This is a guest post by Dave Rak.
Regardless of what your fitness goals may be, whether it is to rehab from an injury, get stronger, gain muscles mass, improve your fitness, or to be able to carry your grandkids, carries undoubtedly should be part of your training program. Carry exercises provide a long list of benefits and are easy to incorporate into any workout. You can keep it simple or have fun with various equipment and a good imagination. Here are some ideas to take your carry exercises to the next level.
Vary Your Carry Position
The most basic carry variation is your typical farmer carry or suitcase carry where the weight is held by your sides. This is an outstanding variation but is only one of many options. Placing weight in different positions will change the emphasis of the exercise.
To challenge the anterior core, experiment with front-loading the weight. Zercher positions, DB Goblet positions, KB rack positions, and weighted walking press outs and holds will blow up your anterior core and greatly improve your bodies ability to brace and resist extending through your lower back.
Give the following progression a try:
Phase 1 – DB Goblet Carry
Phase 2 – Double KB Front Rack Carry
Phase 3 – Safety Bar Zercher Carry
All three exercises place a high demand on the core to prevent arching of the lower back to compensate for the forward pull of the weight. As you move through the phases the changes in equipment allow for greater stress to the core and more weight to be used.
Uneven and asymmetrical loading is a great way to train the obliques and resist the urge to compensate with lateral flexion. Dumbbells are logistically the easiest way to load single arm carries, but kettle bells allow for the most versatility. The kettle bell allows you to keep the weight off of your hip/leg, which places a greater demand on the core. Kettle Bells also give you the option to offset loads and use multiple positions at one time. Check out the video below for an example.
Suitcase carries with a kettlebell
Make the Most Out of Your Training Implements
Carries do not need to be done with just dumbbells or kettlebells. Everyday training tools can be converted to carry implements. A trap bar can be a great substitute for farmer carry handles, which may not be present in most gyms. Also two small curl/tricep extension bars can be used for the same purpose.
Zercher carries are great for loading the anterior core with a heavy weight however can be extremely uncomfortable. Your 20 something powerlifter may not care about the discomfort created by a heavy bar digging into the crease of his elbows, but your average fitness enthusiast will likely shy away from this. Combat this problem with a fat bar. The larger diameter of the bar will take stress off of the elbow and make the exercise more bearable. From a comfort standpoint, the safety bar will be your best option; the padding on the bar creates the most comfortable variation. The safety bar can also be used as a makeshift yoke bar. Simply load it up, walk out of the rack, and walk around the gym. No large equipment is needed. Additionally, if you do not have specialty bars, heavy sand bags are a great option. Don’t have any sand bags? You can easily go to a hardware store and make your own. The sand bag will allow you to use front rack positions similar to a front squat. You can bear hug the bag, carry it in your elbows, and even sling it over your shoulder, all in a comfortable and easy to use manner.
Zercher carry with a zercher bar (you can also have regular bar with fat grips or towel)
Sandbag bear hug carry variation (you can also hold in the crease of the elbows for a more comfortable fit than a barbell)
Spicing Up the Basics
Basic carry variations are typically considered “big rocks” in a training program; they are your go to exercises. As you progress with exercises like farmer carry, single arm farmer carry, bottoms up carry, and goblet style carries you may find yourself maxed out with weight or just looking for a new challenge. Try these small tweaks to spice up these foundational movements.
Incorporate Bands to Create Instability
I first saw this from the guys at Vigor Ground and face palmed for not thinking of this sooner. Looping a band around a kettle bell or DB will create a lot of instability. This shifts the challenge from carrying more weight to going lighter and controlling the oscillating implement. Throw some fat grips around the bands and now your forearms are screaming too.
Luka demonstrates a bottoms-up variation with a band and a second weight. This takes the already unstable bottoms up carry and kicks it up a notch; more weight isn’t always better with bottoms up carries.
Add Movement to Your Carries
To continue the bottoms up carry variations, try adding lower body movements instead of looking for the next heaviest kettlebell. Use walking marches to challenge core stability and to train the ability to move the hips on a stable torso. The brief time in a single leg stance will also create a new core challenge while the shoulder works to stabilize the kettlebell. Try these walking forward and also laterally. Lateral shuffles and forward lunges will also challenge the body in many ways.
Use A Timer
Carries are typically programed for distance but don’t forget about time as a component. Not every gym will have special bars, kettle bells, or even heavy enough weights. Manipulating how long you carry and how long you rest can give you a hell of a workout. Using a 1:1 carry to rest ratio can be a great finisher. Try one minute on and one minute off. Start with three minutes and try to add one more minute each week.
Don’t Forget About Warm-Ups
Most people do not enjoy warming up. It’s not fun and most of us don’t have much time to train. Incorporate carries into your warm up to speeds up the process and to cram some great movements into a small amount of time. Add the following after you mobility work the next time you are strapped for time.
Mobility Work- 3-5 minutes
Bottoms Up Carry x 20yds each arm
Single Arm Carry x 20 yds each arm
Goblet Carry x 40 yards (20yd down and back)
Walking KB Heart Beat Walk x40 yards (20yd down and back)
Work these variations into your training and stick with it and you’ll se improvements in your core, grip, work capacity and it may be just what you needed to bust through a plateau.
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Dave Rak is the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Washington for Baseball, Cross Country, Men and Womens Golf, Throwers.