Loaded Carries are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises. These movements consist of "loading" oneself with a weighted implement and walking for a pre-determined distance or time. This simple act can build muscle, enhance strength and re-train proper movement patterns. But perhaps above all else, loaded carries are a phenomenal way to build useable core strength and stability.
When preparing athletes for sports, no topic seems to be brought up as much as the importance of "core strength." When referring to core strength, we're typically referring to the strength of the trunk and spine region.
Our trunk performs many actions including flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion. But an often overlooked aspect of training is the anti-movement of each of these patterns.
Although some sports may require more attention to certain abilities, such as the importance of trunk rotation in sports like baseball and tennis, the overall ability of the trunk to brace and resist undesired movement is necessary to create the most optimal conditions to sprint, jump, throw and perform well.
When examining a training program, there should be a balance between these actions of the trunk and their anti-movement counterparts, so it just isn't important for the trunk to be able to rotate efficiently, but also to be able to resist rotation, as well.
Some coaches may implement exercises such as Plank Holds or Band Pallof Holds, which can be fantastic movements if done appropriately, to focus on resisting movements of flexion, extension and rotation. However, loaded carries are an excellent and often-undervalued movement that can help the core reach its full strength and stability potential.
When performing loaded carries, you have several variations and multiple combinations at your disposal. Carrying a heavy object is one of the best ways to train the anti-movement of each trunk action, because it's simple to see if the athlete is collapsing into extension from the load, or buckling sideways into lateral flexion, or being pulled into rotation. Along with these benefits, loaded carries will also increase total body strength, grip strength, and depending on the capacity you train in, maybe even improvements in muscular strength endurance. The word "functional" is thrown around far too often when referring to sports performance, but carrying heavy things may be the most real-world functional application you can possibly get.
Loaded carries are easy to implement into any program. However, they do need to be progressed, just like any other movement, and appropriately set inside the training program. You can raise the intensity of carries by increasing weight, time of the carry or total distance traveled. Another strategy to progress the carry is to alter the variation you're performing. A simple Farmer's Walk with two dumbbells can easily be altered into a Single-Arm Carry, or an Uneven Carry, and changing the direction of the walk (be it forward, backwards or laterally) adds yet more possibilities. The carries can also be done with several different implements, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags or anything else heavy, so do not let the movements below be the end of your creativity when it comes to challenging your athletes.
Below you'll find several examples of loaded carries that you can begin to incorporate into your training program. The biggest key on any loaded carry is to keep your core braced and resist falling into poor posture or unsymmetrical movement patterns. You control the load; do not let the load control you.
Dumbbell Farmers Walk
Single-Arm Dumbbell Farmers Walk
Overhead Dumbbell Carry
Single-Arm Kettlebells Bottom Up Carry
Sandbag Zercher Carry
Kettlebell Front Rack - Uneven Carry
Chaotic Overhead Walk - Bamboo Bar
Loaded carries can fit seamlessly into where you'd typically perform your core work, since that is the main objective of these movements. The variables to adjust based off of your athlete's needs and abilities would be the distance, time or weight of the carry. The same principles apply to any exercise when progressing a carry. If you want your athlete to focus more on stabilization and strength. have a heavier load and shorter distance or time. If you are using the carry as a finisher at the end of the workout. you may want to use moderate weight and go for as long as possible. It is all based off your athlete and resources.
Coaches understand the importance of core strength when it comes to their athletes, and adding loaded carries into your program can really take your core strength to another level. The ability to brace your trunk and resist movement while continuing to go through a dynamic action such as walking can be of great benefit to an athlete.
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