Loaded Carry Variations: Building Full Body Strength

Loaded carries have got to be one of the best bang for your buck exercises that you can be adding to your workout arsenal to build full body strength. The benefits range far and wide, from improvements to hip and core stability, to the obvious strength building effects, and even to cardiovascular development. For this reason some form of loaded carries should be programmed into your training on a regular basis.

The premise of the loaded carry is simple: pick up something heavy and haul it around. It’s a move that we’ve been performing for thousands of year. Every time Grok hauled an animal carcass back to camp to feed his family he was doing a carry. Every time you give your kid a piggy back ride, carry a laundry basket around the house, or walk to class with a backpack full of books you’re doing a carry.

The real life applications are plentiful so there’s really no excuse to not be practicing these lifts. You just might find your everyday activities getting easier. The nature of picking something up and keeping stable while in motion will build core strength like you wouldn’t believe. In order to keep the weights stabilized the all muscles along your trunk need to activate, sort of like performing a plank while walking. The benefits of a strong core bleed into all of your other lifts and into real life as well.  A strong core prevents energy leaks and destabilization when put into compromised situations, saving you from injury.

It’s not just a strong core you’ll build, but a strong grip as well. Go for max distance with a pair of dumbbells by your side and it’s likely that your grip will give out first. I love trying to fight that slipping feeling as the grip begins to falter.

The carry provides a tremendous time under tension, which can lead to muscle growth in the traps, upper back, shoulders and forearms.  Just don’t use it intentionally as a trap exercise and shrug the shoulders while you’re walking.  They should be pulled back (not rounded either) with your chest out. Do so without arching the back.  That good posture should be kept throughout the walk. If it starts to slip it’s time to put the weight down and rest.

Some other tips for performing the carry include taking small steps and not walking too fast. I know when you get to the end of a carry and the weight is getting heavy the tendency is to speed up and stride longer to get to the end quicker.  This can lead to potential injury though as the weight can be destabilized and transferred from your center of gravity when you’re fatigued and trying to stretch things outs so it’s best to keep things locked up tight and grit it out to the end.

So you may be wondering just how to program these in. First off there is almost an unlimited number of variations that you can be doing.  I’m a huge fan of mixing up the stimulus so I find that I’m using various implements to get the job done.  This can be with a kettlebell, barbell, dumbbells, plates, sandbags, weight vests, sleds, or any odd heavy object. The video below has a demo of several different variations so check it out if you’re looking for ideas.

As far as how to work them in, there’s a multitude of ways to do that as well. Sometimes I like to work them into a warmup, gradually increasing the weight.  It’s a great full body move that can prime the body for the work to come.

More often then not I’m programming carries as part of a finisher or conditioning superset or circuit at the end of the workout.  I’ll vary the load and distance depending on the other moves in the circuit. Heavy load and short distances for strength work versus lighter loads and longer distances for more of an endurance effect. Given the variety of different carries I outlined in the above video and the number of different exercises you can pair these with, the programming possibilities are almost endless.

A typical finisher circuit for me might look something like this:

8 rounds of:

1A) Sandbag shoulder/Kettlebell suitcase carry x 50ft

1B) Lunge jumps x10

1C) Mt. Climbers x20

Loaded carries are a simple, effective way to add value to your workout. Next time you hit the gym pick up something heavy and walk around with it!

Are you already using loaded carries? Let me know how you incorporate them in your workouts or if there’s any varieties I missed in the comments below!

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