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The Carry - A Forgotten Exercise

Weighted carries are an under-utilized group of exercises that can be used to improve posture, overall work capacity, strength and core stabilization. Overhead carries can also improve shoulder stability. Carries are a total body exercise that involve every major muscle group in the body.

The most basic type of carry is the farmer’s carry. The Farmer’s carry involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and walking for time or distance. While this sounds simple to do, using proper technique will enhance the results of the exercise and limit the possibility of injury.

The basic farmer’s carry starts like most exercises - with good posture. Good posture means starting with the ears in line with the shoulders; the shoulders in line with the hips; and the hips in line with the ankles.

To obtain a position of good posture, keep the head level, pinch the shoulder blades together and raise the chest, brace the abs and squeeze the glutes. This creates an optimal and stable position for the body to move while protecting the spine.

Once you have the proper position and have the weights in your hands, start walking. Try to maintain a normal gait and avoid taking short choppy steps. Your gait should be as close to your regular walking gait as possible. Walk for time or for distance.

Common Mistakes

Leaning to one side – This is typically caused by not bracing the muscles of the abdomen and low back. These muscle groups work together to create a natural corset around the middle of your body. This bracing connects the upper and lower body together for stability and helps protect the spine.

Walking with short choppy steps – This is almost always due to using too much weight. Start with a lower weight to get the best effect from carries. If your form is bad, and you add weight, you are increasing the risk of getting injured and creating a bad movement pattern. Emphasize form first, (good posture), range of motion, (in this case, stride length), and resistance, (the amount of weight) last.

Rounded back and shoulders - This error is caused by either using too much weight or by not starting with good posture – pinching the shoulder blades and raising the chest.


Start working on your carries with the basic farmer carry first. Once you have attained good posture, and a normal gait you can increase the intensity of this exercise by increasing how far you walk, how long you walk or how much weight you carry when you walk.

You can also vary the type of carry that you are doing. Here are a few examples:

Suitcase Carry – instead of using two dumbells or kettlebells, carry only one. Switch sides when you halve reached the halfway point of the exercise. The dumbell or kettlebell should be carried on one side of you body. This creates more instability and you will want to lean to one side as you walk. Maintain a good bracing of the abs and low back to keep the weight from pulling you to one side or rotating your torso as you walk.

Overhead Carry – Take a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and raise them overhead while you walk. Your arms should be straight and in line with your ears while you walk. The trick here is to connect your shoulders to your upper back. This will spread the load out over a larger set of muscles and delay fatigue in the shoulders. Externally rotate the shoulders to connect them to the muscles of the upper back.

Maintain a neutral back while your arms are overhead. If you feel stress in the lower back, you are probably overextending the low back and causing compression in the discs.

Waiter’s Carry – The Waiter’s Carry is a one-handed overhead carry. Like the suitcase carry, you are carrying the weight on one side of your body – overhead. The same precautions apply to the Waiter’s Carry as to the Overhead and Suitcase carries.

Adding carries to your workout will increase your overall and grip strength as well as improve your posture, core stability and shoulder health if done properly. Take your time and progress gradually. Make sure your form and range of motion are good before increasing the weight you carry.

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