Which Carry Will Build Muscle Where You Want It?

By | February 18, 2019

You’ve been there before. You pick up a bag of groceries and figure you can walk them from your car to your house pretty easily. Thing is, when you put the groceries down in your house, you’re tired.

Why? Because you just did a tougher workout than you expected. You accidentally did an exercise called a loaded carry, and quickly learned that simply walking with a large load can sometimes be a worthy challenge that can build muscle, burn fat, and make you stronger.

Yet somehow, in the gym, the loaded carry is one of the most underutilized workout moves there is. It doesn’t have to be that way for you, though. Learning how and when to use loaded carries can easily transform your workout regimen, and help you finally get the training results you want.

What is a loaded carry?

Loaded carries are a very general term for a vast group of moves. The moves are all pretty simple: You are holding an external load and moving it from one point to another. This sounds primitive in the grand scheme of fitness: You’re picking something heavy up, moving it somewhere, then putting it down. And in truth, it is simple, but the benefits are staggering.

Strong man is doing cross training exercise

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You’re tapping a host of muscles. Start with the shoulders, where the rotator cuff is called into action to complete its primary responsibility, stabilizing your shoulder joint. Heavy weights are pulling your shoulders down, so the rotator cuff needs to kick in to insure the heavy weight doesn’t pull your arm out of its natural placement. Your scapula is also naturally depressed down, adding some eccentric pull to your upper traps while forcing your lower traps into action, too.

And your core muscles are on fire. Moving with weight wakes up a host of core muscles (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques) to stabilize your midsection, ultimately avoiding any unwanted turning, torque, or bending. (There are, of course, many ways to train your core muscles. To master one classic version, the plank, check out this training video.)

Lastly, most locomotive movements begin with the feet. Extra weight challenges the foot and ankle complex to stabilize and function as usual under extreme duress.

Your Keys to Loaded Carries

The move is simple, but don’t make the mistake of picking up whatever you want and using it. Keep the following factors in mind.

Placement matters

Where the weight sits is very important. Holding weight on one side only will challenge your core, while holding dumbbells or any load with both arms will evenly pull downward on the body.

Load style matters

Different objects will challenge your body in different ways. Kettlebells will pull directly down on your body. Barbells will challenge your wrist and forearm stability, if you hold one in each hand. Hex bars let you use larger loads, but because they’re each a giant piece, they won’t challenge your core stability quite as much. Choose a load style that will help you achieve your goals.

Height on the body matters

Feeding his physique some cold steel

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You don’t just need to hold weights at your sides. You can also hold weights at your shoulders (known as the racked position), or even hold weights overhead, performing so-called “waiter’s carries.” Each move has its challenges. In general, as weight moves closer to overhead, your core stability faces increased challenges.

Which Loaded Carry is for you?

Rarely do you find a movement that can be a powerlifting basic, a metabolic finisher, and a rehab move all at once. But that’s the magic of the loaded carry. This move really should be in every routine. The question: What carry is best for your training goal?

For Conditioning: Hex Bar Farmer’s Carries

If you are looking to challenge your system to its limits, this is your move. You have a stable piece, so your core isn’t challenged, but you get to load up on weight and elevate the stress on your body.

How to: Start with a loaded hex bar. Lift it off the ground with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your hands at your sides, walk forward. Aim to cover at least 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.

For Shoulder Strength: Farmer’s Walks

Use dumbbells or kettlebells for this one. Now you’re walking with individual weights in each hand; this makes each arm (and shoulder) do their own work. You’ll really challenge your shoulder girdle with these.

How to: Start with relatively heavy dumbbells. Pick both up. Once you are standing, slowly walk forward while maintaining control of the weights, hands at your sides. Cover 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.

For Core Strength: Racked Carries

Testing the core with more attention means developing strength. Here, you’ve got weights on your shoulders, so your challenge is to not collapse at the lower back. You’ll want to start with light weights on this one, but expect plenty of return in terms of core challenge and core stability benefits.

How to: Start by lifting dumbbells or kettlebells off the ground, feet shoulder-width apart, hips just below parallel. Then lift them to your collarbone on each side; your palms should face each other. Make sure your arm is tight to your body, and maintain some tension in your mid-back. Once standing, walk forward, aiming to cover a distance of 20 yards in controlled fashion. Do 4 to 6 sets.

For a challenge: Vertical Hex Bar Carry

This one is just a good challenge. It’s one thing to carry with weight on each side, but the stability demands are different when the weight is distributed in front of and behind you.

How to: Stand inside a hex bar, with the weights set up in front of and behind you. Lift the hex bar, then walk forward. Cover a distance of 20 yards in controlled fashion; do 4 to 6 sets.

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