Farmer’s Walks & Carries Tips From a Strongman Pro
It’s no secret that carrying heavy things will net you serious strength gains. Are you ready to get farmer strong? Check out some solid tips on farmer’s walks and carries in this blog!
Fred Ormerod is a freelance coach, army reserve medic, nurse, master’s student, and massage therapist. He’s spent a decade working in healthcare and five years coaching in one of Edinburgh’s leading training facilities.
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You’re Strong, But Are You Farmer Strong?
Having grown up in the English countryside, I know how strong farmers can be. I have great memories of watching Westmorland wrestling — MASSIVE sons of local farmers throwing each other about.
I remember being carried by one through a three-legged race as if I weighed nothing at all. “Less than a lamb” I seem to recall him saying, which still bruises my ego today.
It’s easy to understand where this natural, iron strength comes from when you consider that farmers constantly carry heavy loads and work long hours everyday.
How can we, mere mortal gym-goers, learn from this?
Many strength coaches use the Greek myth, Milo of Croton, to describe progressive overload. Milo, a young farmer, carries a calf to market every day until he can carry a fully grown bull into town.
My favorite exercise (and perhaps the most obvious) to take from the daily life of farmers is a farmer’s (or yolk) carry. Both are events in strongman competitions.
There are studies looking at massive improvements in gait analysis and grip strength when training weighted carries. These lifts can be considered to be effective replacements for deadlifts in certain circumstances.
Alongside many other strongman training principles, carries are terrific for building practical, functional, full body strength. Carries are used as a fitness test in the British army and their benefits translate to multiple sports and life skills.
Tips to Crush Your Carries
When it comes to form with a farmer’s carry, it’s easy to over-complicate. The cue I give most of my athletes is to imagine you’re running for the bus with some heavy shopping bags.
In lieu of sensible coaching cues of my own, I spoke to my friend and two-time 80kg Europe’s strongest man, Dean McVie. He represented the Royal Marines at the World’s Strongest Man competition.
Here’s what Dean had to say:
The stimulus is in the load here. Make sure you’re carrying loads heavy enough to feel hard. You should be breathing heavily and feeling some shoulder burn.
Practice Bracing & Breathing
You might want to breathe as you perform this movement, especially if you’re walking longer distances, so bracing the same as you would for a deadlift or squat (taking a breath and holding it) won’t necessarily work. Allow for some tension changes in your upper body by not bracing as hard.
Work on Your Grip
Farmer’s carries are as much a test of grip as they are of lower body strength. It might be wise to strap up if your grip doesn’t match that of your leg strength to get the most out of the exercise. If you’re using loadable farmer’s carry handles, I’d also advise gripping from the front of the handle. As you start to walk, the weight will shift — having an offset grip will help pull you forward with heavier loads.
Use Small Steps
Even when carrying a lighter load, taking smaller steps will help build good habits for when the load increases. Find your balance as each foot lands. All the more difficult as the load, and its momentum, moves from side to side with each step.
From hours of practice, Dean is able to do it quickly with a car on his back. I’ve even seen him do it with a broken toe.
Use Your Legs!
Let the weight hang as you would with a deadlift – don’t burn out your traps trying to lift the weight up, they’ll get plenty of growth even just holding the weight. Focus on driving your feet into the ground and using your entire posterior chain for strength.\
Try Unbalanced Loads
Using uneven loads — a different weight in each hand — as a part of your training will allow for greater core muscle activation, just be sure to balance out on each set.
I watched half of series 2 of Clarkson’s Farm while writing this to really get in the farming mindset. To find out more about Dean McVie, I recommend checking out this quick strongman documentary: Road to OSG with Dean McVie | Scotland’s Strongest Man
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