Sweat is pouring into your eyes, your traps are on fire, your forearms are screaming and you’re doing your best just to take a few more steps without falling down or dropping anything. When you wake up the next morning, your abs and lats scream in protest as you try to get out of bed.
Welcome to farmer carries.
Farmer carries, or farmer walks whatever you want to call them, are one of those simple exercises that will very quickly make you hate life, provided you’re doing them correctly. Often I’ll see people doing farmer walks with fairly light dumbbells.
Farmer carries should be done with the heaviest piece of iron you can find. Done properly, a farmer walk will challenge your entire body. You have to stabilize this freaking heavy ass weight, while walking, while fighting the entire time to keep your chest upright, all without dropping the weights or falling down yourself. Your entire body will have to work if you’re doing these properly. If you don’t go heavy, the exercise becomes rather pointless as you’re not challenging your body in any sort of meaningful way.
Not only are they nearly as good as deadlifts for building raw, brute strength, big lats and traps; they’re also good for increasing cardiovascular endurance, dropping fat as well as making your shoulders bulletproof. As I said before, your entire body has to work in unison to keep you upright as you move; it’s a humongous challenge to the heart and lungs. In fact, few exercises are as effective at both increasing your cardiovascular fitness as well as your strength at the same time.
As far as the shoulders, there are a few reasons why farmer carries are beneficial. First, there is a direct correlation between grip strength and shoulder health; the stronger your grip, the stronger your shoulder and vice versa. There are few exercises that work your grip more than farmer carries. Second, when you pick up something very heavy in your hand, your shoulder stabilizer muscles automatically contract to prevent the shoulder from being pulled out of its socket. This is a much more direct strength training effect than the typical band exercises you see people doing (not that they don’t have their place).
If you’re new to lifting, the easiest way to start is pick up a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells and walk anywhere from 25 feet to 25 yards. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. As you get stronger, you’ll eventually outgrow the dumbbells and will want to use either trap bars or dedicated farmer handles. In either case, varying the weight and the distance are the key to building up this exercise; you can go relatively light for long distance to relatively heavy for short distance. Vary what you do throughout your week or your training cycles.