Loaded Carries for CrossFit Athletes

TAGS: loaded carry, Jason Brown, CrossFit, conditioning

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It's no mystery that loaded carries have a multitude of uses. The fact that we are able to effectively check off multiple boxes in terms of benefits is an added bonus.

We know that loaded carries can help us to develop stability in all three planes of motion, but we often don't consider their value from a conditioning standpoint.

On top of being a foundational movement pattern (local motion), loaded carries can improve the aerobic abilities of the fast-twitch fibers, which means that high power can be maintained longer.

Loaded carries work by recruiting high-threshold motor units and increasing the oxidative abilities of these fibers by supplying them with constant oxygen.


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We can use a variety of loaded carries that will fit the bill to help you to develop core stability; from a maximal heart-rate perspective, performing sets of loaded carries will allow us to hover right on the anaerobic threshold line.

If you don't believe me, grab a set of heavy kettlebells and walk for 20 seconds. You'll be pretty winded but not in the sense that you're not able to repeat this effort for multiple bouts.

It’s also important to note that competitive CrossFitters are constantly asked to lock weight out isometrically in a variety of tasks (handstand walking and overhead loaded carry variations). Loaded carries are a great means of improving these tasks.

Here's What You Need to Know:

  • These loaded carries can be used in both strength and conditioning scenarios - the former will be used for shorter distances with heavier loads, and the latter will be used for longer distances with lighter loads.
  • You can constantly change how these are performed by adding things like pulling a sled to the mix.
  • Longer-distance carries should be done on a conditioning day, whereas heavier work can be done as a "finisher" on a strength-emphasis day.
  • Use your imagination and "gamify" these finishers - 1/2 mile farmer carry for time is an example.

1. Single-Arm Farmer Carry

It's hard NOT to include the single-arm farmer carry because it offers us the ability to train the frontal core, quadratus lumborum, and aerobic system. Perform sets that last around the 20s with the heaviest weight you can handle, alternating between both sides evenly.

Rest for roughly 90 seconds or until your heart rate is around 130-140. The single-arm carries will get your heart rate up and also develop your frontal core stability.

2. Front Rack Carry

Grab two kettlebells and place them in the front rack position. Your elbows should be in front, not flared out, and your ribs should be down/anterior core engaged.

Same guidelines as above; perform sets that last around the 20s with the heaviest weight you can handle. Rest for roughly 90 seconds or until your heart rate is around 130-140.

3. Crossbody Carry

With this variation, you'll carry two kettlebells; one heavy and one lighter. You'll hold one by your side (heavier kettlebell) and one in the front rack.

You'll carry an equal distance on each side using the same guidelines as in the first two categories we mentioned.

4. Sledpull with Heavy Medball Against Your Stomach

For this variation, you'll attach a light sled to your weight belt and grab a heavy medball (50 pounds or more). Make sure that you start light with this one. This variation will likely get your heart rate up a lot higher than the first two variations will, so the training recommendations are going to differ.

You'll want to perform four sets of 60 yards, resting two minutes between sets or for distances up to 800 meters.

Also, you can alter the positioning of the medball throughout your sets - against the stomach, high on the chest, or low on the hips.

5. Sledpull with Two Light Kettlebells

For this variation, you'll want to use the sled the same way you did for #4, except this time, you'll use two light kettlebells. For this variation, you're going to go for the max distance in 10 minutes, alternating between the overhead carry, front rack carry, and farmer carry.

You can rest as much as you need to between intervals to repeat your output for the duration. This can be used as a "fun" finisher after just about any training session.

6. Heavy Medball Carry Against the Stomach

If you have access to heavy medballs (at least 100 pounds) or stones, this is a great variation to challenge your breathing ability. Not to mention that it is quite demanding on both the anterior and the posterior chain.

Sets of 40-60 yards are all that's needed, or going for longer distances with a lighter medball is another option for those looking to improve their aerobic functions.

8. Front Rack + Overhead Carry

I love this variation for CrossFitters who are looking to improve higher-skill components, such as overhead isometric strength with things like handstands, all while trying to maintain anterior core integrity - critical to being a successful CrossFitter.

Sets of 20-40 yards per side fit the bill. Or, for an added strength-endurance challenge, use light kettlebells, attach a pulling sled to your waist, and go for 400 meters stopping as few times as possible.

9. Trap Bar Farmer Carry

The trap bar allows us to load the farmer's carry to really test our grip capacity. Here are a few challenges for you that I learned from Dr. John Rusin:

  • Rx+: 30 seconds with 200% of bodyweight
  • Rx: 30 seconds with 150% of bodyweight
  • L3: 30 seconds with 100% of bodyweight

10. Overhead Kettlebell Carry

This is a staple for CrossFit athletes. It is a huge carryover to things like overhead walking lunge variations and handstand walking. This particular variation can be done in a number of ways (with a barbell or bamboo bar) for an increased level of difficulty, but I prefer the kettlebells for simplicity and the unilateral component. Kettlebells also tend to be more userfriendly for variations like this versus a standard set of dumbbells.

For strength work, perform 4-5 rounds of 90 ft. Rest 60-90seconds between rounds. For strength-endurance work, go 400 meters for time.

We also favor using these in a mixed-modality setting regularly, similar to what a CrossFit competitor could see in a competition with a variety of moving parts.

11. Zercher Yoke Carry

This is one of the most brutal loaded carries and is definitely not for the novice trainee. Of course, you'll need to have access to a yoke to perform these, but if you do NOT, a barbell will do the job. I'd recommend wearing knee sleeves on your arms, though, as the barbell is less forgiving than the yoke is.

The Zercher yoke carry presents challenges to all three energy systems as well as core control. This is a variation that we program often for our CrossFit competitors, as they can be faced with challenges much like this in any given competition.

You'll want to perform these for smaller sets. Shoot for 5-6 rounds of 50 ft, resting for90 seconds to 2:00 between rounds.

Closing

Loaded carries are so effective that you won't find one program that we offer that does not include them on the regular.

Add these loaded carries to your repertoire, and you'll notice the carryover to other aspects of your performance almost right away, especially if you don't already perform loaded carries on the regular.

Loaded carries are in an integral part of any intelligent training plan, so be sure to devote some time to include them in your programming. There is a long list of variations, too, so don't just perform the same variations each week. Get creative, and have fun with it!

Header image credit: RX Photography 

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