the essential lift for strength and muscle farmers carry

The Essential Lift For Strength and Muscle

“I ask not for a lighter burden but for broader shoulders.”

The loaded carry is as human as squatting in the woods to poop.

We’ve been carrying heavy loads in various ways as long as we’ve been interacting with our environment, wether that heavy thing be a fresh kill from the hunt, moving supplies for structures or carrying around our children.

Our modern world affords many of us the luxury of not having to involve ourselves in strenuous labor, which means for many, the heaviest things they’ll carry will be their groceries.

And this is a real shame.

The carry is a essential primal exercise that teaches you how to affect the world around you while making you much more resilient.

The loaded carry will make you stronger, improve your stamina and help you age well.

Why you need to do loaded carries


Carries are an excellent full body strength exercise.

They will work almost every muscle in the body simultaneously and under a shifting load, so you get the added benefit of engaging many of the various stabilizer muscles in the hips, shoulders, and core, in addition to keeping the prime movers under immense tension.

There is a particular benefit to grip strength when using the famers and suitcase variations, as well, you know, because you’re holding something heavy in your hand for a long distance.


Since carries are often performed over a set distance, or for a set duration of time, you will be taxed. You will be spent. It will feel like you just performed hill sprints. This is good.

The carry will increase your ability to perform work and will redefine what you feel your limits are.


When done correctly, mindfully and not for pure ego (hey, I get it, I do it too), the carries are of particular benefit to your postural and core muscles. Your entire body will be strained and you’ll be challenged to maintain an upright position. This will carry over to a large extent to your other lifts and to your daily life.

the essential lift for strength and muscle farmers carry

Types of loaded carries

There are 3 main varieties of carries and several mixed variations. For further fun, any of these variations can be combined with a sled. I’ll cover those variations in part two.

All of the variations can be done as a single side or double loaded variation. I recommend starting with double loaded carries as they’re more stable and will require less overall coordination.

The single implement carry will much more demanding to your core and stabilizer muscles, as you’re trying to fight the offset load with every, grueling step.

As you you progress in these variations you can then go back to the double variations as you’ll be able to lift and carry more total weight. Literally every implement in the gym (or junk yard for that matter) can be used to carry; weight plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, med balls, atlas stones, kegs, hex bars, swiss-bars, lifting partners and of course, farmers handles.

You can get pretty creative, as long as the thing you are carrying is heavy enough to be challenging.


Implements held at the side of the body, heaviest loading of the carries.


Implements carried in a racked position. Very challenging to the anterior core. Medicine ball and sandbag, bear hug carries would fall into this categories as well


Specific to stones, bags, or kegs, the implement is carried on the shoulder or traps.


Implement carried in a locked out position overhead. Great for rebuilding strength and health in beat up shoulders.

Setting up the carry


Posture is Everything for loaded carries. Treat these exercises as walking planks. So often I see lifters sacrifice posture to carry more load, and it’s literally counter productive.

Here’s your posture checklist:

  1. Keep you head up, don’t look down
  2. Keep your chest big and your shoulder down.
  3. Don’t allow yourself to sway from side to side, especially with the single implement carries.


For the farmers and suitcase carry variations the lift can be very taxing to the grip. This is one time I advocate against the use of straps. By nature the farmers carry is self-limiting, that if you can’t pick it up, you can’t carry it, if you can’t hold it, you can’t carry it.

It is okay to take a mini pause in your set and to put the implement down to rest your grip before picking the weight back up again.

I do recommend the use of chalk if available.

the essential lift for strength and muscle carry

How to use loaded carries in your workouts

Carries can be included either in the beginning or the end of your training session.

If you’re trying to get crazy strong in the carry, use it 1st before your other lifting for the day. Keep in mind that if you’re going particularly heavy, your other lifts will suffer for the session.

You can also include them at the end of your session either solo or with other lifts as a finisher for the day.

You could also opt to use them once or twice a week on your non lifting days in place of more traditional cardio training.

Guidelines for before lifting training:

2-3 sets per session.

2 times a week.

.5 – 2.0 x body weight.

50 to 100 feet (you can increase the distance over time, but you’ll gain more benefit from just increasing the load).

Rest as needed

Guidelines for carries as a finisher:

5-10 sets

Combine with 1 or more other exercise (kettlebell swings, push ups, ab work, etc).

.5 – 1.0 BW (keep them med heavy instead of grueling).

50 to 100 feet.

Rest very little.

So, next time your at the gym, don’t just pick that thing up, pick it up and carry it.

About the Author

Brendan Cabral is the owner of Thrive Athletics Online Personal Training. He’s invested over a decade helping non gym rats and those new to fitness fall in love with strength training. He’s a strong nerd, great squatter, even better kettlebell swinger, and old school martial artist. Find him through his website or on Instagram.