Loaded Carries: 5 Variations to Walk Your Way to Strength Gains

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Walking is one of the best ways to build muscle, gain strength, and burn fat.

No, really. It’s true. 

In a previous article here on RFS, my boy Tanner Baze wrote about the benefits cardio can have on your performance in the weight room. 

Today, we’re going to take it to another level of badassery. We’re bringing cardio to the weight room. 

I’m talking, of course, about loaded carries. 

walkwaway1What Are Loaded Carries?

Loaded carries were popularized by world-renowned strength coach Dan John, who calls them a “game changer” and believes that they should be a regular part of any athlete or strength competitor’s training program.

But you don’t have to be just an athlete or strongman to reap the benefits of loaded carries. Because they require minimal equipment, anyone can add them to their training program and instantly boost their level of badassness.

Here’s how: take an implement of your choosing (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, etc.) and walk with it.

Congrats! You’re performing a loaded carry.

Simple right? Yet rarely do you ever see carries being performed in commercial gyms.

I’m here to change that.

There are many variations of a loaded carry, which we’ll get to in a minute. First let’s breakdown the loaded carry and look at what makes it such an effective exercise.

The Loaded Carry Lowdown 

If you’re all about “functional exercises”, it’s hard to get more functional than loaded carries. You are literally picking things up and walking with them; something we do multiple times each day

Functionality aside, loaded carries (henceforth referred to as LCs) are a great bang-for-your-buck exercise. They work nearly every muscle in your body, improving strength, stability, and conditioning, all at once.

Starting at The Top

LCs are great for working the muscles of the upper back. These muscles are mostly made up of slow-twitch fibers, which means they grow best with a lot of time under tension (TUT). LCs require you to hold weight for an extended period of time, creating an enormous amount of tension on these muscles.

LCs are also great for creating healthy shoulders. This is because when you carry something, it allows the shoulder blades to sit back in a natural position and activate the muscles surrounding it. This helps improve posture and stability.

Death grip

Improved grip strength is another great benefit of LCs. If you want to develop a crushing grip, incorporating LC variations into your program will help. This also has a direct carryover to the rest of your training. The stronger your grip, the more weight you can lift, as grip is often the limiting factor in a lot of exercises. Plus, the forearm pump is amazing!

Strong Core

Lastly, LCs are amazing for building strength and stability through your core muscles. In order to maintain proper posture during an LC, the abs, obliques, quadratus lumborum, and hips all must work together to create a stable trunk. Bracing and creating tension in these muscles is necessary to maintain an upright posture. 

When performed unilaterally, you add in the anti-rotation and flexion aspect as well. The muscles of the trunk must work against the weight to prevent the core from rotating and flexing to that side, thus building unilateral strength.

A strong core is the foundation for creating tension and producing power. Strengthening these muscles will help you increase your numbers in all the big lifts.


Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is the most popular LC variation. Grab a pair of kettlebells, dumbbells, trap bar, or special farmer’s walk implements, and just walk.

Suitcase Carry

A suitcase carry simply is a farmer’s walk, but with an implement in only one hand.

Rack Walks

These are usually done with kettlebells and can be performed with a single implement or a pair. This variation is a little more challenging than a normal farmer’s walk because the anterior load forces the abs to work harder to maintain proper posture.

Waiter’s Walk

This is an overhead variation of LCs. These can also be performed as a single or double implement variation. Again, overhead carries are fantastic for shoulder health and stability.

Yoke/Barbell Walks

These are done with a yoke and is the variation that allows you to move the most weight. If you don’t have access to a yoke, they can be done with a loaded bar usually in a back, front or zercher squat position. The added challenge of this is that more balance is required because the load is larger and more spread out.


For Strength & Muscle Building

LCs are great for building size and strength, but progression is key.

If strength is your main goal, work on either increasing weight or distance each week. Here’s an example:

Loaded Carries for Strength Gainz

Week 1: 80 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 4 rounds.

Week 2: 80 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 5 rounds.

Week 3: 90 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 4 rounds.

Week 4: 90 lb dumbbells carried for 30 yards x 5 rounds.

In this example you are working on increasing the distance traveled and the weight with which you travel. Obviously, I don’t know how strong you are, so choose a weight that is appropriate for you.

If size is your goal, then you want to focus on time under tension, gradually increasing the time spent with weight in your hand each week. So you might do something like this:

Loaded Carries for Size

Week 1: Select a weight you can hold for approximately 20-30 seconds and walk with it. Work up to 3 minutes of TUT.

Week 2: Use the same weight as the week before, but this time, work up to 4 minutes of TUT.

Week 3: Use the same weight again, but this week, work up to 5 minutes of TUT.

Week 4: Increase the weight 5 lbs and start back at 3 minutes.

Sets will vary here, based on how long you can hold the weight.

If size and/or strength is your goal, perform LCs one day per week, either on a push day (to avoid grip-heavy pulling exercises) or on a lower body day.

For Fat Loss & Conditioning

In addition to their strength and hypertrophy benefits, LCs are a great tool for fat loss and conditioning.

First off, since LCs are a total-body exercise, the amount of muscle involved leads to a ton of calorie burning. Combine that with extended periods of work and short rest intervals and you have a fat burning cocktail.

LCs are also a great conditioning tool. Simply grab something and walk for as long as possible. Rest 1-2 minutes and then try and beat your previous time.

My favorite way to incorporate LCs into my fat loss & conditioning training is to add them as finishers to my workouts, once or twice a week. You can also pair them with other exercises for an added metabolic effect. Here is one of my favorites:

Instructions: Grab a pair of dumbbells and perform the following circuit without setting the dumbbells down. Choose a weight that is challenging yet allows you to hold the dumbbells for the entire duration of the circuit. Rest 1-2 minutes between circuits. Complete 2-3 times.

A1: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A2: Dumbbell Push press – 10 reps

A3: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A4: Bent-Over Two Dumbbell Row – 10 reps

A5: Farmer’s Walk – 30 seconds

A6: Dumbbell Reverse Lunge – 10 reps

The beauty of LCs are that they can be performed a variety of ways; there is no right or wrong. They can be done for any combination of time, weight, and distance and provide you with fantastic results.

If you want to take your training to the next level, start adding loaded carries to your program, and walk your way to sweet, sweet gains.

About the Author

Jorden is a Wisconsin native and sports aficionado. When he's not rooting for the Green Bay Packers, watching Game of Thrones, or lifting all ze weights, he's writing articles and training clients through his website. Jorden believes deadlifts cure all things and ice cream should be a regular part of a successful diet. For more info, check out Jorden's website here.

Comments for This Entry

  • MicVinny

    I'm using loaded carries on my current workout routine. I've mainly being doing the overhead and kettlebell arm carry versions to target my weak points. It is amazing how something so simple get's overlook.

    December 1, 2015 at 9:36 pm

  • Shaun Samonini

    Got impressed from your way to gain,,, Nice article posted. Thanks for sharing your secret for gaining.

    November 16, 2015 at 5:46 pm

  • Miko Raud

    Used to do these in my old gym, where there were very few folks and a lot of space. After I started going to the new gym I forgot about these - so thanks for reminding me. I will try doing those tonight - sure to get a bunch of looks but who cares. Just wondering if it makes sense to do at the beginning or the end of a workout?

    November 14, 2015 at 10:24 am

  • Daniel Aipa

    Solid article Jorden. Sometimes we take our kettlebells out to the beach in Hawaii and have a field day of loaded carries and kb exercises. You really can't go wrong with LCs

    November 11, 2015 at 8:14 pm

  • Tommy Baker

    Great post, man! Love all of them and they are not only great for building strength but bulletproofing the body. BOOM!

    November 10, 2015 at 9:33 pm

  • Ty C

    Bottoms Up Kettlebell Waiter's Walk. You can thank me later

    November 10, 2015 at 6:30 pm

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