Loaded Carries: The Best Exercise You’re Not Doing

(A version of this article originally appeared on Roman Fitness Systems)

In my never-ending quest to help the masses shred fat, build muscle, and get stronger, I often come across a seemingly universal hole in people’s training programs; one that’s so simply to fill you wonder why there’s even a hole in the first place.

How simple, you ask? It’s as simple as placing one foot in front of the other.

Walking…it’s literally walking.

“But Jorden…I walk all the time.” you may be thinking to yourself, or screaming at your computer screen.

And that’s fantastic. Walking is a great way to relax, de-stress, improve blood flow and recovery, and burn a few (emphasis on a few) extra calories.

But I’m not talking about your regular ol’ stroll through the park, or 30-minute treadmill session. No, I’m talking about some next-level badassery here. A form of walking so awesome that it can help slash ridiculous amounts of fat, strengthen every muscle in your body, and turn you into a super-human freak-beast.

 

For more on becoming a super-human freak-beast, grab my 4-week Power Look training program.

 

I’m talking of course, about Loaded Carries.

 

WHAT ARE LOADED CARRIES?

 

Loaded carries were popularized by world-renowned strength coach Dan John, who calls them a “game changer” and believes that they should be a regular part of any athlete or strength competitors training program.

But you don’t have to be an athlete or strongman to reap the benefits of loaded carries. Because they require minimal equipment, anyone can add them to their training program and instantly boost their level of badassness.

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

Congrats! You’re performing a loaded carry.

Simple right? Yet loaded carries are a vastly underutilized exercise. Rarely do you ever see them being performed in commercial gyms. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a trainer in a commercial gym helping their clients to perform them, which is even sadder.

But fret not. We’re here to change that today.

There are many variations of loaded carries, which we’ll get to in a minute. First, let’s breakdown the loaded carry and look at what makes it such an effective exercise.

 

The Lowdown on Loaded Carries

 

If you’re all about “functional exercise”, it’s hard to get more functional than loaded carries. You are literally picking things up and walking with them; something we do multiple times each day

Functionality aside, loaded carries are a great bang-for-your-buck exercise. They work nearly every muscle in your body, improving strength, stability, and conditioning all at once.

 

Starting at the top

Loaded carries are great for working the muscles of the upper back. These muscles are mostly made up of slow-twitch fibers, which means they grow best with a lot of time under tension (TUT). Carries require you to hold weight for an extended period of time, creating an enormous amount of tension on these muscles.

Loaded carries are also great for creating healthy shoulders. This is because when you carry something, it allows the shoulder blade to sit back in a natural position and activate the muscles surrounding it. This helps improve posture and stability.

 

Death grip

Improved grip strength is another great benefit of loaded carries. If you want to develop a crushing grip, incorporating these into your program will help. This also has a direct carryover to the rest of your training. The stronger your grip, the more weight you can lift, as grip is often the limiting factor in a lot of exercises. Plus the forearm pump is amazing!

 

Strong Core

Lastly, loaded carries are amazing for building strength and stability through your core muscles. In order to maintain proper posture during a carry, the abs, obliques, quadratus lumborum, and hips all must work together to create a stable trunk. Bracing and creating tension in these muscles is necessary to maintain an upright posture.

When performed unilaterally, you add in the anti-rotation and flexion aspect as well. The muscles of the trunk must work against the weight to prevent the core from rotating and flexing to that side, thus building unilateral strength.

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.

 

VARIATIONS

 

Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is the most popular and basic loaded carry 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. Here are a few rack walk variations:

 

 

Waiter’s Walks

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

 

 

Barbell Walks

Barbell walks are 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.

 

 

 

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Walks

This loaded carry variation is great for developing shoulder stability. Looks simple, but it’s not. This variation forces the muscles of the rotator cuff to work extra hard to keep the shoulder and arm in a stable position.

 

PROGRAMMING

 

For Strength & Muscle Gain

 Loaded carries 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 loaded carries 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, loaded carries are a great tool for fat loss and conditioning.

First off, since loaded carries 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 loaded carries 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 loaded carries 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 gains.

 

 

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