The Farmers Walk: Why You Should Do Them
Article by Drew Spriggs
“A few more steps”, you think to yourself, willing your feet to keep moving. Your arms are being pulled out of their sockets, your forearms on fire. Not being able to breathe properly, you take the step. “Just keep moving, don’t fucking let go”. You feel a callous rip, but know that’s no excuse to stop now. Your vision narrows, but you don’t care about anything else apart from making it over that line. Step by step you close the gap, just as your grip gives out. Dropping the implements you take your first proper breath in thirty seconds, immediately feel light headed and have to sit down before you pass out. The pain in your entire upper body doesn’t matter; your bleeding palm doesn’t matter; all that matters is you just dominated one of the most primal, brutal “exercises” in existence – the Farmers Walk (ie picking heavy shit up and moving it somewhere else).
The Farmers Walk, or a variant thereof, has been a staple daily occurrence in farming communities across the world for decades. It is one of the most “functional” exercises around, purely because of the fact it was a necessity in daily life – carrying buckets of water from the well, carrying animals to a market, moving tools and implements around the farm are all similar movements to an event that has now become a staple of World’s Strongest Man since 1983. So why is an exercise so basic so effective at burning fat, gaining muscle and giving the athlete a heap of strength?
I hate getting schooled by 8 yearr old Chinese women on something I pay money to do.
The basic premise of the farmers walk is simple – pick up something heavy in one or both hands, then carry it for a set distance or time. It might be because it is so simple that it has fallen out of favour in the modern age of shiny new machines promising to ‘blast’ your fat right off your body. The Farmers Walk puts the majority of muscles in your body under major amounts of tension for the duration of the exercise – your forearms control your grip on the implement, both biceps and triceps stabilize. Your entire upper back has to work against pulling your shoulders down and your chest crumbling, your core has to work to keep you from folding in half, your legs are need to walk and your cardiovascular system takes a beating. Performing a maximum weight or distance Farmers Walk once a week will make you stronger (especially for locking out deadlifts and staying upright while squatting), as well as massively improving your grip strength (no more straps for deadlifts), increasing cardiovascular fitness (due to the high intensity and long period of maximal exertion), while also adding full body muscle (as the whole exercise is superior for the age old bodybuilding adage, time under tension). Unlike a barbell lift, strength is required to move a dynamic load through all dimensions, leading you to use stabilising muscles that would normally be missed, and promoting greater muscle synergy (all your muscles working together at once). So how do you perform this relatively uncommon but hugely beneficial exercise?
decide what implement is available for you to carry. In most gyms you will be limited to dumbbells which will work fine for maximum distance/time training, but for maximum weight you will need some sort of Farmers Walk specific implement – these can vary from a loadable handle, to an anvil with handles welded on top or even a decently built trap bar to emulate a frame carry). Once you’ve got your implement sorted (ideally you’d want to start around 50% of bodyweight per hand, this will differ person to person though), chalk up, grab your weapon of choice and stand up. You want to be standing tall, with your shoulders neutral and back (exactly the same position you should be locking out deadlifts in) and letting the implement hang by your side. Now start walking while keeping your neck neutral and your eyes up, making sure to keep your chest high, hips forward and shoulders back. It will be beneficial to wear a belt, if so you will really need to focus on taking smaller breaths so you can keep your intra-abdominal pressure consistent. Take small but fast steps, trying to move as fast as possible without losing control of the implements or allowing your chest to fold in half. Once you feel your grip giving away, place the implement down (as gently as possible, especially if you’re in a commercial gym!), take a few minutes breather and then go again, repeating a few times dependent on your goals for that session. Once you have gotten the hang of the exercise over a few sessions, you can start increasing the weight or increasing the distance, depending on your goal of maximal strength (great for a strongman competitor) or maximal distance (for those interested in general fitness). When going for maximum weight run, often the hardest part will be the pickup – if this is the case, it may be beneficial to just lift the implement loaded to around 80-90% of your max, hold for 5 seconds, then put down and repeat for 3-5 reps to train for a stronger pickup until grip becomes a limiting factor in what you can carry for 15-20m. For an extra hard maximum distance session, allow yourself a maximum number of drops and after each one, take 10 seconds break, then pick up and keep going – this will be extra hard on your entire body, so I would limit this to once a month or so.
For the competitive strongman, it is beneficial to train with multiple implements under multiple conditions if possible; you won’t always have the benefit of handles with a high pickup, knurled grips and smooth concrete to walk on. Adding in static holds at the end, dividing your path up into smaller ‘runs’ with turns at each end, or walking on grass will greatly increase the difficulty and better prepare your body for whatever might be thrown at you in a competition. A ‘gym-strong’ Farmers Walk is generally bodyweight per hand for a distance of 20m/60’, and this is what you will see in most novice strongman comps. To be elite level strength, you would ideally want to be up around 1.5x bodyweight in each hand, this will obviously be easier to achieve the smaller you are!
Summing up, loaded carries are one of the most beneficial movements you can do if you’re limited to what events you can train (as there will almost always be something to carry), and will give you massive benefits in all areas of your lifting career regardless of what sport you’re into.
Drew Spriggs is a competitive powerlifter and strongman, who realized that strength training had a massive positive effect on other areas of his life. After realizing he was much better at teaching others how to be lift than lifting himself, he decided to step down off the platform and create Dreadnought Strength – an online and in-person coaching business that dedicates itself to allowing regular people to experience the trans formative power of strength training. He is available for online coaching from Starting Strongman, and in-person coaching through Granite PT.”
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