The farmer carry is one of the oldest movements in history—pick up something heavy, and walk. We love programming it for our female clients because it can help with postural issues, hip stabilizers, and grip strength. Let’s take a closer look.
- Farmer Carries Overview
- Using The Farmer Carry In A Workout
- Q&A About The Farmer Carry
- Farmer Carry Alternatives
- What Next?
Farmer Carries Overview
When Marco (A Bombshell co-founder) was interning under Eric Cressey (now of the New York Yankees), he learned the power of farmer carries. They were one of the best ways to fix any number of imbalances, improve athleticism, etc.
The farmer carry has a number of benefits.
- Improves posture. If you have a slumpy posture, this exercise can help. You grab a couple of dumbbells, get into a tall position with proper posture, and go for a walk. That will stimulate all the postural muscles that need to beef up. You can’t cheat with this one—it will force you into a better posture.
- Improves hip stabilizers and the core. Each step is a unilateral (one-leg) exercise with asymmetrical and dynamic loading. What this means is that the body is challenged with each and every step in a way that most lifting exercises won’t.
- Improves grip strength. Most women wouldn’t mind a little more grip strength for holding heavy bags (and opening that stuck lid on a pickle jar.)
- Improves shoulder health. The carry will pull your arms down, no doubt. But by squeezing hard with your grip, you activate the rotator cuff in the shoulders too. The entire body is learning to work as one, and it helps to put the shoulder in a good position while being weighted.
- It makes you more athletic, which adds a finishing touch to your physique. It’s not just muscle size or tonedness—it’s looking capable and graceful. When you’re athletic, little muscles pop out that you wouldn’t have normally noticed. Maybe the sides of your glutes are rounded out. Maybe your forearms look a tiny bit more badass. Maybe your shoulders cap a bit to give you a great hourglass shape. Being athletic translates into real life, making it easier—hauling groceries, picking up kids, and lifting heavy travel bags.
It’s hard to say exactly what muscle the farmers carry work the most. In fact, that’s why it’s such a great full-body compound exercise. It’s like the finishing sandpaper on a restoration project, removing any rough spots to make the whole thing shine. But the main muscles worked will be the:
- Forearms. Your grip strength will improve a lot with these ones.
- Postural, core, hips, and shoulder stabilizer muscles. Every little muscle that contributes to you standing up tall, this lift hits them.
Farmer Carry Video Demonstration
Here’s Marco coaching Marielle on how to do the farmer carries:
Farmer Carry Proper Form Breakdown
- Grab two dumbbells from the rack that you can handle properly.
- Stand up tall, hips forward, head high. Pretend you’re a marionette, and there’s a string at the top of the back of your head pulling up (this will help with head/neck positioning).
- Take a deep breath in and start walking.
- Make sure you breathe fully in and fully out as you walk.
- Stay in control, stay tall.
- When you get halfway through your programmed stripes (or yards), turn around and start returning back to the rack.
- Put the dumbbells down on the ground if you’ve got another set and rest, or if you’re finished, put them back on the dumbbell rack.
Common Mistakes With The Farmer Carry
- Choosing too heavy of a weight. If the weight is too heavy, your forearms will give out before you complete the prescribed distance/reps. No big deal with this one, but you may need to put the dumbbells down and rest.
- Choosing too light of a weight. This isn’t the kind of exercise you grab five pounds with. It’s supposed to be challenging, and the heavier it is, the more it’ll force your body into a powerful and proper posture.
- Taking too long of strides. With a heavy weight, you will want to walk under control. If you try and walk too wide of steps, you can put too much strain on yourself.
- Not being careful with the dumbbells. The two most common injuries in the gym are dropping a weight on your toe or pinching your fingers when returning dumbbells to the rack. This exercise puts you at risk of both of those. So be particularly careful when pushing yourself and you feel your grip failing. And be careful as you put the dumbbells back.
Using The Farmer Carry In A Workout
Your Reps Will Normally Be Strides Or Yards
Normally we program in carries in steps. So if it says to do 40 steps, grab some dumbbells, go for 20 steps out, then turn around and walk 20 steps back. It doesn’t matter if your steps are smaller or larger because you can just use a heavier weight or walk more steps to continue to challenge yourself.
But if you want to keep things more objective, some sports training facilities will have turf that is a certain length in yards, and then you can just program in yards walked.
Challenge Yourself But Stop Shy Of Failure
Ideally, you’ll stop your carry when you’re just about to fail, but you could still walk a few more steps. But if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know exactly how hard you’re pushing yourself. If you aren’t sure if you’re taking your sets close to failure, just try using more weight. Try pushing yourself all the way until you can no longer walk anymore, and you need to put the weight down. That way, you’ll know what it feels like. You might be surprised that you were a lot stronger than you thought. After doing that, you’ll have a better idea of what weight you’ll need for your carries.
Start With Two Sets, and Add More When Needed
Start with just a couple of sets, then over time, add more sets as you get stronger. We recommend doing two sets in the first week. Practice your form, find the right weights, and take your time learning the carry.
Next week, if your fingers and forearms aren’t too sore at the start of each workout, try adding a set to each exercise. If that goes well and you feel ready for more, add another set next week. You can do around 3–6 sets per exercise. Most women will do best with 3–4 sets. If you ever start to feel worn down, or if you’re coming back after a long break, start the cycle over again, going back to just two sets and rebuilding from there.
Rest 1-2 Minutes Between Sets
How long you rest between sets of carries isn’t that important. Whether you rest for 2 minutes or 10 minutes, you’ll still stimulate a similar amount of growth. The important thing is that you rest long enough to catch your breath, ensuring that your cardiovascular system doesn’t limit the performance of your muscles.
We want to challenge your grip, hips, and stabilizer muscles—not just your heart (though your heart will get a good workout, too! Farmer carries are great for conditioning.)
The main reason to rest for just a couple of minutes is to keep your workouts shorter. You don’t want to spend all day in the gym. But if you need more rest or get interrupted partway through your workout, no problem. Just pick up where you left off.
If you want to blast through your workout even faster, you can do the lifts in a circuit/superset. Do a set of farmer carries, rest a minute, then do a set of glute bridges, rest a minute, then do your second set of carries, and then do your second set of glute bridges. That way, you’re still giving different muscle groups plenty of time to recover between sets, but you’re doing another exercise during the rest period.
Free Routine For Female Beginners: Full Body Workout That Includes The Farmer Carries
If you don’t have a workout, you might be interested in our full Bony to Bombshell program. A sample beginner’s workout for women that includes the farmer carries could look like this:
- Dumbbell Goblet Squats: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Raised Push-Ups: 2 sets of as many reps as you can.
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Farmer Carries: 2 sets of 30 steps.
- Bonus Glute Work: 2 sets of glute bridges (or hip thrusts)
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Q&A About The Farmer Carry
Q: How heavy should my dumbbell be?
A: A: The weight of the dumbbells you’ll use will depend on your own level of strength. You will need to do trial and error, and the weight you use will depend on how fit and strong you are to start. Don’t let your ego choose. Pick a weight you think you can handle properly.
Err on the side of too light, and if it feels way too easy, count it as a warm-up set, and try again.
As a beginner, start with a weight that feels comfortable yet challenging. As you get stronger, it’ll get easier, and it’s time to raise the weight.
Q: Can you use kettlebells for the farmer carry?
A: Totally! If you’ve got kettlebells, they might even feel more comfortable than dumbbells.
Q: How can I do the farmer carry without walking?
A: A lot of our Bony to Bombshell members are working out from home in a small home gym. You can still do the farmer carry, just do the farmer carry march. Lift your legs up and march. It’s not quite as good, but it’s a good option.
Q: Farmer Carry versus the Suitcase Carry?
A: Both are good. The suitcase carry is lighter, and the weight is asymmetrical. This will work the cross side of your core more and your forearms less. The suitcase variation can be used to even out some imbalances.
Farmer Carry Alternatives
The 1-Arm Waiter Carry
Unlike the farmer carries with the weight held by your sides, this variation has one weight up high, like a waiter or waitress would carry in food. Shifting the position of the weight will challenge different core stabilizers muscles in the body.
1-Arm Farmer Carry (Or Suitcase Farmer Carry)
The Racked Carry
This gets the weight up high and into a racked position. Like the waiter walks, you’ll be using new muscles to keep this exercise fresh and challenging by shifting the weight up higher onto your body.
By incorporating farmer carries into your lifting routine, your grip, shoulders, and general posture will be thanking you. If you liked this article, you’d love our muscle-building newsletter. We’ll keep you up to date on all the latest muscle-building information for women. Or, if you want us to walk you through the process of building muscle, including teaching you the lifts, giving you a full workout program, a complete diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Bombshell Program.