Loaded Carries with Dumbbells: Farmer's Walks and More

San Diego personal training client performs goblet carry in a busy commercial gym for conditioning.

San Diego personal training client performs goblet carry in a busy commercial gym for conditioning.

Despite the many benefits of loaded carries, they are often a missing movement from training programs. Carrying exercises are usually associated with specialized equipment like farmer’s handles and heavy sandbags without handles. But these aren’t really necessary to begin incorporating loaded carries into your training. Dumbbells are available at most gyms with a smidgeon of self respect and that's enough to get acquainted with loaded carries and create some significant progression.

Another reason people skip carries is that most people are still using a basic bodybuilding split of 1 or 2 muscle groups per each day in their training. Loaded carries simply don’t fit a body part that neatly because one might ask “which body part does carrying things train?” It could be the grip and forearms, the shoulders and traps, the upper back, the core and abs, and of course the legs. Truth is, carries are a full body movement and it gets tricky to find a place in body part splits for full body exercises without a little bit of overlap between days.

Goblet Carry

The goblet squat "rack" position is a great way to start loading up the body for carrying exercises. Holding the weight out in front and off the body helps to reinforce keeping the chest up and carrying with a tight upper back. Set up the carrying position by holding the end of the dumbbell in both hands with the palms up and fingers pointed out. From this position lift the chest and sink your shoulder blades down and together as if you were sliding them to your back pockets. Finally brace your midsection by pulling the rib cage down and tight with the abs. Walk, breath, stay tight, and keep a space between your torso and the dumbbell while holding the weight.

Goblet Shuffle

Carrying exercises are not limited to forward and sagital plane movement. Loading a shuffling movement is a great way to warm up, activate and strengthen the abductors, adductors, and glutes. Perform the movement by setting up as you would for the previous goblet carry. Instead of bracing the midsection and walking forward though, drop into a quarter squat or half squat position and step out to the side. Then bring the feet together and step out again for a set number of steps or distance and return to the starting point by stepping int he opposite direction.

Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk

The go to exercise for most people when thinking about loaded carries, the farmer's walk is a great way to load the upper back, traps, and grip while developing trunk stiffness and abdominal strength. Unlike actual farmers handles, dumbbells lack an elevated handle, so when the weight moves it directly affects the grip. This makes carrying heavier weights more difficult with the dumbbell and somewhat more limited by the grip as opposed to the upper limits of the rack of dumbbells. 
If you lack the mobility to perform a solid deadlift from a deficit, consider picking up dumbbells directly from a rack or off of a bench to start the farmer's walk. Take grip of the weights by setting the handle deep into your palm so that the wrists are flexed. Squeeze as tight as possible to lock in the grip, stand and walk. While walking keep the shoulders pinched down and back, tuck the chin, and keep the midsection braced as previously discussed with the goblet carry. 

Dumbbell Suitcase Carry

The suitcase carry creates a great bracing challenge. Loading only one side forces you to focus on controlling lateral flexion of the trunk. Basically, the object is to perform the lift and carry as you would a farmers walk, but since the load is only one side you must constantly brace through the opposite side of the abdominal wall and obliques to maintain strict posture.

Waiter’s Walk

Similar to the suitcase carry the waiter's walk creates a unilateral challenge to teach core bracing. Instead of simply performing the farmers walk with one dumbbell, in the waiter's walk the dumbbell is pressed and locked out overhead. Before you begin moving with the weight overhead though, you need to make sure that the shoulder is packed and the ribs are braced down. One of the most common errors with this exercise is allowing the rib cage to flare and extending through the spine when shoulder mobility is lacking. If you are unable to lock the weight out overhead while keeping the midsection fully braced and the trunk neutral, skip the overhead variations of loaded carries.


Including Carrying Exercises into your Workouts

These exercises are a great start to adding carries to your training program even in a commercial gym that lacks fancy farmers handles or a trap bar. I usually begin including them into training programs in about the same order presented thus far. Each one has a unique set of challenges and benefits. Simply set a distance and increase the distance or sets with the following workouts. And don't stress too much about having overlapping training for certain body parts. Everything will be just fine if you use a little common sense with heavier carries. Save your grip, upper back and trunk and stick to lighter carries on the days before heavy deadlifting, squatting, or rowing. 

If you are including light to moderate load carrying exercises in warm ups or conditioning drills, you can make them a part of most workouts. When you begin lugging around closer to half your bodyweight or more each hand, consider programming them into your training as a secondary movement one or two days each week. Do not be afraid to load go heavy with these exercises as heavy loading facilitates much of their benefit. 

Each of the variations included can be incorporated into a program for someone of just about any strength level. If you're already used to routinely carrying more than your bodyweight in each hand you may find it easier to choose challenging loads with variations like the suitcase carry and waiter's walk. No matter you're strength level though, you should be including some weighted carrying exercises into your training program.