Why You Need to Be Doing Regular Farmer’s Carries

It's the most functional move in fitness. Full stop.

A farmer walking with two baskets of chicken eggs. This exercise move, called the farmer's carry, can be replicated in real life or the gym.
It's a fitness powerhouse with direct analogues in daily life.
Getty Images/Image Source

Every time I go to the grocery store, I make the same mistake.

I decide I might as well pick up a new carton of milk, or go too crazy on frozen packets of fried rice, or get distracted by a deal on a pineapple. Then I proceed to walk home with a full backpack and two sagging totes. My apartment is four or five blocks farther away from the store than you’d want, and these trips back are punctuated with frequent breaks and epithets.

Last week, in order to get through the journey, I turned on “Fighting Stronger,” from the original Creed album, one of those ludicrous pump-up tracks with an orchestra, a kids’ choir and Meek Mill. I went 12 rounds with my bags of navel oranges and came out victorious.

After years of these burdensome walks, there are two key takeaways I often return to:

  • Ultimately, carrying groceries is annoyingly good for me.
  • But if it remains this hard for me — a younger, long-distance-running, fitness-writer guy — it must feel impossible for people two, three or four decades my senior.
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Why farmer’s carries matter

The core “move” at the center of this challenge is the farmer’s carry, which involves holding weights in each hand. It’s the most effective way to carry heavy stuff over long distances; and it takes its name from the to-do lists of farmhands: walking around with water pails or hay bales in either hand all day long.

With pushcarts and cars available, many people (young or old) are probably pretty adept at dodging the grocery edition of a farmer’s carry. But it’s a worthy enterprise that can help you build muscle and self-confidence, with a reward that’s better than it sounds: the chance to carry more stuff, for longer.

After all, there will always be things in need of carrying: furniture, gardening pots, holiday decorations, grandchildren. Retaining your wherewithal to hoist these things also means retaining your senses of purpose and independence.

As functional as it gets

Farmer’s carries should be a regular component of your fitness routine. They’re as “functional” as fitness gets, capable of activating often-ignored stabilizer muscles, torching the core and strengthening the lower back (an area that decades of desk days do a number on).

Plus, they can turbocharge your grip strength, which has gotten long overdue credit recently as a crucial biomarker of healthy aging and longevity. A firm grip is not only indicative of strong hands and forearms but also of good heart health, cognitive function and overall strength.

Getting started

To be clear, you don’t need to go to the gym to practice farmer’s carries. You can make a point to seek out the move in your daily life — or simply use bags/objects/items from around the house.

But if you’re inclined to build up comfort with the move (and your strength, in kind) at the gym, all you need are two weights — these could be dumbbells, kettlebells, or even buckets filled with sand or water. Stand tall between the weights, squat down to pick them up and then walk. Aim to carry the weights for a distance of about 30-50 feet. Repeat this for three to five sets. Remember, it’s important to keep your back straight and shoulders back throughout the movement.

What we love about the move: It creates “scalable” workouts, and you can adjust the weight according to your capacity, allowing for continuous progress and challenge. That also makes it highly accessible from the jump. No weight is too small! Next time you head to the grocery store, you’ll feel empowered to buy the watermelon.

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