Loaded carries (like farmer's walks) are basic training at its best. You simply pick up a heavy weight and carry it for a given amount of time or distance.
But if you're only using them when you have a large space, or you're only walking forward, you're not getting the most out of them. Here's how to take a basic exercise and spice it up in some not-so-basic ways, even if you're training in a small space like a home gym.
The Two Best Small-Space Loaded Carries
If you don't have a lot of room to move, here are your best options:
1. Tight Figure 8
This is great for a small space and adds a multi-directional element to loaded carries. The closer the cones are, the more corner turning you'll have to do on each lap. Don't have cones? Use rocks or anything that can mark your place to turn.
2. Band Resisted In-Place Carry-March
This will simulate the demands of moving forward more than simply walking in place without any added resistance. You have to work to keep your hips forward (creating glute activation) and prevent the band from pulling you backward.
So position an NT Loop band above your hips and anchor it to something at a level between your knees and waist. Walk away from the anchor to create tension against your hips and remain the same distance from the band while doing the exercise.
(This is what I designed the NT Loop Band for; it has a built-in door anchor and feels far more comfortable and stable than the standard bands that dig into the body or move around weirdly.)
Want some conditioning? Take this same idea and use it for a band-resisted interval circuit:
- A1. Band Resisted In-Place Carry-March: 30 seconds
- A2. Skip: 20 seconds
- A3. Sprint: 10 seconds (as fast as you can go)
Here's what those last two look like:
One round is one minute. Repeat for three to six rounds without rest.
Make sure there's tension on the band throughout. The dumbbell hip carry with high-knee march is your active-rest portion of each interval.
Top Three Large-Space Loaded Carries
If you're at the gym or outdoors, these drills are my top variations. They go way beyond just walking forward with a heavy thing in hand.
1. Forward and Backward Carry
This is the most basic variation of traditional loaded carries. But instead of turning around and walking forward again, you stay facing the same direction and walk backward to return to the start. Of course you can do this in a smaller space, as shown in the video. Just readjust the cones for whatever amount of space you have available.
As basic as this is, I've yet to see backward walking done by other coaches when doing loaded carries, which baffles me.
2. Box Carry
As the name implies, you're walking the shape of a box. It's unique because it involves moving laterally, not just forward and backward.
You can limit the amount of lateral movement involved by setting up the four cones in the shape of a rectangle, so the longest distance is moving forward and backward.
3. X-Box Carry
This drill is the same as above, except it adds a diagonal walk between the corners of the box.
Combined Loaded Carries for Conditioning
For conditioning, pair loaded carries with other locomotion exercises that require you to move through the same space as the carries.
For example, you can pair a set of loaded carries by alternating them with any of these:
- Sled push
- Plate push
- Side Shuffle
Notice that none of the above are grip intensive. Since loaded carries wear out your grip, you don't want to combine them with another exercise, like reverse sled drags, that also requires a strong grip. That concentrated fatigue will limit your ability to perform enough rounds to create a conditioning effect.
You can also use loaded carries as a part of what I call Hybrid Locomotion Complexes (HLC). They're a simple and effective way to jack up the heart rate and burn a ton of calories without sacrificing muscle size or strength.
The Six Main Types of Loaded Carries
These drills are perfect for dumbbells or kettlebells. Play around with how you hold them using any of these positions:
- Hip Carry
- Racked Carry
- Overhead Carry
And their unilateral counterparts:
- One-Arm Hip Carry
- One-Arm Racked Carry
- One-Arm Overhead Carry
Let's Go Back to the Racked Carry
When doing the racked carry (with one or both arms), it's important to note a few details in how to hold the dumbbells.
This can get weird with dumbbells if you don't get it right. First, get the back ends of the dumbbells to rest on the tops of your shoulders. Then slide your hands away from your shoulders so your pinky fingers are against the inside edge of the dumbbells.
This is more comfortable than holding the middle of the handle. Plus it's stronger and more stable because it allows you to keep your forearms more perpendicular to the floor. Of course, you can also use kettlebells for all six carry types.
You could absolutely argue that there's a seventh main type of carrying, which is a Zercher carry. This is usually done with a barbell, Husafell stone, or a sandbag. There's nothing wrong with these options. So if you have those implements, use them!