The Farmer's Walk
Nothing creates total body strength and conditioning like the farmer's walk. It challenges the grip, traps, entire back musculature, the core, legs, and can be used as a great conditioning exercise at the end of your workout or as a separate session by itself. It is an exercise that helps the weight room work you do carry over to the playing field.
Often the best exercises are the most basic. This is true for the farmer's walk. You simply bend down, pick up a heavy pair of handles and walk, pretty simple but not easy.
The farmer's walk can be used as a rehab tool as it challenges the stability of the ankles, knees, and hips, and makes you brace through the core to stop the load from swinging from side to side and front to back. You can have an athlete who is coming off an ankle injury walk barefoot on grass with lighter loads to force the lower leg muscles to work harder. It is a much more specific exercise to rehab the ankles than wobble boards and things such as these as they don’t utilize the same motor unit recruitment pattern as when you are walking or moving against a load on the playing field.
With all my athletes I focus on posterior chain strength. The farmer's walk is a great tool for this as it helps fix muscle imbalances and weak links in the posterior chain. Being a unilateral exercise, progress in weight increases is limited by the weaker side of the body which forces it to catch up to the more dominant side.
The upper back, especially the rhomboids are hit quite hard with farmers carries as well. Having strong rhomboids can help improve your deadlifts and front squats as they will help prevent the upper back from rounding.
Farmers walks can also help you improve running speed by strengthening the VMO. After running many structural balance assessments on our athletes it is very rare to find someone who has sufficient levels of strength in this muscle group. The VMO is important in stabilizing the knee and it helps prevent ACL injuries. Having a strong VMO improves running speed by shortening the amount of time you spend on the ground during each stride (known as the stance phase).
Some key points to performing the farmer's walk:
Pick the weights up off the ground as if you are performing a deadlift. Keep a slight arch in the lower back and drive with the legs
Lean slightly forward once you are standing upright and preparing to walk
Keep feet under your shoulders
Grip the bar in the centre of the handles unless you want to work on a specific part of your grip.
Stride length should be normal or slightly shorter depending on the load and you should walk quite quickly. Overstriding could lead to injury.
Brace your core the entire time. Stay tight as if you were squatting.
When programming for the farmers walk I generally use efforts for time in accumulation phases lasting anywhere from 40 seconds to 1 minute and for intensification phases I like to pick a distance and go for near maximal to maximal carries up to 25m in length.
For conditioning you can be as creative as you like. As an example, you may carry a load 30m every minute for 10 sets. So if it took you 20 seconds to walk 30m you would have 40 seconds recovery before you do your next set, the next set might take you 25 seconds to complete which would mean your recovery would be 35 seconds, and so on.
Here is a video of Hugo Girard showing us how it is done:
At one point in time Hugo Girard held the world record in the farmer's walk. He carried two 175kg implements 25m in just over 21 seconds. I’d be happy if I could even pick them up.
So whether you are looking to build strength or increase your conditioning the farmer's walk is a great addition to your training program. To me this is a true “functional” exercise.
If you want give these a try they are a common component of our modified strongman classes we hold at Camden. Come down and have a crack.