip stability, core strength, and GOD LIKE endurance. In fact, I credit this specific training protocol as the reason why I can run a 5 and a half minute mile with absolutely no training for it. I've pretty much been sticking to nothing but 10-15 reps tops in my density blocks though. Erring towards slightly heavier weights with slightly less total reps (I'm biased towards strength over conditioning, we all know it, it's fine, whatever). But recently, thanks to a client of mine, I realized I had pigeonholed myself.
This client, who I've only recently started programming loaded carries for, impressed the hell out of me. I gave this dude a 15 minute density block with 20yd carries and assigned him a weight I figured he'd get for something 10-12 reps and he came back to me after week 1 telling me how fucking hard it was and, oh yeah, I did 23 FUCKING REPS WITH IT. Double what I thought he'd get at that weight and double the number of carries I've done in any training session recent history (condensed into that short time frame). I was like, wait what? So, it made me realize I've been neglecting this aspect of it.
So like one way to look at this density block concept is the total distance traveled. So if you do 20 reps at 20yds a piece you're taking the weight 400yds total. On the other hand, if you do 13 reps at 30yds a piece you're taking the weight 390yds total, so basically the same thing, right? Kind of, but not really because this doesn't tell the whole story. Even if the weight is the same, the former scenario is way more difficult than the latter scenario because it's way harder to have to set the weight down and pick it up that many more times and do that many more shorter carries with it even though the total distance traveled with the weight is the same and the weight itself is also the same.
This is because you don't really feel it until you've put the weight down. Walking with it is easy. Recovering from the walk is the hard part. This is when you feel the pain in your hands, the fatigue in your legs, the tightness in your back, the burning in your traps, and the gasping for air from your lungs. As soon as your body senses a brief moment of relief the effort hits you like a ton of fucking bricks all at once. Every time you set the weight down life sucks ass for a few seconds. This makes it really difficult, psychologically and physically, to convince yourself to keep picking the damn things up and walking with them over and over and over. And the more times you have to do it is simply the more opportunities that your brain is going to convince you to just fucking stop. So even though the carry distance per set is shorter this is still harder to complete. So the fact that he did 23 reps in 15 minutes basically blew my mind and I had to see for myself what it felt like.
250lbs Overhead Carry. This was hard.
So I picked a random weight that I figured was roughly equivalent for me to the weight that I had assigned to my client (I like to use deadlift strength as a gauge for these) and I went for it. I told myself I wouldn't watch the clock and I wouldn't constrain myself to the 15 minutes as a hard limit. My main goal was to do the 20 carries (20yds each) for the 400 total yards and see how it felt in comparison to the way I had been doing them myself and generally assigning them to my clients. I would do it quickly, but I wouldn't kill myself to shave off a few minutes or go for a heroic time. It had to just be a part of a normal training session and something that I could repeat over and over.
As it was, I managed to do the 20 reps in 15:20 using 165lbs per hand (330lbs total) on my first go around. And it was freaking tough, but it felt damn good! I could certainly do it faster, and in the future after I get a few more rounds under my belt I'm sure I will, but it was just an overall different experience and one I now believe should be cultivated. To give you some perspective, a workout I've repeated many times is ten 20yd carries with 200lbs per hand (400lbs total) completed in 10 minutes or less (best ever time is 8:11). But that pace at that weight isn't one that I can keep up beyond those 10 carries. On the other hand, in this workout (while being completely out of practice at the exercise) I managed to do twice as many sets with a bit more than 80% of the weight in roughly 1.5x the amount of time. The main differences between the two workouts:
Here are the final 3 carries from that workout. Full video will be on my YouTube channel next week.
- During the lighter workout my lungs became more of a limiting factor than my grip and my ability to maintain my posture. My body wasn't crumbling under the weight and thus my conditioning was being challenged more than usual.
- I felt like I could maintain the pace I was working at all day long if I wanted to, whereas the heavier workout is pretty much limited to what it is because my muscles become too fatigued to keep going. I think is an important distinction that has implications both in terms of the recovery deficit it will create and the physical adaptations it will ultimately confer.
- Mental toughness played a much larger role as I knew that I physically was capable of much more (both in terms of pace and in terms total volume), but mentally it was difficult to convince myself to keep going. And staring down the barrel of the whole thing at the outset was quite daunting.
Anyway, those are just a few of the differences I noticed right away, just off the cuff observations really. I think this new protocol is going to be incredibly valuable and is going to add a whole new dynamic to my training and is basically going to add another gear to my physical capabilities. So over the next few months I'll be fleshing it out for myself and I'll be sure to report back with the results! The next day though I was reminded not ignore my farmer's walks. My quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, traps, forearms, and pretty much every single fucking muscle around the entirety of my calves and my hips were sorer than they've been in a long freaking time. You don't get this from any other exercise. I promise you. So do your damn farmer's walks!
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