Do you know what the farmers walk is? If you do, are you actively incorporating them into your training? You should be.
For those who don’t know, the farmers walk (or a farmer’s carry) is a compound movement that involves the simple act of picking something heavy up in each hand and walking with it for as long as you can. Sounds fairly simple, right? Well try not to let the lack of complicated movement patterns or drawn out proper form explanations mislead you. The farmers walk is a very strenuous, beneficial, and completely under-utilized exercise.
Farmers walks build a ton of muscle, can burn a lot of calories, and help your performance in all other areas of performance and sport. So why don’t you see more athletes performing this lift? Perhaps because it’s hard, or maybe because it looks too simple. Maybe it’s ’cause people still prefer isolation, bodybuilding-style movements. Then again, it could be due to a lack of access to the right equipment, or a lack of knowledge about the movement.
In any case, not a one of these reasons are good reasons to not add farmers walks to your workout going forward.
Last updated December 2017 – minor revisions to bring current.
Why should you farmers walk?
One of the primary benefits you’ll hear about from major advocates of farmers walks is the benefits to grip strength. Deadlifts, rows, and even the fancy hand grippers have nothing on a farmers walk when it comes to building forearm strength. As you are well aware, your grip strength is very important in any form of strength training, and in a number of other sports & activities as well (rock climbing, for instance).
Sure, the benefits to grip are unbelievable, but there is so much more that farmers walks do for you. This is a full body exercise like no other. Farmers walks work your legs completely; glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves… all of it. The same goes for the upper body. Your arms, shoulders, trunk, core, and back will all feel the burn from this exercise. Even your lungs will be on fire after a couple sets of farmers walks. Endurance levels will also improve.
You probably won’t be able to appreciate the full glory of this simple exercise until you try it yourself. I know it’s hard to believe that merely walking around is going to make your whole body sore and stronger than it was the day before, but it will.
Farmers Carry – Proper Form & Execution
The farmers carry is a very safe exercise when performed correctly and with proper form. While the farmers walk isn’t like the snatch or the clean and jerk in that you need coaching and lots of practice to learn, there is still the right way to execute it, and improper ways to execute it.
The most important thing to good form is posture. You need to resist the urge to allow your shoulders to slump and your head to go forward. Since this video below covers the farmers walk form so well, I’ll let this guy explain it. I suggest taking a look at it if you’re not already familiar with the movement.
Here’s another helpful video with some talk about controlling handles.
Farmers Walk Equipment
You have all kinds of options when it comes to acquiring equipment suitable for performing farmers walks. These options can range from almost free to a couple hundred bucks.
Standard Farmers Walk Handles
Farmers Walk Handles are obviously the easiest and most appropriate gear choice. Sold in pairs, they are steel shafts roughly 5′ long with handles that are loaded with Olympic plates. That means, of course, you also need to have the Olympic plates to load on to the handles, but I think for most people with garage gyms that shouldn’t be a problem. If you need more weight than you currently own, this may be one of the times that less expensive steel plates are a good option.
Farmers walk handles are sold at most powerlifting and strongman equipment stores. You won’t find them at all CrossFit stores, although Rogue does offer nice, affordable versions of them (pictured above). Some handles are more elaborate than they really need to be, and that means they cost more than they need to. Keep it simple, like the Rogue handles.
Vulcan also has a pair of handles that sell for about $15 less than Rogue’s sell for, and ship for free too. That may be the way to go.
Dumbbells & KettlebellsDumbbells are another option, and one that many people use to learn the farmer’s carry since dumbbells are easier to control than farmers walk handles. You could say dumbbells are almost perfect for farmers walks IF you have heavy enough dumbbells already. but I’d guess that most people do not.
Don’t go out and buy dumbbells for farmers walks; they are too expensive for this purpose. Use them if you got them, but don’t buy them.
Kettlebells are much like dumbbells in this situation. Kettles make great weights for farmers walks, but they are not adjustable and get very pricey as you get up there in weight. So use what you have on hand to learn, then ultimately upgrade to farmers walk handles.
Sandbags will also work wonderfully for farmers walks. Sandbags are not very expensive, and you can load some serious weight into a sandbag. Would I suggest these over handles though? No, probably not. However, if you can put sandbags to use in other ways or if you don’t own Olympic plates already to go with handles, maybe sandbags would make a good money-saving alternative.
Keep in mind that it won’t be a true farmers walk with a sandbag; more of a loaded carry. Sandbags are meant to be thrown over your shoulder, not carried around like a briefcase. You’re going to be missing out on a good portion of the benefits of even doing the exercise with a sandbag. It’s still going to be one hell of a workout though.
DIY Farmers Walks
There are any number of other ways to add farmers walks to your workout without spending a lot of money. You can use buckets of sand, giant jugs of water, a trap bar if you own one, or if you’re handy you can make your own fully welded handles. It doesn’t matter what you use so long as it’s safe and heavy enough to be a a challenge.
I’m personally not handy enough to make steel handles well enough to be considered safe, so no DIY guide incoming from me. Such things do exist though, so check Google! I will say that there are some pretty elaborate DIY handles out there that by the looks of it cost just as much to make as it would cost to just buy commercial handles. Unless you enjoy making stuff, I wouldn’t get too “carried” away. Handles aren’t that expensive.
Additional Reading for Farmers Walks
T-Nation has a pretty good article on farmers walks. It covers form, posture, implements, programs, and variations of the walk. I suggest taking a look at that here. Jedd Johnson from Diesel Crew also has another good video on the subject which you can see here.
I hope you give farmers walks a shot. I think you’ll be blown away how effective they are as a full-body exercise.