The hardest part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but do not worry, I’ve got your back, front and grip.

This is part five (carry) of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you’ve missed the previous parts, please click on the links below.

Squats

Pulls

Pushes

Hinge

Part five – Carry

Groundwork

Part Five- Carry

Think about how many times per week you carry stuff around in your hands. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  Twice, five, ten times?  Now doesn’t it make sense to train this ability in the gym to make your life easier and stronger? 

The Benefits of Carries

For a simple but not easy exercise, the carry has many benefits including,

  • Improved Posture. Trying to carry heavy weights with rounded shoulders and poor posture is almost impossible.
  • Better Breathing Patterns. It’s hard to be a chest breather when you’re carrying heavy weights in your hands.
  • Improve Shoulder Stability. Your rotator cuffs will work like crazy to keep your arms in their sockets.
  • Better balance. Every step of the farmer’s walk is a single leg stance.

They are quite possibly the biggest bang for your buck exercise, providing many benefits and are relatively simple to perform. Notice I said simple, not easy. 

The carry variations listed below go from easy to more difficult. If you’ve never performed this movement before, please start at the beginning and progress slowly. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next challenge.

Programming Suggestions

For the dumbbell carries start with a load of 25% of your body weight in each hand and for the barbell (two-handed) carries start with 40-50% of your total bodyweight unless noted otherwise.

You should be able to carry the weight for 20-40 yards without losing your grip. If walking 40 yards is easy, the weight is too light and if you cannot walk a least 20 yards, the weight is too heavy. Please adjust accordingly.

Doing one or two sets as part of your warmup works well but when including it in your main training, doing it early on and pairing it with an exercise that doesn’t require a lot of grip strength works best. For example,

1A. Dumbbell bench press

1B. Dumbbell farmers carry

1. Dumbbell farmers carry

Just think of this exercise as carrying the groceries in from the car except the groceries are heavy. The exercise cues that work best here are shoulders down, chest up and hold on tight. But if you want to think sexy, walk like a supermodel.

Out of all the dumbbell carry variations, this is the one in which you can use the most weight. But be warned these will become a mental battle because you will fight the urge to drop the weight and cuss, but don’t do it because there is a grandma beside you warming up with your max.

Better not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.

2. Suitcase carry

Although this variation obviously uses less weight, the offset load makes it more difficult to maintain upright posture because you’ll tend to tilt to one side to counteract it. When performing, check your posture in the mirror to check if your shoulders are even.

Please make sure to do both sides or you’ll be walking around in circles the rest of the day. 😊 If you wake up with sore sides, you have done this exercise right.

3. Goblet carry

Holding the weight under your chin and by the chest adds extra emphasis to your shoulders, biceps, upper back, and your six-pack muscles but it’s a little easier on the grip. Think of this and all carry variations as a walking front plank. If you’re doing it right, your whole body will be screaming.

Performing with good posture is essential because tilting forward could mean dropping the weight and ending up on a workout fail video on YouTube. And you don’t want that.  

4. Rack carry

Dumbbell rack carry

Kettlebell rack carry

These are similar exercises; it depends on what equipment you have access too. This variation hammers your upper back region which is essential for good posture and for good technique for a lot of the exercises described in this series.

There is a tendency to lean back and arch the low back to support the rack. This is not good.  Offset this by breathing all the air out of your lungs and keep your shoulders down and chest up.  But be warned, other gym goers may admire your rack.

5. Overhead carry

Note- This can be performed with dumbbell, kettlebells, and weight plates. All have the same benefits.

All the carries will build your overall strength, burn fat, build muscle, grip strength, and enhance your results.  However, the overhead barbell carry is the cherry on top in the world of carries. Every single step is a challenge.  One false step and you, the barbell and the floor become one.

Be sure to start with an empty barbell and then experiment with a load that you can carry for 20 and 40 yards. And remember, a little fear in your training can be a motivating experience.

Wrapping up

This exercise does it all. It builds muscle and strength, enhances cardiovascular endurance and it will turn you into a person who no one wants to mess with, including Chuck Norris. Just kidding. Chuck fears no one. 

If you’re looking for an exercise program to start after a layoff or if you’ve never lifted weights before, I have a 6-week program called ‘Get Back In the Saddle’ that will give you a fantastic exercise foundation to build on.

It can be purchased HERE.

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