3 Loaded Carries to Build Upper A Stronger You

 

Why Carry Heavy Things?

  1. It’s functional AF
  2. It’s relatively easy on joints 
  3. It builds core strength
  4. It builds shoulder strength
  5. It builds upper back strength 
  6. It DEFINITELY builds grip strength
  7. It will also build ankle and calf Strength 

Whether you’re an aesthetics seeking lifter or functional purist carries will do you a load of good. As far as exercises that benefit you in multiple ways loaded carries can’t be beat. Carrying heavy things in a variety of positions has the potential to make you a stronger, more resilient person. 

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The farmer walk is the go to when it comes to loaded carries whether with one implement or two. You can load it heavy and you can do it just about anywhere to build Herculean strength. While this may be one of the best things you can do with heavy weights it’s just one of the MANY variations of loaded carries you could (and should) be implementing. 

Regardless of the variation you choose and few benefits will be had across the board. The increase in core stability doesn’t just make you stronger, but can also pave the way for better posture. Learning how to maintain proper breathing through a tense abdominal wall creates a safer human. The strength built through your postural muscles helps build the muscles around your spine with the work capacity to boot. 

For athletes of any kind (including anyone who wants to get stronger) the carryover of loaded carries is immense so it would definitely be in your interest to incorporate various ways in your training. When I was training pro fighters the suitcase, high/low, farmers and zercher carries were a staple just about every week as well as the variations I’ll go over today. Beyond the physical strengthening attributes there’s also a level of mental toughness you build embracing the struggle of carrying something heavy over a short or long distance. 

Here are four unique loaded carry exercises

 

  • Bottoms Up Carry

 

The bottom’s up carry has and always will be a staple in my training for building shoulder, grip and core strength. The bottom’s up position helps with building impeccable posture and the starting position for the press. With the bell upside down it’s impossible to round your shoulders (or at least very unlikely). It can be done single or double armed, but because of the lack of stability double work is a little riskier. You definitely don’t need to go heavy (nor will you be able to) to get the benefits of this. 

 

  • Crush Grip Carry

 

The crush grip carry is where you squeeze the bell by adducting your arms like a chest fly. Ideally you want to have a horizontal position (don’t cup the bell) to get the most amount of tension possible. As the load and fatigue increases you can bring your hands under the bell to get more shoulder and upper back engagement. The heavier the bell the harder on your breathing and it compresses your diaphragm immensely. 

 

  • Cross Body Carry 

 

This is a variation of the rack position which will make it a little easier on the forearm, but will limit how heavy you can go. You’ll clean the bell with one arm, but then catch the bell portion with the other hand. Maintain this position while you walk with your hand still firmly on the handle as support. Since you can drop your arm down into a more traditional rack position you can go significantly heavier than the bottom’s up position. 

 

  • BONUS: Banded Carry (requires bands...duh)

 

Here’s a bonus method to try, but it does require some equipment. The way I like to do this is wrap the bands around the kettlebell and then loop a handled grip on the bands. The fat grip attachment works REALLY well. This method is not only going to build incredible grip strength, but will force you to slow down since every movement is counteracted with the bands. Go too fast and the bells will bounce harder than superball. By slowing down the overall tension required to stay stable.  

As with anything good, too much can be harmful. A little goes a long way and if you vary the intensity you can add some variation of carries 1-3x a week. I’ve had clients perform carries two times a week alternating between high (rack or higher) and low carries (suitcase, farmer walk, etc). Loading up the bars with as much weight as you can as often as you can still provides compressive forces on the spine so it’s smart to be conservative with intensity. I went through a phase of carries that I pushed myself nearly every workout. Eventually I strained my grip and wrist so bad that I had to take a break for a few weeks. I found the sweet spot of 2-3x with only one of those sessions being heavy, all out intense. 

Factors to manipulate:

  1. Carry type - Here’s where you can play with the implement (kettlebell, bars, dumbbells, sandbag, etc) 
  2. Distance/Time - For strength focus on lower distances with higher loads and for work capacity use lighter loads for longer distances/times.  For insane strength and work capacity have yourself or your client go heavy and long. In the words of Drago, “If he dies, he dies.” 
  3. Sets - The longer the distance/time the fewer the sets. 

Light Day Example:

  1. Bottoms Up Walk - 3x30 seconds per arm
  2. Crush Grip Walk - 5x60 seconds 

Heavy Day Example: 

  1. Suitcase Carry - 5x30 yards per arm 
  2. Banded Carry - 3x30 yards per arm 

Hybrid Example:

  1. Farmer Walks - 6x20 yards with MAXIMAL weight
  2. High/Low (kettlebell overhead and rack position) - 4x50 yards (switch half way) 
  3. Cross Body Carry - 3 minutes (switch every 30 steps) 

If your goal is to get stronger, leaner and the resiliency of a tank then you’ll want to add carries to your regime. If space is an issue marches work and even a few steps forward and backward have a great amount of value. Play with the different variations, experiment and track to see what works best for you and your goals. 

Give these a go and let us know what you think!

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Until next time! 

Stay strong,

Marcus Martinez

Master Kettlebell Coach

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