Farmer's walk exercise

What is the Farmer’s Walk Exercise?

More than likely, you have done the farmer’s walk exercise without even knowing it. Have you ever grabbed a pair of heavy groceries and tried to speed walk to the front door before the bottom breaks on the bag or your hands give out? Or maybe your kids decided they don’t want to leave the park and plant themselves on the ground. You are late, grab both your kids in each arm and speed walk to your car surged with superhuman frustration strength. If yes, you have done a farmer’s walk.

The actual farmer’s walk includes grabbing two hay bails, a wheelbarrow full of dirt or manure, or a plow attached to horses and simply walking with a heavy load in your hands. Having spent time working on a ranch, I have done all of these. Let me tell you, it is challenging, exhausting, and makes a one-hour gym workout feel like a luxurious glamping version of physical exercise.

There are other variations of the farmer’s walk including the yoke walk (weight across the upper back and has the highest load on the spine), rack carries (weight across upper chest), Zercher carries (weight in the crook of elbows), and overhead carries (weight in hands, arms extended overhead) if you really want to get fancy with this simple exercise.

How Do You do the Farmer’s Walk?

The beauty of the farmer’s walk is that anyone can easily learn it. You simply grab dumbbells or kettlebells, a trap bar, or handle carry bars and just start walking. The only thing you want to keep mind is proper posture and form while you walk. Make sure your shoulders aren’t swaying far back or hunching forward. Keep a strong, neutral spine with your shoulders straight.

The Strongman competition resurrected and popularized the farmer’s walk for the general public, and it has come back with a vengeance due to its raw, primal and incredibly useful application in everyday life and in sports.

Does the Farmer’s Walk Build Muscle?

One side of my grandparents grew up on a farm in Missouri, and that side of the family were farmers as far back as we could trace. Even though they left the farm when they were both eighteen years old and headed west, my grandfather definitely had what has been referred to as “farmer’s strength.” I don’t think he did any exercise after those eighteen years, but he could still crush my hand well into his 80’s. When you grow up doing hard manual work every day – even when you are young – that strength seems to stay with you for life. Bringing the farmer’s walk exercise into your weekly routine can help you channel the farmer’s grip strength.

The farmer’s walk shares similarities with the squat and deadlift but then takes it to a whole new level of usefulness. When people hurt their back, it is usually from picking something awkward up like a dresser or couch and carrying it. When you pick something up and carry it, you don’t load your spine and go up and down in a controlled, stationary position. And when picking up a piece of furniture on one end, you do not pick it up like a bar with your palms down and just lift up. You lift it with your palms up or from the sides and try to balance while you walk.

While squats and deadlifts undoubtedly have been proven to be tremendous compound lifts, I would argue the application of mechanics of the farmer’s walk will provide a type of strength that will always be much more useful from carrying anything heavy from point A to point B, to sports and activities that require an advanced proprioceptive system for balance and core stability. Which, when you think about it, is every activity.

6 Ways the Farmer’s Walk Exercise Builds Muscle

  • Increased forearm and grip strength, improving your bone-crushing handshake to essentially everything that requires strong hands. A weak grip is actually used as an early marker of age-related functional decline.
  • Strengthened core and hip stability to maintain posture in the frontal, sagittal, and transverse planes. Many people isolate core exercises, but full-body core stabilization is another level that should trained.
  • Stronger glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves from walking with a heavy load.
  • Testosterone boost (the study also looked at the tire flip, chain drag, keg carry, and atlas stone lift).
  • Upper back, biceps and traps for stabilization.
  • Cardiovascular benefits (your heart should be pumping at the end).

Variations of the Farmer’s Walk

There are three progressions of difficulty for the farmer’s walk exercise in terms of equipment:

1. Dumbbells or Kettle Bell Farmer’s Walk

When using dumbbells or kettlebells, I would recommend avoiding attempting this exercise with only one weight in hand if you have any history of back issues. Always use equal weights in each hand for a healthier spine. Researchers have found that the act of carrying one 30 kg kettlebell in each hand (60 kg total) resulted in markedly lower measures of spinal compression that carrying one 30 kg kettlebell unilaterally, which increased the risk of a back injury.

2. Trap bar Farmer’s Walk

I had never used the trap bar before doing the farmer’s walk exercise. Now, it has become my favorite piece of equipment. Load up each side of the bar, then stand in the middle. Grab the handles, lift up, and start to walk. The trap bar will allow you to add much more weight, and make it easier to pick the weight up and put it down. Grabbing 100lb dumbbells in each hand from the bottom rack and falling over head first isn’t a great look.

If you are having trouble finding plates for your home gym during the pandemic, I had luck getting HulkFit Olympic bumper plates. After testing, I think they are very high quality and the color selection looks cool. 

3. Farmer’s Walk Handle Carry Bars

Count your blessings if your gym has these handle carry bars. These are closer to what is used for the Strongman competitions and will allow you to reach new heights with weight, and also another level of balance and coordination.

How Much Weight for the Farmer’s Walk?

The weight you should use is the one you can only hold for 30-60 seconds. So experiment with lower weight in the beginning, and see how your grip is holding up in this time frame. Then make the appropriate modifications and start going up 5-10lb each session like you would with the squat or deadlift. Set your first goal to reach your body weight, then the sky is the limit from there.

How Many Reps for the Farmer’s Walk?

There are multiple opinions on how to set up the rep scheme for the farmer’s walk. You essentially have two ways to do it based on your gym set up. You can go for distance and endurance or speed time trials.

Distance Farmer’s Walk

Pick a weight and walk for 30-60 seconds. Ideally, you have enough room to go 30 seconds forward, turn around and 30 seconds back. If you are limited on space, just keep making small trips back and forth. Work up to 3 sets, with your last set being your final work weight.

Speed Trials Farmer’s walk 

Pick a weight and a specified lap distance. Speed walk with the weight and time yourself for the lap. Do 3 sets.

How Often Should I do the Farmer’s Walk?

The farmer’s walk isn’t as taxing as the deadlift, and therefore, can be utilized more than once a week. It will also depend on your workout schedule, but 1-3x a week is a good target.


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