Loaded Carries: The Best Exercise You’re NOT Doing

What if I told you that walking was one of the best ways to build muscle, gain strength and shred fat?


Is that something you might be interested in?


While exercises like the squat, deadlift, press, and row will always be among the best exercises to build size, strength, and slash fat, there is another basic exercise that works almost every muscle group in your body all at once; yet no one does it.


I’m talking about Loaded Carries.

What Are Loaded Carries?

Loaded carries, or farmer’s walks as they’re sometimes referred to, may be the most simple of all total body exercises. You pick up an implement, and walk with it. Now, obviously there are many variations, which we’ll talk about in a bit, but at their core, loaded carries are just walking with weights.

Don’t let the simplicity of the movement fool you however. Loaded carries are among the best total body exercises out there. World-renowned strength coach Dan John said, “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and an athlete.”

You don’t need to be an athlete or competitor to benefit from loaded carries however. Because of their versatility, loaded carries can be used by anyone, whether your goal is to get stronger, build muscle, or even lose fat. Because they require minimal equipment, anyone can add them to their training program and instantly boast their level of badassness.

Take an implement (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, etc.) and walk with it.

loaded carries

Don’t let the simplicity of the movement fool you however. Loaded carries are among the best total body exercises out there.

Congrats! You’re performing a loaded carry.

Simple right? Yet rarely do you ever see carries being performed in commercial gyms.

I’m here to change that.

There are many variations of a loaded carry, which we’ll get to in a minute. First, here are some of the benefits loaded carries (henceforth referred to as LCs) provide…

Upper Back Hypertrophy

LCs are great for packing on slabs of muscle to the upper back. These muscles are largely made up of slow-twitch fibers, which means they grow best with a lot of time under tension (TUT). LCs are perfect for this because the exercise naturally creates a lot of TUT as generally you are performing them for longer periods of time, compared to other exercises.

Shoulder Health

Another great upper body benefit of LCs is improving shoulder health through increased strength and stability. In this day and age, as more and more people are turning into the hunchback of Notre Dame, shoulder health is becoming increasingly important for improving posture and reducing pain.

LCs are great for improving shoulder health because proper execution of the exercise forces the shoulder blades to sit down and back. This position allows for more activation of the shoulder blade muscles, of course allowing for increases in strength.

Similarly, overhead carries are also great for improving shoulder health. While the loads used will be lighter, this overhead position allows for greater stability of the scapula, while also increasing core activation.

Core Strength

LCs are fantastic for building strength and stabilization through the core. According to Dr. Stuart McGill, LCs work great for training the muscles of the core (abdominal wall, external obliques, and quadratus lumborum) to create stability through the midsection. Bracing and creating tension in these muscles is necessary to maintain an upright posture.

When done unilaterally, or one-handed, you add in the anti-rotation and flexion aspect. The muscles of the trunk must work against the weight to prevent the core from rotating and flexing to that side. A strong core is the foundation for creating tension and producing power. Strengthening these muscles will help you increase your numbers in all the big lifts.

Crushing Grip Strength

There are few other exercises that are better for developing grip strength than LCs because of the amount of time spent with the weight in hand. And one of the best things about training your grip is it has a direct carryover to the rest of your training.

When it comes to exercises like deadlifts and rows, grip is often the limiting factor in how much weight your can lift. Improving your grip strength is going to allow you to lift more weight without having to resort to aids like straps.

Improved Conditioning

LCs work great for improving conditioning and as finishers at the end of a workout. As we already discussed, they use the entire body, which makes them perfect for conditioning tools. Combine that with their high intensity through the use of heavy loads, and they create the perfect metabolic environment for improving conditioning.


Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is the most popular LC variation. Grab a pair of kettlebells, dumbbells, trap bar, or special farmer’s walk implements and just walk.


Suitcase Carry

A suitcase carry simply is a farmer’s walk is done with an implement in only one hand.


Rack Walks

Usually done with kettlebells and can be performed with a single implement, or a pair. This variation is a little more challenging than a normal farmer’s walk because the anterior load forces the abs to work harder to maintain proper posture.


Waiter’s Walk

This is an overhead variation of LCs. These can also be performed as a single or double implement variation. Again, overhead carries are fantastic for shoulder health and stability.



Yoke/Barbell Walks

These are done with a yoke and is the variation that allows you to move the most weight. If you don’t have access to a yoke, they can be done with a loaded bar usually in a back, front or zercher squat position. The added challenge of this is that more balance is required because the load is larger and more spread out.



loaded carries

There are countless variations of loaded carries, and all are incredibly effective.


For Strength & Muscle Gains

LCs are great for building size and strength. But progression is key.

If strength is your main goal, work on either increasing weight or distance each week. Here’s an example:

Loaded Carries for Strength Gains –

Week 1: 80 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 4 rounds.

Week 2: 80 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 5 rounds.

Week 3: 90 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 4 rounds.

Week 4: 90 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 5 rounds.

In this example you are working on increasing the distance traveled and weight. Obviously, I don’t know how strong you are so choose a weight that is appropriate for you.

If size is your goal, then you want to focus on time under tension, gradually increasing the time spent with weight in your hand each week. So you might do something like this:

Loaded Carries for Size –

Week 1: Select a weight you can hold for approximately 20-30 seconds and walk with it. Work up to 3 minutes of TUT.

Week 2: Use the same weight as the week before, but this time, work up to 4 minutes of TUT.

Week 3: Use the same weight again, but this week, work up to 5 minutes of TUT.

Week 4: Increase the weight 5 lbs and start back at 3 minutes.

Sets will vary here, based on how long you can hold the weight.

If size and/or strength is your goal, perform LCs one day per week, either on a push day (to avoid grip-heavy pulling exercises) or on a lower body day.

For Fat Loss & Conditioning

In addition to their strength and hypertrophy benefits, LCs are a great tool for fat loss and conditioning.

First off, since LCs are a total-body exercise, the amount of muscle involved leads to a ton of calorie burning. Combine that with extended periods of work and short rest intervals and you have a fat burning cocktail.

Carries are also a great conditioning tool. Simply grab something and walk for as long as possible. Rest 1-2 minutes and then try and beat your previous time.

My favorite way to incorporate LCs into my fat loss & conditioning training is to add them as finishers to my workouts, once or twice a week. You can also pair them with other exercises for an added metabolic effect. Here is one of my favorites:

Instructions: Grab a pair of dumbbells and perform the following circuit without setting the dumbbells down. Choose a weight that is challenging yet allows you to hold the dumbbells for the entire duration of the circuit. Rest 1-2 minutes between circuits. Complete 2-3 times.

A1: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A2: Dumbbell Push press – 10 reps

A3: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A4: Bent-Over Two Dumbbell Row – 10 reps

A5: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A6: Dumbbell Reverse Lunge – 10 reps

The beauty of LCs is that they can be performed a variety of ways; there is no right or wrong. They can be done for any combination of time, weight, and distance and provide you with fantastic results.

If you want to take your training to the next level, start adding loaded carries to your program, and walk your way to gainz.

About the Author

Jorden PagelJorden is a full time coach, writer, and owner of Jorden Pagel Fitness. He has coached hundreds of clients, both online and in person, and has been featured in AskMen, BroBible, and T-Nation. His favorite hobbies include drinking coffee, spontaneous trips to Las Vegas, and helping people look great naked.