Happy Friday! It’s time to round out the week with the latest edition of MotW. Today we’re talking about the Single-arm Bottoms-up Carry. Enjoy!
THE MOVE: Single-arm Bottoms-up Carry
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Carry: core, rotator cuff, and shoulders.
WHY DO IT: When I was working with baseball players and other overhead athletes, this carrying variation was one of the little things that made all the difference. For these athletes, shoulder health and proper scapular function is of utmost importance to performing at the highest level, and this exercise is well-suited to enhance those qualities.
These athletes aren’t the only people who can benefit from this carry, however. Anyone who has shoulder dysfunction or has trouble going overhead can benefit as well! The bottoms-up position of the kettlebell combined with the instability of walking forces the rotator cuff to fire reflexively. The primary function of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the shoulder joint. In fancy terms, this means stabilizing the humeral head (the upper arm) on the glenoid (shoulder socket). This is akin to a golf ball sitting on a tee and inherently unstable in that regard, so proper rotator cuff function is all the more important.
The scapula (shoulder blades) are involved here as well. It’s no surprise that good shoulder function starts at the shoulder blades. Wherever the arms go, the shoulder blades must get there first. In order to hold the kettlebell up and out in front, the scapulae must upwardly rotate and protract to allow for the arm to get into that position. If we go further down this rabbit hole, we can also talk about how good scapular function is dictated by the t-spine, which in turn is dictated by the core…but that’s probably a discussion for another day!
HOW TO DO IT: As a prerequisite, make sure you hands are dry here; sweaty palms won’t help, but some chalk will. Turn the kettlebell upside-down and grip it tightly like you mean it. Set up so that your upper arm is parallel to the floor and your forearm is completely straight out in front of you. Now go for a walk, making sure to keep you ribs down, core engaged, and your lower back out of hyperextension.
Think about gently pushing your elbow forward and up. You should feel some activation in the back of you shoulder and below your armpits; that’s your scapula upwardly rotating and protracting , almost like it’s wrapping around your ribcage. You shouldn’t feel this in the front of your shoulder at all; that’s your biceps tendon doing something it shouldn’t be doing.
Some of you may find that positioning the arm a certain way will feel better than the 90/90 position. This is completely okay. You can manipulate the elevation of the arm, as seen here; in fact, the higher I go, the harder the exercise becomes. I’m most comfortable with my upper arm slightly below parallel.
You can also play with the plane of the arm. For some, the sagittal plane is fine; for others, the scapular plane, where the arm moves out to the side slightly, is better.
The weight of the kettlebell will be relatively light compared to other exercises, but this is more about feeling it in the right places rather than compensating with bad form. As such including this carry for 3 sets of 40 yards/side in a workout is plenty, especially for the smaller muscles of the shoulder.
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a 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.