If you can’t hold the weight, you can’t use the weight so as obvious as it sounds…We are only as strong as our weakest link.
Often we ignore grip training in favor of lifts that are more fun and that, we feel, give us more bang for our buck.
But there really is no better full-body, functional lift than the farmer’s walk.
You could actually argue this is the MOST functional exercise. I mean just think about how often you need to hold something and walk with it!
And guess what!?!
IT REALLY WORKS YOUR GRIP! Along with your arms, back, shoulders, core and legs…So just about EVERYTHING!
Basic Farmer’s Walk Variations:
1. Two-handed Dumbbell or Barbell Farmer’s Walk:
Basically, you hold heavy weights in each hand and you walk to set points or for a set amount of time, maintaining perfect posture. You want to use weights that CHALLENGE YOU and make you want to drop them just before your round is done.
Do not let your head jut forward or your shoulders round forward.
Do not let the weights rest on your legs. Hold them just a teeny bit away from your body or at least so they aren’t RESTING on your body.
Keep your core tight and walk with your shoulders down and back and your head up.
2. Two-handed Fat Grip (or Kettlebell) Carry:
This is the exact same as the two-handed Farmer’s Walk except you are challenging your grip even more by making the grip itself BIGGER.
Fat grips are a great way to challenge your grip because they make the handle bigger and more awkward to hold. The more awkward an object is to grip, the more it challenges your strength!
When you do carries with dumbbells that have fat grips on them, really focus on not letting the dumbbell slant forward or backward toward the ground. Make sure you carry the dumbbell so that it is level with the ground.
I also use competition kettlebells instead of dumbbells to challenge my grip more because their handles are bigger than the handles of dumbbells. This can be a great option if you don’t have fat grips.
Kettlebells are also great for carries because the bell wants to hug your legs and you have to lift them out a bit more from your body, which challenges your upper body and core even more.
The point though is…THE LARGER, MORE AWKWARD, THE GRIP THE MORE YOUR FOREARM AND HAND STRENGTH WILL BE CHALLENGED!
3. Unilateral Carry (with or without fat grips):
Whenever you load down one side, your core is forced to work harder to stabilize. Plus I just love unilateral exercises because they force each side to work individually and help you correct any imbalances.
When doing a unilateral carry or farmer’s walk, you are going to hold a weight on one side. The more awkward the weight, the harder the move will be.
You are then going to walk forward. Do not allow yourself to either lean away from the side with the weight or toward the side with the weight.
The challenge is to PREVENT ROTATION. This is an anti-rotational move. You want to walk as if you have either no weight or at least equal weight in both hands even though you are only weighted down on the one side.
Keep a nice tall posture and make sure your shoulders stay level and you don’t lean. Keep the weight off of your leg as well. You do not want to rest it on your hip or thigh.
4. Uneven Farmer’s Walk:
I find that I’m often carrying something in both hands; however, those two items are usually different weights.
One of the most functional farmer’s walks, in my opinion, is the uneven carry.
To do this move, carry a lighter weight in one hand and a heavier weight in the other. Make the difference noticeable.
Just like with the unilateral carry, the challenge is to not rotate and to act as if the weights in each hand are even. Keep a nice tall posture and your core tight. The weights should not be resting on your legs and you should not be leaning to one side. Your shoulders should be level and your head should be held high, not looking toward the ground or jutting forward.
5. Overhead Carry (unilateral or two-handed):
While this farmer’s walk (I think it is also known as a waiter’s walk) is not as grip intensive, it is a really REALLY great stabilization exercise and is super core intensive.
This move can be done carrying a weight in both hands or as a unilateral movement.
The goal of both moves is to press the weight straight overhead and keep your core tight and your low back from arching. Try to get your bicep by your ear and your arm(s) locked out straight with the weight overhead. Try to relax your shoulders down and back as you carry and not shrug too much.
REALLY REALLY focus on keeping your core tight.
If you do a unilateral overhead carry, remember to not rotate or compensate for the fact that you have a weight only on one side. You want to walk as if you have an even weight in both hands.
Slosh pipes or awkward weights are great for overhead carries IF you’ve developed the shoulder and core stability. These unstable weights, or uneven weights, can be a great way to progress the overhead carry.
However, if you are a beginner or have had shoulder injuries in the past, you may want to be careful with this move. This move requires good shoulder stability and both lat and chest flexibility.
Start slow with this move if you have limited shoulder mobility or have suffered from shoulder injuries. While this can be a good way to re-develop shoulder strength you do not want to force mobility and stabilization that isn’t there yet!
Stop letting your grip strength limit how much you can lift. Your are only as strong as your weakest link! Start using farmer’s walks today to strength your grip and get a full body, FUNCTIONAL workout!
AND…While Farmer’s Walks and Carries are probably the best ways to develop grip strength because they also develop full body FUNCTIONAL strength, there are other exercises you can do to develop grip strength (especially if it is your weakest link!).
Check out these 10 grip strength exercises by Fight Camp Conditioning for more ways to strengthen your grip. And the best part about these 10 exercises is that some of them can be used to create even more farmer’s walk variations (like a farmer’s walk with the pinch or claw grip or even a bottoms up carry!).
So I must say, I’m now spoiled by having a car.
No more long walks back to my apartment with huge heavy bags of groceries that make my forearms burn (sometimes it was a huge mental battle making it back to my apartment without setting everything down to readjust!).
But just because I don’t have long walks back with heavy groceries doesn’t mean working on my grip strength isn’t important.
BECAUSE IT IS!
It is essential to so many activities!
And I hate hearing people say they can’t deadlift more because their grip gave out.
You are only a strong as your weakest link!
So work on your grip strength!
Now you are probably thinking “How do I work on my grip strength?”
Here are 10 ways that you can strengthen your grip:
- Farmers walk – Walk holding heavy dumbbells (sort of like you are carrying super heavy groceries!)
- Fat gripz – Make the farmers walk harder by making the heavy dumbbell harder to grip. The fat grips don’t allow you to wrap your hand as easily around the grip.
- Hang and hold – You can hold at the top if you want to make it more difficult or hold at the bottom (you can even do knees to elbows if you want to work your core even more). The point is by hanging and gripping the bar, you will work on your grip strength. (You can do pull ups with so many different grips off of so many different things! You can even do them by just gripping with your finger tips!)
- Grip strange stuff – Ok not very specific. This could include doing pull ups by holding onto a rope or towel. It could include holding a weight hanging from a towel or rope. It could even include doing battling ropes. Doing work while holding something that isn’t perfectly fitted to your hand will challenge your grip strength.
- Plate carry – Like the farmers walk but using a “pinch grip” to hold plate weights as you walk.
- Rock climb – A workout in and of itself, there is no better (or in my opinion fun) way to work on your grip strength.
- Be patient – Seems simple! But it’s not! Try doing kettlebell swings for five minutes with a challenging weight. Don’t put the kettlebell down for the full five minutes! Your forearms will be on fire! You can also do a deadlift and then just hold the bar at the top for long periods of time.
- Rice – So a traditional way to work on grip strength, and something I did all the time at college, was grip exercises in a big bucket of rice. You take a bucket of rice and stick your hand deep down in it and squeeze. Your hand gets tired in no time! Another way I just learned, using the rice, is to take a dumbbell and stick it into the rice. Gripping one end of the dumbbell, twist the dumbbell as deep as you can into the rice. Added weight and rice….OUCH!
- Awkward weight – There is no better way to toast your grip and even your shoulder than by doing a bottoms up carry with the kettlebell. It takes a lot of grip strength to keep that awkward weight balanced!
- Roll up weight – So not something I use that often just because I feel like in general you get more bang for your buck with some of the other exercises, BUT if you have a little rod and attach a string and a light weight and “roll up the weight” you will really work on your grip strength!
For more great ways to strengthen your grip, check out these links (one is linked to the picture). John Brookfield is SO COOL!!