In a lot of “functional” training programs you may find different carry variations. Why? Because carrying things is functional! Think about it. Everyday you are carrying your purse, suitcase, baby, grocery bags, dishes, or any other normal activity you can think of. So doing it during your training has functional benefits that carryover to real-life experiences.
Although carry variations have the functional component to them, they also have benefits that help you get stronger. It depends on the variation, intensity, and duration, but all rely heavily on the trunk to be stable. To keep it simple, a stable trunk is when the shoulders are stacked over the hips and ribcage is not flared up. Think of an unopened soda can. When it is untouched, it is almost impossible to crush. But if there is a dent in the side (hyperextension in lower back) it is very easy to break. That is why when we train in general, we always want to be in a stable trunk position to limit the risk of injury.
Now, let’s dive into specific examples of carries and the benefits each have. Although there are countless variations, I am going to talk about four different ones.
*I use carry and walk interchangeably*
The most popular carry of them all that most of you probably have done is the farmers carry. Apparently, it got its name from when farmers use to carry straw bales around their farm. Sounds pretty miserable.
For many reasons, almost every single one of my athletes has done this at some point in their training.
Grip Strength: Go ahead and pick up 80 lbs dumbbells and take a stroll for 50 yards. I can assure you that your forearms will be pretty swollen after that and it may be difficult to open your fingers at first.
Core Strength: Simply picking up the weights, you must be cognizant of bracing your core in an effort to protect your lower back. It is easy to come out of position if you are not thinking about maintaining a stable trunk. The abdominal muscles and obliques ensure there is not too much movement throughout the trunk.
Posture: It is not easy to keep your shoulders retracted while holding heavy weights. Your lats and scapula must work hard to keep them in a good position.
Ways to implement: I tend to program 3-5 sets of either timed bouts or 40-50 yard walks. All depends on the athlete and what I am looking to get out of it. There are also times where I will challenge athletes to hold their body weight (half in each hand) for two minutes. It is not easy, I encourage you to give it a go...
Much like the farmers carry, you are holding a weight down by your side. Instead of both hands holding weights, it is only one. As you can imagine, it simply got its name from people carrying a suitcase. Self explanatory I know.
Once a person can effectively perform a farmers carry, the suitcase carry can be considered a progression. Although you are only holding weight in one hand, you no longer have a counter balance. Your body wants to lean away from the weight in an effort to offset it.
Core Strength: As mentioned above, your body wants to lean away from the weight. Due to this, it is known as an anti-lateral flexion core exercise. You want to resist that movement which forces your obliques to work very hard.
Grip Strength: Same as farmers carry, your hands and forearms will be working hard to refrain from dropping the weight.
Posture: Again, same as farmers carry, the weight wants to pull your shoulder forward. Your lats and scapula need to work hard to ensure a good position is maintained.
Ways to implement: I tend to program 3-5 sets of either timed bouts or 40-50 yard walks per side. The weight may not be able to get as high as the farmers carry due to the demands it has on maintaining solid posture.
Kettlebell Front Rack Carry
No cool name here. Just carrying two kettlebells (KB) in a front racked position and walking.
This is arguably one of the toughest carries. If you take two heavy KB’s, rack them, and take a stroll it is not easy to hold a good position. Commonly people flare their elbows up, arch their lower back, and I’m sure there are other funky faults people do.
The main reason this exercise is performed is for core strength. The body needs to work hard to resist lower back extension and the elbows rising up. Most find it difficult to breathe due to the KB’s being over the lungs. Forcing big belly breaths helps to accentuate “the burn.”
Ways to implement: I tend to program 3-5 sets of 40-50 yards. The weight should be challenging, but not compromise their form. It is very easy to get out of position, especially once the load increases.
Bent Arm Waiters Carry
Very rarely do I program straight arm waiters carries. The difference is during a bent arm, your elbow is bent at a 90 degree angle, whereas during a straight arm, your shoulder is fully flexed over head supporting the weight.
Most, especially young athletes, find it difficult to maintain not only a good arm position, but a good core position too. That is why I mostly program the bent arm variation. In my opinion it is much safer and just as effective for what I am looking to achieve.
Shoulder Stability: Keeping your arm at a 90 degree angle or more is not an easy task. It demands a lot on the shoulder, specifically the serratus anterior (right under armpit) to work really hard.
Core Strength: Like most of the other carries, people tend to arch their lower back during them in an effort to compensate.
Ways to implement: I tend to program 3-5 sets for time or 30-50 yards per arm. The weight should be sub-maximal, quality is priority.
All of these can fit into almost anyone's program. Each has a multitude of benefits that can help not only athletes but the general population as well.
Once you perfect the examples above, try to combine some of these. My favorite hybrid is single arm KB front rack carry combine with suitcase carry. It is extremely challenging on the core, but should not be done until each is perfected.
Feet free to share your thoughts on these below and if you use other types of carries. Would love to hear what you have to say!