How to Do a Suitcase Carry: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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The suitcase carry involves holding a kettlebell by your side and walking while engaging your core—like you would if you were carrying a suitcase, hence the name. Add it to your total body workout to help boost your overall strength.

Also Known As: Loaded carry, one-arm farmer’s carry

Targets: Core, glutes, legs, shoulders, and arms

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Suitcase Carry

man doing suitcase carry

Grab a kettlebell with your non-dominant hand (this should be your weaker side) and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms at your sides. Engage your core muscles, pulling your shoulder blades down and back, while making sure your posture is upright. 

  1. Step forward and begin walking while carrying the kettlebell in your hand. Take slow, small steps, and focus on keeping your core tight and posture aligned rather than on forward momentum.
  2. Continue this movement for a specified time or number of steps. When finished with that side, set the weight down.
  3. Pick up the kettlebell with the other hand and repeat.

Choose a kettlebell weight that is heavy enough to create resistance, yet light enough that you can keep an upright posture when walking. 

Benefits of the Suitcase Carry

The suitcase carry targets the muscles in your core, shoulders, upper back, and arms while also working the lower body, specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves.

Strengthening your core with the suitcase carry can help reduce back pain, improve balance, and assist with better flexion, extension, and rotation of your trunk. It’s also a useful move for improving grip strength and increasing shoulder stability.

Plus, this movement pattern helps with your posture and can prepare you for more advanced exercises, such as the farmer’s carry. Since the kettlebell is held at the side of your body, it mimics everyday tasks like carrying a heavy gym bag or groceries.

Typically, we favor one side of the body, always carrying on our dominant side. Over time, this results in the opposite side being weaker. That’s what makes the suitcase carry such a great functional exercise. It allows you to unilaterally train both sides of your body.

Other Variations of the Suitcase Carry

This exercise provides multiple opportunities for modification and variations to better meet your fitness level and goals.

Modifications for Beginners

The suitcase carry is easy to modify for any fitness level. New exercisers can reduce the intensity of this exercise by decreasing the weight carried or the distance or time of the exercise.

If you get halfway through the prescribed time or distance and it’s too much, put the weight down and rest before finishing the rest of the exercise. 

Increased Resistance

There are several ways to make this move more challenging. One is to add resistance by increasing the weight of the kettlebell. Remember, this doesn’t need to be a significant jump in weight. Sometimes even five pounds makes a big difference.

Increased Distance or Time

Another way to boost the intensity of the suitcase carry is to increase the distance that you carry the weight or to increase the time. Try adding 10 to 20 steps each time you perform the exercise.

Varying Kettlebell Placement

Other more advanced suitcase carry variations are to hold the kettlebell (you can also use a dumbbell) over your shoulders or between your legs while walking. Each variation will activate the muscles used in a different way.

Farmer's Carry

Once you’ve mastered the suitcase carry, you may want to move on to the farmer’s carry. It's essentially the same exercise except that you hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand while walking. 

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes to perform the suitcase carry safely and efficiently.

Leaning to One Side

When performing the suitcase carry exercise, keep your shoulders level. Avoid leaning toward the side as you walk with the load. 

Carrying Too Much Weight

While you shouldn’t be afraid to grab a heavier weight, you also need to adjust if your form is being compromised. Your oblique muscles on the opposite side of the load will work hard to help keep you upright. If the weight is too heavy, it can stress these muscles.

Not Keeping the Core Engaged

The power, stability, and support generated from keeping your core muscles tight and engaged can help you move quicker. Having a strong core may even protect you from a lower-body injury. 

Leaning Forward at the Waist

Performing the suitcase carry bent over at the waist can lead to low back pain and discomfort. This can happen when you get fatigued and your technique begins to suffer. To properly perform the suitcase carry, stand tall for the duration of the exercise.

Raising the Shoulders

Many of us have a tendency to walk with our shoulders hunched up by our ears. If you perform the suitcase carry with this posture, you will feel discomfort in your neck and shoulders. Instead, it should feel like you’re pushing the kettlebell toward the ground. 

Safety and Precautions

Generally speaking, the suitcase carry is safe to perform. Since you can adjust the resistance and modify the distance or time, this exercise is appropriate for most exercisers at an intermediate fitness level.

That said, if you have any health conditions that limit your ability to perform a cardiovascular exercise or any issues with your neck, shoulders, or lower back, talk with your doctor or physical therapist prior to trying the suitcase carry.

Additionally, if you experience any discomfort during the course of the exercise, stop and rest for at least two to five minutes before resuming the activity. Do not resume the activity if you feel actual pain.

Start by doing 10 to 20 steps on each side. Increase the number of steps or time based on your fitness level as you progress with this exercise. 

Try It Out

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

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Sports Sciences Association. How to create a loaded carry program that offers max results.

  2. Hedt C, Lambert B, Holland M, et al. Electromyographic profile of the shoulder during stability exercises with kettlebells. J Sport Rehab. 2019;30(4):653-9. doi:10.1123/jsr.2019-0541

  3. Lierman K. 5 reasons to add carries to your workout. National Institute for Fitness and Sport.

  4. Mohamed Afandi M, Ikhwan Mohamad N, Fazila N, Malek A, Chinnasee C, Nadzalan A. The relationship between core strength performance with sprint acceleration. J Physics: Conf Series. 2021;1793:012056

  5. Huxel Bliven K, Anderson B. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

By Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, and mental health.