Exercises You Should Be Doing: Loaded Carries

Photo of an athlete arm holding a kettlebell

iStockphoto / BartekSzewczyk

What if I told you that one of the best ways to shred fat AND build muscle was to…wait for it…walk.

Yup, that’s right, walk.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking I’m high or something but let me explain. I’m not just talking about regular old walking on a treadmill, or down the sidewalk. I’m talking about some next-level type walking, walking that can build strength, muscle, and blast fat all at once.

I’m talking about Loaded Carries.

What Are Loaded Carries?

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

Loaded carries are very simple to perform. Take an implement (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, etc.), walk with it, and congrats, you’re doing a loaded carry.

For as simple of an exercise as it is, you rarely see it being performed in most commercial gyms. And for all the benefits that loaded carries provide, that’s really a shame.

Well today, we’re going to change that.

Benefits of Loaded Carries

Shoulder Health & a Big Back

First off, loaded carries are 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.

Carries are also great for building size and thickness in 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). And holding something for an extended period of time creates a lot of tension in these muscles.

Improved Grip Strength

Carries are great for improving grip strength. Why is this important you ask? Well, grip strength has a direct carryover to all other parts of your training. Grip is often a limiting factor in a lot of exercises so a stronger grip leads to a stronger everything.

Core Strength

One of the biggest benefits of carries is their ability to build strength and stability through the core. In order to maintain proper posture during the exercise the abs, obliques, and hips all must work together to maintain good form.

Unilateral carries, where you only have an implement in one hand, also add in an anti-rotation and flexion element because the muscles of the core must work extra hard to resist rotating and flexing to the one side.

Loaded Carry Variations.

Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is the most popular 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, this variation can be performed with a single implement, or a pair. It’s a little more challenging than a normal farmer’s walk because the anterior load forces the abs to work harder to maintain proper posture.

Waiter’s Walk

This is an overhead variation of loaded carries. Like rack walks, these can also be performed as a single or double implement variation. Again, overhead carries are fantastic for shoulder health and stability.

Yoke/Barbell Walks

This is the variation that allows you to use the most weight and is normally done with a special piece of equipment called a yoke. If you don’t have access to a yoke, they can be 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.

Programming Loaded Carries

Here are a couple sample loaded carry protocols you can add to your workouts whether your goal is size, strength, or fat loss.

Loaded Carries for Muscle Building

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.

When size is your goal, you want to focus on time under tension, gradually increasing the amount of time with the weight spent in your hands each week.

Loaded Caries for Strength

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.

With this example, your goal is to increase distance, weight, or both.

Loaded Carries for Fat Loss

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

There is really no right or wrong way to perform a loaded carry. Simply grab something heavy and walk with it for as long as you can. If you want to take your training, physique, and performance to the next level, add loaded carries to your workout. Trust me. They work.

Questions about loaded carries? Shoot me an email and I’d be happy to answer