Strength training is a key component of a well-rounded exercise program. As a strength coach, this often consists of asking clients to perform bodyweight exercises or to work out on exercise equipment designed to provide muscle-building movement. Another option to consider is loaded carry.
If you’re unfamiliar with loaded carry, it helps to break this term down by each word. “Loaded” simply means using a heavy weight and “carry” applies because each exercise involves carrying that weight a certain distance.
Perhaps the most well-known example of loaded carry is the Strongman. Strongman events are held around the world and include a combination of press events, deadlift events, and other “classic Strongman events,” such as the yoke, farmer’s carry, and farmer’s hold (1).
That said, loaded carry doesn’t just occur in the gym, but also in everyday life. For instance, when you carry a heavy bag of groceries from the car to the house, you’re engaging in loaded carry. You’re also performing loaded carry when you lift your sleeping child off the couch and carry them to bed.
Why should you have clients do loaded carries? There are a number of compelling reasons.
First, loaded carry exercises work the entire body. Whether the client wants to build their upper body, lower body, or improve their core musculature, these exercises deliver.
With that in mind, loaded carry is extremely effective at strengthening core muscles. So, if one of your client’s goals is to build better abs, this is a great option to consider. Core strength provides another benefit: increased stability.
Creating a stable core means better posture and a reduced risk of back pain. Loaded carry also improves shoulder stability, which can help prevent rotator cuff injuries.
Because loaded carry involves the use of heavy weights, it also improves grip strength. This can be helpful when playing certain sports, but research has also found that grip strength can be an indicator of a person’s length and quality of life (2).
For clients who want to continue to improve their fitness, loaded carry builds their work capacity so they can work out harder. This enables them to take their training session to the next level.
Loaded carry can also help protect against injury. For example, one study reports that spine stability “is considered necessary in the prevention of low back injuries” (3). Since this type of strength and conditioning training program improves stability, it can potentially help reduce this risk.
Four basic components must be considered when creating a full-body, loaded carry workout. They are:
Weight amount. When deciding how much weight a client should use, the general guideline is to choose a weight that is heavy, but that the client can carry for the required distance. Additionally, the amount of weight used will differ based on the client’s goals. If they want to build their endurance, for instance, the weight should be moderately heavy. Yet, if their goal is to work strictly on improving their strength, use heavier weights.
Weight placement. Another consideration to make when creating an effective loaded carry program is weight placement. Specifically, will the weight create tension on one or both sides of the body? This is important as a complete loaded carry workout will build both sides of the body at the same rate.
Weight type. Loaded carry exercises can be performed with a variety of weight types. Some of the most common are barbells, weighted bags, and hex bars with weight plates.
Weight hold. A final consideration is how the clients will hold the heavy weight when carrying it from one spot to another. For example, if they hold it at side height, they’ll work different muscles than if they carry it at shoulder height or use an overhead carry.
A loaded carry program that provides clients all the benefits—conditioning, stability, and increased muscle strength—combines a variety of weight-bearing exercises.
The movements you choose to incorporate will depend, in part, on the type of weight you have access to. These generally fall into one of four categories: kettlebells and dumbbells, some sort of weighted pack, a hex bar, and a sled.
The one main advantage of creating a loaded carry training program that uses kettlebells and dumbbells is that these types of weights are typically available at most any gym. A few exercise options that include a dumbbell or kettlebell carry include:
Farmer’s Walk. The farmer’s walk (farmer carry) builds upper body muscles, which includes the shoulder, arm (biceps, triceps, and forearm), and upper back. It also works the core and lower body, strengthening the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Research indicates that this exercise can aid in fat loss by increasing post-exercise oxygen consumption (4).
Waiter’s Walk. This movement targets muscles in the shoulder. Though it is typically performed by raising one arm at a time, another variation is to do a double waiter’s walk. This is called a press walk.
Cross Walk. For clients who are a bit more advanced, you can step up their training session by having them do a cross walk. This consists of doing a farmer’s walk with one hand and a waiter’s walk with the other.
Offset Carry. The offset carry variation will really work your core muscles. You’re essential doing a cross walk, but with different weights in each hand. For example, carrying 40 pounds in one hand and 60 pounds in the other.
Suitcase Carry. The suitcase carry is a farmer’s walk in which the client carries weight in one hand versus using both. However, like the farmer’s walk, it works several different muscles, providing a total body workout.
Duck Walk. This movement targets the legs and glutes. If clients struggle with performing a squat that places their body parallel to the floor, simply advise them to go as low as they can.
There are also loaded carry exercises clients can do with weighted backpacks or sandbags instead of kettlebells and dumbbells. A heavy medicine ball is an option as well. Two exercises to consider are:
Bear Hug Carry. This exercise helps improve quad strength, building other muscles in the body as well, but to a lesser extent.
Shoulder Loaded Carry. As its name implies, this movement primarily increases shoulder strength.
If your gym has access to a hex bar, you can use this piece of equipment to do load carry exercises such as the Zercher Walk. This exercise consists of placing the load in the crook of the elbow and works both the upper and lower body.
The hex bar can also be used in some of the exercises that use kettlebells and dumbbells. One is the farmer’s walk. In this case, have clients begin with a combination deadlift and squat so their back remains flat throughout the movement.
Not a lot of gyms have a sled, but if yours does, you can help your clients improve their strength and stability by incorporating both pull and push exercises with heavy loads. To make them harder, head outside and have clients go up and down hills.
Once clients get used to performing loaded carry movements, there are four ways you can help them to continue to make advances in their fitness levels. They are:
Varying distance to build endurance
Varying weight to improve strength
Varying exercises to work different muscle groups
Combining exercises (such as using a pull sled while doing a farmer’s walk)
Like with any form of exercise, safety is a priority. It could be considered even more important with loaded carry because of the use of heavy weights.
For this reason, it is critical to stress proper form. This involves starting with a neutral posture and tight core. While performing the movements, clients should also be reminded to keep their back straight and face forward so their spine stays aligned. If your personal training client can’t maintain proper form, switch to a lighter weight.
When carrying the weight, use caution with stride length. Small steps are preferred so they don’t overextend. They should also maintain full body tension throughout the exercise.
Certain demographics may require specific recommendations or modifications. For example, when training young athletes, have them avoid carrying a weighted bar across their shoulders as this can hurt their back (5).
Are you ready to help your clients power through their strength goals? ISSA offers a Powerlifting course to teach you everything from the fundamentals to teaching, technique, and program design for maximum increases in strength. Check it out and begin to build your fitness business today!
ISSA Advanced Powerlifting Specialists have a desire to improve individuals' daily lives, and improve their strength. Focused on the science behind how the body moves and reacts, specifically in the three core movements: squat, deadlift and bench press. Advanced Powerlifting Specialists are knowledgeable in the why and how of this specific technique and are prepared to help individuals of all ages.
Upcoming events. Strongman Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://strongmancorporation.com/upcoming_events/
Crist, C. (2018, May 21). Strong grip may predict longer life at all ages. Reuters. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-grip-strength/strong-grip-may-predict-longer-life-at-all-ages-idUSKCN1IM1TA
Lehman, G. J. (2006, March). Resistance training for performance and injury prevention in golf. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1839980/
Schleppenbach LN;Ezer AB;Gronemus SA;Widenski KR;Braun SI;Janot JM; (2017, November). Speed- and circuit-based high-intensity interval training on recovery oxygen consumption. International journal of exercise science. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29170696/
Lockridge, R. (2022, January 15). Why young athletes should use loaded carries-and 3 safe ways to do so. stack. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.stack.com/a/why-young-athletes-should-use-loaded-carries-and-3-safe-ways-to-do-so/
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