A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about loaded carries and five ways to do this awesome exercise in the gym. Each of them are a little different from one another, but from a broad perspective, they all do wonders for core strength, shoulder health, and in some cases, metabolic conditioning too.
That’s why they’re a mainstay in our programming here at Halevy Life. Personally, I’m a big fan of heavy farmer’s carries as a metabolic finisher; I don’t think there’s much else that looks as badass in a gym as they do.
But going heavy isn’t the only way to derive the potential benefits of carries. Here are five more ways to spice them up:
The Single-arm Overhead Carry is as simple as it sounds: pick up weight, and carry it above your head for a certain distance or time. If you have the shoulder mobility to bring your arms up overhead, this carry is one way to build stability in that range. As with the Farmer’s Carry, your rotator cuff and core have to dynamically stabilize the weight while you’re walking–the major difference here is the overhead position of the weight.
You still want to hold your torso in static alignment, though. This involves keeping your ribs down and bracing your abs, and a lot of people who do not have sufficient overhead mobility will compensate by hyperextending the lower back and flaring the ribs. This compromises the torso positioning we’re looking for.
Interestingly, keeping the ribs down and bracing the abs might allow some gym-goers to “unlock” the overhead mobility to do this carry successfully. This is akin to using intentional breathing to relax into previously unattainable and uncomfortable positions.
In our case, once overhead mobility is unlocked, you can then solidify that new mobility with the aforementioned overhead carry.
When it comes to proper torso alignment, the Mid-rack/Overhead Carry can help those who still have trouble overhead:
We’ve already featured this exercise before in our Move of the Week, which you can find here. Tucking a kettlebell close to your mid-section locks down your core in the face of this overhead challenge, and the asymmetrical nature of this exercise will challenge your core differently on both sides. The weights can and should be different, and the mid-rack side really helps people learn what their abs should feel like.
We can continue going down the rabbit hole here in our focus on the overhead carry. Instead of holding a weight at our torso, why not hold one at our sides? This is where the Crosswalk Carry comes in:
An easy way to think about this exercise is that it is half farmer’s carry and half overhead carry. Not only should the low-rack side should be heavy to lock down the core, it should also be heavy enough to challenge both core and grip strength. This is just like it should be for a bilateral farmer’s carry. Secondly, as with the other carries featured thus far, you are still looking to built shoulder stability with the overhead half of this movement.
When it comes to shoulder function, going bottoms-up with a kettlebell can also prove to be beneficial:
The bottoms-up position adds another layer of instability for the rotator cuff to handle. As we spoke about in this Move of the Week, the shoulder joint is inherently unstable, and the rotator cuff’s primary function is to keep it stable. Walking with a bottoms-up kettlebell forces the cuff to fire reflexively to hold the weight steady throughout the exercise.
Furthermore, in order to hold the kettlebell up and out in front, the shoulder blade (or scapulae) must also upwardly rotate and protract to allow for the arm to get into that position. This action is done by a muscle known as the serratus anterior, which sits below the armpits and wraps around the side of your ribs. This action becomes even more important the higher up you hold the kettlebell; full shoulder mobility should be accompanied by upward rotation and protraction of the scapula. Done correctly, you should feel some muscle activation below the armpits when you do this bottoms-up carry.
Now that we have a basic understanding of all this, why not add a training effect to this exercise?
The idea here is the same as in the Crosswalk Carry. Like with other assymetrical carries, I’d recommend playing around and finding out what set of weights challenges you, but not to the point where technique fails entirely.
Are these the only loaded carries you can do? Far from it. Whether you are looking to build extra stability or get your heart racing, there’s probably a loaded carry you can do to fit those needs. Generally speaking, carries fit in well at the end of a workout, especially because they aren’t as technique intensive.
For now, these 10 variations should be a good start. Time to get carried away with them!
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy 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.