Walking is the most basic exercise there is, and there’s no other move as renowned for helping to keep us all in shape. However, if you walk carrying weights, walking goes from being an easy task for most people to perform to a challenging strengthening exercise.
Also known as the farmer’s carry, loaded carry, and loaded walk, the farmer’s walk exercise keeps all the simplicity of walking, but also adds the difficulty of holding weights while you do it. Because walking is a cardio move and carrying weights is a strengthening act, you’ll get the benefits of both with the farmer’s walk. Curious about how to perform it? Read on to get input from trainers Brooke Emory and Chloe Ting on what makes the farmer’s walk a great workout move, how to do it safely, and how to modify it for all levels.
What Is the Farmer’s Walk?
The farmer’s walk is the act of walking while holding weights. These weights are generally held in your hands, and Ting tells us that to do them, “you can use kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells (in a back rack position) or even a trap deadlift bar.” A deadlift bar would be held behind your head, but all other forms of weights are carried directly in your hands.
Useful for both building cardio endurance and strengthening many areas of your body, the move couldn’t be simpler. Emory says that the farmer’s walk is simply “walking in a straight line with a fully engaged body position, with your arms by your side carrying two heavy loads in each hand for a designated distance.” You’ll need more space to do this move than just a mat, but it doesn’t need to be a full gym; you can walk back and forth in a small room if that’s all that’s available to you.
Benefits of the Farmer’s Walk
The biggest benefit of the farmer’s walk is that it’s a functional movement. “It is a movement that you do in your daily life such as carrying heavy groceries,” says Emory. Weights are easier to carry than groceries in that they’re less cumbersome, but performing this move will still help you do that better, as you’ll be directly working the same muscles.
Beyond their functionality, farmer’s walks build both cardio endurance and strength. Ting says that they “help to develop a strong core and posterior chain in one single movement,” and that your “proprioception is also enhanced in view that you are walking with a load while maintaining a braced-core position.” Emory notes that they are a “great way to cross-train and build strength between cycling workouts” for those who are cyclists, as walking with weights will improve leg strength, too.
Proper Farmer’s Walk Form
- Choose the weights you want to use. For beginners, these should be light weights you can easily hold in your hands. Emory suggests dumbbells for beginners because they’re the easiest to grip. Place the weights at your feet. Ting recommends you ensure that “the weights you use are of equal weight on both sides.”
- Move your feet to hip-width apart and pick up the weights. “Bend your knees, shoot your hips back, keep your spine completely flat, and deadlift your weights by standing up straight,” says Emory. “Once you stand up, firmly grip the weights and engage all body parts. Squeeze your glutes and quads, suck your belly button to your spine, relax your shoulders, and pinch your shoulder blades together.”
- Once in position, begin to walk forward in a straight line. Do not swing your arms or move your head. Ting says that your steps should be short but quick, and you should keep the weights gripped tightly.
- Walk the number of steps chosen for your set, then stop. “Place the weights down the same way you picked them up (reverse deadlift),” says Emory. Rest for at least one minute in between sets.
How to Modify
For beginners who find two weights to be too heavy, Ting recommends that you start with a single weight instead. To do so, “hold a single dumbbell or a kettlebell in a goblet position in front of your chest, stand tall, and walk with your core engaged and back braced,” she instructs. “To practice form, you can even use no weights and keep your hands in a tight fist,” says Emory.
If these feel too easy for you, “you can always make it more challenging or strengthen different muscles by using different weights such as kettlebells or plates,” says Emory. “If you are an expert, you can even hold two different weights, forcing you to work your obliques so you don’t tilt to one side.” Alternately, for another extra-challenging move, Ting recommends a Zercher Carry. “Using an empty barbell to begin, support it/carry it in the crook of your arms so your biceps are further engaged. Walk either a fixed distance or for a fixed time. Consider doing it in sets of five, with a 1:1 rest ratio.”
Farmer’s Walks vs. Deadlifts
There’s no workout move exactly like the farmer’s walk, but it can be considered somewhat similar to a deadlift since a deadlift is part of the farmer’s walk set up. Deadlifts, which are the act of picking up a weight off the ground, standing up fully with it, then lowering it back down to the ground, also work your posterior chain. Farmer’s walks do more for you from a cardio perspective, and they also will work your grip strength, abs, and core, and are helpful for shoulder stability.
Because this is a functional move similar to one you do regularly, this exercise is generally considered safe for all people to do. “If done with proper technique and progression, as well as scaling the weights used and distance walked, it is safe for all people to do,” says Ting.
As for whether anyone should avoid farmer’s walks, anyone with an injury should first be fully recovered before trying them, so as to avoid further injury. For the rest of us, injury can be avoided provided you utilize proper form. “Common faults include a rounded spine instead of keeping it neutral—resulting in lower back injuries especially if the weights used are heavy, particularly when they are picked up off the floor and toward the end of the walk when the walker is tired,” says Ting. “Another common fail is raising shoulders towards your ears, straining the neck.”
The Final Takeaway
Farmer’s walks are the act of walking while carrying weights. These weights are generally gripped in your hands and are typically dumbbells or kettlebells. For more advanced exercisers, weight plates can be held in your hands instead, or you can place a deadlift bar behind your shoulders.
This is a functional move that improves your cardio endurance because of the walking, while simultaneously building strength through your legs, core, and posterior chain. Anyone who can walk can do farmer’s walks, and they can be modified by using lighter or heavier weights. If you’re looking for a simple workout move that yields excellent results, it’s the perfect move to try.