The "Farmer's Walk" Exercise Benefits Your Full-Body Strength
It's the epitome of a functional training move.
While a “farmer’s walk” may look like you’re just carrying weights back to the rack, it’s actually an incredibly helpful exercise that anyone can do, whether you have big lifting goals or simply want to struggle less whilst carrying in a heavy Trader Joe’s haul.
The farmer’s walk exercise — also known as the farmer’s carry — is a super simple but effective move you can do for full-body conditioning and strength, says Kathryn Alexander, M.Ed., a clinical exercise physiologist. “It involves picking up two weights, and with straight extended arms, walking for a certain distance or time,” she tells Bustle. “It is simple, effective, easily adjustable, and can benefit everybody.”
The move works your arms and shoulders by requiring you to hold and support the weight, explains Matt Scarfo, a NASM-certified personal trainer. “Your forearms get a particular workout by challenging your grip,” he says. “Next, your shoulders and upper back get a great stability exercise by holding your chest up and keeping your shoulders in the socket.” It also works your abs as you hold the weights steady, and it strengthens the legs — particularly the calves — and your glutes thanks to the extra load you carry while walking, Scarfo says.
Since this move translates to everyday life, it is considered a functional exercise. “This is a movement you’ll do regularly in your daily life, so training it can help ensure that you can do it safely and efficiently whenever you need to,” Scarfo says. Ready to tote some weights across the room? Then read on below for everything you need to know about the farmer’s walk.
How To Do A Farmer’s Walk Exercise
Here, Alexander explains how to do a farmer’s walk properly.
- Choose your weights. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, or even farmer’s carry handles made specifically for this lift.
- Stand with your weights on each side of your feet.
- Inhale deeply and bend your hips and knees to lower down.
- Keep your spine straight, grip your weights, and drive your legs into the ground to fully stand up.
- With the weights at your sides, walk forward with smooth steps.
- You can choose your distance by what is available to you, how heavy the weight is, or your training goal, Alexander notes. For example, if you are trying to increase your weight in the farmer’s carry, you might go a shorter distance but increase the weight each time.
- Feel it out and increase the weight moderately on the next run. Each time you practice the farmer’s carry, you can compare to your previous session and increase the weight or distance or time for a greater challenge.
How To Modify The Farmer’s Walk
To make sure your farmer’s carry is just tough enough, be sure to use dumbbells or kettlebells that feel challenging but not to a point where you have to strain. “If you’re shrugging, rushing through the carry, or feeling your grip fail, use lighter weight,” Scarfo says. Not sure if you’re shrugging? DJ Zmachinski, a Life Time Personal Trainer and Alpha Coach, recommends doing a farmer’s carry in front of a mirror so you can check your form.
As you get stronger, you can make this move harder by using heavier weights, walking a bit further, or by lifting the weights up to your shoulders, Zmachinski says. You could also challenge your grip by pinching a weight plate between your fingers, Alexander says.
It’s also an option to do a “suitcase carry” with only one weight in one hand. “As you walk, you’ll be pulled towards the side of your body loaded by the weight,” Scarfo says. “Keep your torso straight for a unique oblique challenge that will light up your core.”
Common Mistakes To Avoid
Once you pick up the weights, your instinct might be to scurry across the room because you want to get the exercise over with, but Scarfo suggests slowing down. “Rushing will open you up for injury by decreasing the stability of your carry,” he says.
It may also be tempting to get “sloppy” as you get used to the move, says Alexander. “Even if you know you can handle the weight easily, perhaps on a warm-up set, treat it with respect,” she says. “Engage your whole torso, keep your back neutral, and stand up with the weights as you would a heavy deadlift.”
As Scarfo says, “The farmer’s carry should be a challenging, but gentle movement that you can do frequently without getting too sore.” Incorporate it into your workout routine for increased overall strength — strength that you’ll be able to show off next time you’re carrying all the grocery bags.
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Stastny, P. 2015. Thigh Muscles Strength Ratio and Their Relation to Electromyography Amplitude During a Farmer's Walk Exercise. J Hum Kinet. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2015-0016.
Kathryn Alexander, M.Ed., clinical exercise physiologist
Matt Scarfo, NASM-certified personal trainer
DJ Zmachinski, Life Time Personal Trainer, Alpha Coach