Pick things up, walk around with them, put them down. Those are the basics of what loaded carries are all about. Funny enough, that's also what we do in life on a daily basis. So it's no secret why they've lately been making a comeback in many strength programs. Carrying different weights in different positions has the potential to build strength and muscle, as well as improve work capacity. It's just a matter of programming.
The basics of each variation below are simple. Just grab the weight and go. There are, however, a few key tenets to be aware of before you start:
- Keep an upright posture so that your shoulders, ribs and hips are all stacked over each other.
- Take small steps so your feet stay somewhat underneath you. This will keep you in a solid position to get the most out of the carries.
Conditioning Focused Programming Options
One of the best things about loaded carries is that they are simple to include in programs, and two of the simplest ways are to go for time or for distance. In the case of improving work capacity and conditioning, programming based on time provides specific time under tension, with a concrete rest time.
Much like other forms of interval training, placing a loaded carry finisher at the end of your training program will finish you off as far as metabolic conditioning is concerned. Any timing ratio will work, but start with a 2:1 ratio of rest to work for maximal gains. For example, 20 seconds of walking, followed by 40 seconds of rest. This gives both your cardiovascular system and your grip a break.
For an even bigger challenge, try creating a loaded carry medley. This will put different lines of stress on your body, depending on where the weight is loaded.
Example: Set up weights 50 feet apart and carry them for the prescribed distance. If you're short on space, carry for 20-30 seconds.
- Farmer's Walk - 50 feet or 20 seconds
- Overhead Carry - 50 feet or 20 seconds
- Goblet Carry - 50 feet or 20 seconds
Hold two dumbbells at your sides. Squeeze your armpits to really engage your posterior chain, then go for a walk.
Similar to the Farmer's Walk, hold a single dumbbell at your side. It's more of a challenge to maintain a neutral posture when your body tends to adjust to the weight on one side with a hip shift. Try to stay as neutral as possible and go for a walk. The Suitcase Carry is a great anti-lateral flexion core exercise as well.
The Offset Carry requires holding one heavy dumbbell at your side and a lighter weight above your head. The opposite movement places a great demand on your core musculature to maintain stability.
Want to improve shoulder stability in an overhead position? Of course you do; who doesn't? The Overhead Carry can be done unilaterally or bilaterally, but either way, it will test your shoulders. One of my favorite variations is to hold a kettlebell bottoms up, since it presents an even greater challenge to the stability of the shoulder.
Hold one or two dumbbells or kettlebells overhead, then go for a walk.
Hold a heavy dumbbell as if you were doing a Goblet Squat. Instead of squatting, go for a walk. Make sure the weight doesn't rest on your chest and that there is a slight separation between the weight and your body. This places a lot of emphasis on the core and the posterior chain, and the Goblet Carry acts like an anti-flexion exercise.
Of course, there many other carries you could program into your training, from carrying awkward implements like kegs or stones, to doing overhead work with bands and weights. The important thing when performing loaded carries is to have a reason why you are doing each particular carry and why you choose that distance or time frame. Above all else, load the carry appropriately, because if you don't, you won't be making the most of your time.
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