How to Do a Farmer's Carry

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Farmer's carry

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Farmer’s walk

Targets: Shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, upper back, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core.

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells or kettlebells

Level: Beginner to intermediate

The farmer’s carry is a power-house beginner to intermediate level exercise that is part of the loaded carry set of moves that involve holding a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) in each hand and walking for distance or time. Other carry exercises include the suitcase carry, racked carries, and overhead carries.

The simplicity of this exercise is what makes it so popular. It fits into most workouts or warm-ups, and it only requires a set of dumbbells or kettlebells. You simply hold one dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and walk while engaging your core.

When done correctly, the farmer’s carry challenges all of the major muscles in your body, increases your heart rate, builds strength in your core, and serves as a functional exercise for sports-specific training.

Benefits

The farmer’s carry targets your entire upper and lower body, and also your core. More specifically, they strengthen the muscles in your biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders, upper back, trapezius, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back, obliques, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis.

Depending on the weight you use, you may feel the burn in your chest muscles as well—if the weight is heavy enough. Since your forearms and grip also get an excellent workout, this move is a top pick for improving grip strength in the hands and wrists. Grip strength is an essential skill to have in order to perform daily activities like lifting and carrying heavy objects.

Additionally, the farmer’s carry helps strengthen your core, which may lead to reduced back pain, improved balance, and better flexion, extension, and rotation of your trunk.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You can perform the farmer’s carry using a set of dumbbells or kettlebells. Additionally, some workouts may ask you to use plates or a trap bar.

Depending on your workout, you can perform the farmer’s carry one or two ways: either for time or distance. For example, if the target is time, set a timer and walk with the weights for 30 seconds. That is one set. If you’re doing them for distance, make sure you have enough room to walk. The average distance for a farmer’s carry exercise can range from 15 to 60 meters, with the shorter distance requiring heavier weights and the longer distance, lighter weights.

  1. Choose a set of kettlebells or dumbbells of equal weight. Make sure to choose a weight that is heavy enough to create resistance, yet light enough that you can keep your form strict and posture upright.
  2. Hold one kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand with a tight, firm grip.
  3. Stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and arms resting at your sides.
  4. Begin the movement by engaging the core muscles, pulling your shoulder blades down and back, and making sure your posture is upright.
  5. Take a step forward and begin walking while carrying a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand. Be sure to keep your head up, shoulders back, and core muscles contracted the entire time.
  6. Continue walking for a specified time or number of steps. To make the move more cardiovascular, increase your pace. You can also increase the number of steps or time based on your fitness level.

Common Mistakes

Full-body exercises that use multiple muscle groups can result in mistakes related to form if you’re not familiar with the move or you’re using too heavy of a weight. To keep the move safe and effective, make sure you’re not making any of these common mistakes.

Using a Dumbbell or Kettlebell That is Too Heavy or Too Light

While you shouldn’t be afraid to grab a heavier weight, you also need to adjust if your form is being compromised. Keep the weight heavier for a shorter distance, such as 15 pounds and lighter if you’re going for a longer distance, such as 40 to 60 meters.

Not Keeping Your Core Muscles Engaged

Any time you are upright and moving, you’re engaging the muscles in your core. The power, stability, and support generated from these muscles will help you move quicker and protect your lower back from injury.

Leaning Forward From the Waist

Performing the farmer’s carry bent over at the waist will cause pain and discomfort to your lower back. This can happen when you get fatigued, and your technique begins to suffer. To properly perform this move, you need to brace your core, stand tall, and look straight ahead for the duration of the exercise.

Raising Your Shoulders Towards Your Ears

To perform this move correctly, you need to pull your shoulders down and back. This can be a challenge for many people that have a tendency to walk or do any type of activity, with their shoulders hunching up towards the ears. If you walk, holding dumbbells or kettlebells with this posture, you will feel discomfort in your neck and shoulders. You will know if you’re doing this move correctly if it feels like you’re pushing the kettlebell or dumbbell toward the ground.

Modifications and Variations

There are several ways to make the farmer’s carry easier or more challenging. The key is to find what works best for you.

Need a Modification?

Since the farmer’s carry has so many individual variables, you should be able to modify the move any way you like. For example, if the workout you’re following calls out 40 yards, but that is too far for you, reduce the walking distance to 20 yards. You can also adjust the time or the weight. Plus, if you get halfway through the recommended distance, and it’s too much, simply put the weight down and rest before finishing the rest of the exercise.

Up for a Challenge?

The farmer’s carry performed the traditional way is challenging enough, but if you want to up the intensity, there are several ways to make this move more challenging:

  • To add resistance to the farmer’s carry, simply increase the weight, but make sure you don’t compromise form. And remember, a little bit goes a long way. There’s no need to make significant jumps in weight. Sometimes even five pounds makes a big difference.
  • You can also add to the distance or time. Challenge yourself each time by increasing your distance by 10 yards or adding 15 seconds to the exercise. 
  • Work on balance by following a straight line. To do this, find a line or edge of a surface that you can follow for the prescribed time or distance. Try to take each step on this line without falling to either side.

If you really want to challenge yourself, grasp a heavier weight in one hand and a lighter weight in the other. Hold the lighter weight overhead while walking and keep the heavier weight by your side. Change sides at the halfway point.

Safety and Precautions

Generally speaking, the farmer’s carry is a safe move for most fitness levels, especially since you can adjust the resistance and modify the distance or time. However, if you have any health conditions that limit your ability to perform cardiovascular exercise, you should talk with your doctor before trying this move.

Additionally, any acute or chronic conditions or pain related to your neck, shoulders, or lower back, could be worsened with the farmer’s carry. Ask a physical therapist if this exercise is safe for you to perform. If you experience any discomfort while doing the suitcase carry, stop, and take a break. Rest for at least two to five minutes before resuming the activity.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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