When it comes to building total-body strength, the farmer’s walk exercise is a bit underrated. Walking around the gym with heavy weights a couple times may not seem like the best way to spend the precious time you have to beef up your strength—but the move is deceptively effective.

Practicing the farmer’s walk, will not only help build strength in your arms but it will also help improve core and leg strength, supporting your efforts to become a better and faster runner. Plus, it can help with everyday activities.

What is a farmer’s walk exercise?

A farmer’s walk—also known as a farmer’s carry, suitcase carry, or loaded carry—is a type of general strength exercise in which you hold a weight or a heavy load while walking in a straight line. Seems pretty basic, right? Well, basic is not always a bad thing.

“It’s an extremely simple, but effective exercise,” says Matthew Meyer, certified personal trainer and run coach based in Denver. “All you need are [one or] two weights and some space to walk back and forth.” You can even use household items such as gallon jugs or an actual suitcase loaded with books if you don’t have weights. “Not only does this improve sports-specific areas, but also helps address weaknesses in your everyday life,” says Meyer.

The farmer’s walk is also functional because it’s an exercise that replicates daily activity. “It’s the same as holding heavy groceries after shopping, traveling with a heavy suitcase you need to carry, transporting a child in a carrier in and out of a car,” says Colleen Conlon, certified personal trainer and kettlebell specialist based in New York. “Those are all considered to be the farmer’s walks out in the wild.”

How do you perform a farmer’s walk correctly?

Form and execution are what you should focus on when performing this exercise. There are always risks when picking up heavy things, which is one main aspect of a farmer’s walk, so our experts emphasize picking up heavy objects with proper form.

“If you’re already injured, it’s best to first test yourself with bodyweight exercises to ensure they do not cause pain before adding weighted implements,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USA Track & Field certified coach, head coach of Strength Running, and host of the Strength Running podcast, based in Denver.

Below, Conlon offers guidance on how to perform the move properly.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, between two kettlebells or dumbbells.
  • Hinge at the hips, sending butt straight back, and bend knees to pick the weight(s) off the ground.
  • Use legs (not back!) to lift the weight up, driving feet into floor to stand back up.
  • Hold the weight(s) by side(s) with arms straight. Two weights will put more focus on traps, while one weight (as shown above) will add a challenge to obliques to stabilize. If need be, bend free arm and form a fist to help maintain balance.
  • Stand tall with shoulders pulled back and down, chest pulled slightly down, and pelvis tipped slightly forward. You should feel entire core engage.
  • Slowly walk forward with the weight(s). Turn around and walk back to start.

    When performing the farmer’s walk, it’s important to stand tall with good posture, and to move slowly with integrity and intention. “This is not an exercise where you’re trying to run or speed walk because posture is of utmost importance here, and when you go too fast, your mechanics can start to change,” explains Conlon.

    What muscles does a farmer’s walk target?

    It might seem like this exercise is working the arms, because they’re holding onto the weights (and it does hit these muscles), but the focus is on the core and legs. “It’s fantastic for general strength before more sport-specific or explosive exercises as it strengthens nearly the entire body,” says Fitzgerald. “And because it’s done while walking, it’s a very functional exercise that can improve postural stability and core strength.”

    What are the benefits of a farmer’s walk for runners?

    The farmer’s walk works nearly every muscle group in the body but particularly the leg, core, and shoulder muscles. “By focusing on the legs and deep stabilizing muscles of the core, farmer’s walks can help runners stay healthy and prevent injuries, explains Fitzgerald.

    When we think about how we run, your core is at the center of all the work your arms and legs are doing. “Having that strong foundation is key,” says Meyer. “Working with those heavier weights also simulates that ‘heavy’ feeling we get later in a longer run where our posture and form tend to fail.” If you recreate this feeling and work to strengthen your muscles, you’ll be better able to handle it and run stronger through it.

    “Farmer’s walks [help runners] prevent injuries by becoming generally stronger with tougher connective tissues,” adds Fitzgerald.

    How do you add a farmer’s walk to your workouts?

    Fitzgerald recommends runners start trying the farmer’s walk with moderately heavy weights that they can lift and walk with for up to one minute. Complete 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 20 steps whenever you lift weights (aim for about twice per week). You can incorporate into any strength workout, from total-body to core focused.

    Ready to give it a try? Keep these tips from Meyer in mind as you do.

    • Stand up straight and tall
    • Choose a challenging weight
    • Engage core
    • Keep shoulders back and down, away from ears, and chest tall
    • Look straight ahead
    • Don’t overstep

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