Getting Creative with Loaded Carries: Part I

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving and the holiday season is fully upon us (like really, where did all the time go?). But with that being said, now is as good a time as ever for all of us to reflect on the year so far and look ahead at what’s to come.

Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize that there are certain constants in our training philosophy and exercise programming here at Halevy Life. Without a doubt, one of these constants is the loaded carry.

If you walk in to our gym on any given day of the week, you are more than likely to see one or more of our clients lifting heavy things and walking with them across our gym floor. The loaded carry has had a consistent presence in our programming for our semi-private clients, and our private clients do them regularly.

There’s a good reason for their presence; they are awesome. From the standpoint of general physical preparation, carrying loads is one of the most essential activities that we must be able to do. Think about picking up your kids and carrying them to your car. Or carrying a boatload of groceries from Trader Joe’s home, by subway, and without a car, because that’s what we do here in New York City by necessity. Trust me, I know all about the second scenario.

trader-joes-grocery-bags
If this happens to you a lot, loaded carries can help.

Trader Joe’s is one of those places where you go only intending to pick up a few necessities, but end up with a shopping cart full of things you didn’t know you need. Let’s just say practicing loaded carries in the gym makes these shopping sprees at Trader Joe’s much more tolerable. No amount of heavy groceries will faze you from stocking up on Speculoos Cookie Butter or ginger snaps.

I like to think of loaded carries as walking planks. Planks are great for the core, and so are loaded carries. Both of these exercises require you to hold your torso in a static alignment throughout the duration of the exercise. This requires an isometric hold of the core musculature which in turn builds strength and stability.

The only thing is that with loaded carries, you are also walking. Now you have to hold your torso in a static alignment in the face of dynamic changes due to locomotion. Take our first example of a loaded carry for example: the Farmer’s Carry.

Every step of the way, your core is preventing you from folding over like a weed because of the weights in your hands. At the same time, your rotator cuff muscles are reflexively firing to prevent the weights from swinging uncontrollably. Finally, you are constantly cycling through alternating phases of single-leg stance as you walk forward. Thus, your also getting in a little single-leg work, too!

In short, there is a lot going on dynamically that you have to keep in check. Due to the demands on the strength and stability of the core, loaded carries can leave you winded and get your heart pounding. Let’s also not forget the demands on grip strength that loaded carries require, too. This is especially true for heavy loaded carries; they can be quite humbling as a metabolic finisher and are incredibly taxing on your grip.

So what are the benefits of loaded carries? Well, there’s better conditioning for one as evident from our previous point. A stronger and more stable core, and thicker/bigger/leaner forearms and abs to boot. Muscle is muscle, and loaded carries can help you fill out and thicken your frame with dense muscle rather than loose fat.

I say this because everyone, both male and female, should be doing them. Whether your goal is to build muscle and get bigger or “tone and tighten,” loaded carries do nothing but contribute positively to those goals. So when I say that carries can make you thicker, bigger, or leaner, they actually all mean the same thing!

The farmer’s carry is perhaps the most basic and well-known form of the loaded carry, but it’s not the only way to do things. Here are 4 other ways to spice things up.

The Trap-bar Carry is simply a farmer’s carry using the Trap Bar. These are a little different owing to the fact that the trap bar is one piece. This forces you to keep the weight steady on both sides, as whatever you do on one side must have an equal and opposite reaction on the other side. It’s like balancing two sides of a scale. I find that this demands a little extra stabilization throughout the body when compared to the farmer’s carry.

Once you’ve become familiar with these two bilateral carries, a logical step would be to eliminate the weight in one hand entirely. Enter the Suitcase Carry:

As the name implies, this is akin to carrying a suitcase, and a heavy one at that. You must now resist lateral flexion of the core due to the weight on one side, and you should “feel it” more on that side. You also want to make sure that you aren’t leaning excessively to your non-working side. This is a natural reaction in order to counterbalance the weight, and you can see Dan doing that above to a small extent. As a general rule of thumb, the straighter you keep your body, the harder the suitcase carry will feel due to the need to resist lateral flexion towards the weighted side.

Instead of carrying weights at your sides in the low-rack position, you can also perform carries with kettlebells in the mid-rack position. Tucking kettlebells close to your midsection locks down the core. For some people, this carrying variation will really help them understand what using the abs feels like.

Your elbows should be close to your body, and the bells should rest against the back of your wrists and your chest. By gripping the bells hard and pulling them into your body, you should also feel the back of your shoulders engaging as well.

Now that we’ve gone over both mid-rack and low-rack carries,  why not combine them?

In this carrying variation, the weights can be different, and they should be. The asymmetrical nature of this exercise will challenge your core differently on both sides and will feel different than the previous four carries. Once again, I like how the mid-rack side helps people understand what the abs should feel like when they are stabilizing the torso. And you can still load up the low-rack side for a training effect. For this exercise, I’d highly recommend playing around and finding out what set of weights gives you the best training effect–as far as both core and shoulder stability are concerned.

We’re just scratching the surface here when it comes to loaded carries, so stay tuned for part 2 to find out more ways that we can spice things up when it comes to this essential movement pattern.

by Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau Halevy Life Staff CoachJeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.

Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.

As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.