Much like how many people believe that the squat should be one of the foundations in any good strength program, I believe that the farmers walk should be a fundamental exercise in any good strength program. The farmers walk has been called the moving plank, and as much as I hate to use this word, it is about as functional as you can get. And this movement is not just for strongman competitors by any means. Think about how many times a day you do some version of this movement. From those who seriously train to those recreational gym goers who just want to look good naked, the farmers walk is one of the best ways to shed body fat.
As a strongman competitor, I will explain the best ways to get stronger in this movement and how to perform it, but first I would like to point out how beneficial it is for fat loss. For one, it doesn’t get any more intense than picking up some heavy weights and carrying them for an extended period of time or distance. Literally every muscle in the body is being worked at once, which means an extreme metabolic effect. When working with beginners, I like to have them start by using kettlebells. However, if these are not available, dumbbells will work fine as well. When programming for fat loss, I like for people to carry them much longer than your standard 50 feet as used in strongman. Generally 200 feet is a good distance to use. To make it even better, I like to add some turns for some added grip strength and core strength work. In turn, when training my clients for fat loss, I also like to add some strength training exercises in between turns or at certain distances.
Here is one of my favorites to use with kettlbells:
- Grab a pair of kettlebells and start out with five double snatches.
- On the fifth rep, carry the kettlebells over your head for 50 feet.
- Turn around and do five more double snatches and carry them back again over your head for 50 feet.
- Without resting, perform five double clean and presses and then carry them 50 feet with the kettlebells racked on your shoulders.
- Again, five more clean and presses and a racked carry back for 50 feet.
- Finally, and with no breaks again, do 10 double swings and a farmers walk with the kettlebells held at your side for 50 feet.
- Then complete 10 more swings before carrying them back.
The most weight I have performed this series with is a pair of 70-pound kettlebells. I then proceeded to lay on the floor for a good 10 minutes before I could move. So good luck.
For the strongman competitor, it’s pretty rare to go into a contest and not have a farmers walk of some kind, whether it’s a straight and heavy 50-foot carry, 100 feet with a turn, or one of my favorites, when it’s added in with another event as a medley. Now, I generally see three weaknesses when it comes to the farmers walk. The first is just getting them off the ground. If this is your problem, you simply have to get stronger in the deadlift—and mainly with a trap or hex bar. Since there are multiple articles here on elitefts™ on how to improve your deadlift, I won’t get into too much detail here.
From contest to contest you will see a different farmers implement each time, so you have to be ready for anything. Some farmers have very smooth handles which will make them very difficult to hang onto. Others will have very skinny handles which pinch and can even tear your hands a little, making them difficult to hang onto as well. Going back to the deadlift portion of the movement, some farmers are at different heights which, depending on where your weak point is, can give competitors some big problems. Luckily, at my facility I have both a pair of elitefts™ farmers handles as well as the econo version. Training with both is ideal because the heavier version has a higher pick to them as well as a better grip, so going super heavy is best with these. However, the econo version has skinnier handles as well as a lower pick. So using both implements will prepare you for any contest.
Now, the second weak point I see is the most obvious one: grip strength. If your grip gives out on the farmers, then there are a couple of things you can work on to improve this and hopefully make it into one of your strengths. First, if you rely on straps for your deadlifts, stop this right away. In most competitions, straps are allowed for the deadlift, so competitors use them on all of their heavy lifts. I’m not saying to never use them, but only use them for either your final max lifts or for when you are pulling for a high number of reps (but again, keep it to your final set). Also, when training pull-ups and arm exercises, use fat bars and fat attachments to greatly strengthen your grip. Literally all of my arm training is done with fat bars and the attachments for cables and chains. Unfortunately, if you train out of a gym that doesn’t have access to these things, then make sure you get a pair of Fat Gripz as well as the Fat Gripz Extreme. Not only is fat grip training easier on the elbows and other joints, but it will also strengthen your grip tremendously.
In application to the farmers walk directly, here are two different ways to train your grip for it:
- Simply take your pair of Fat Gripz, put them on the farmers, and take them for a ride just as you normally would for the desired distance (with as much weight as you can stand without dropping them). Train this way for a few weeks and go back to your normal farmers—they will feel like toothpicks in your hands and will now be much easier to hold.
- This is a great exercise when training for an event that includes a turn. Take three med balls and set them 50 feet apart from each other. Load your farmers up to about 50% of your max for 50 feet with no drops, and carry them in between each med ball for as long as you can. Not only will you be strengthening your grip, but you will also be strengthening your core with each turn while trying to keep the farmers under control.
The third weakness I see is lack of core strength. If you look like a newborn baby deer when farmers get heavy, then you are going to run into some major problems, like an increased risk of injury. My favorite way of fixing this is with a simple suitcase carry. A suitcase carry is a farmers walk performed with only one arm at a time. Load one handle up to 40-50% of your max and set up so that you are perfectly balanced with your feet close together. As you stand up, do not slouch to the side the weight is on—this is exactly what you are trying to fix. As you carry the load this becomes even more important. Do not slouch to your side at all and stay as tall as you can. You will feel the opposite side of your body working extremely hard to make up for the imbalance in weight. One thing I like to do is to also challenge your grip while doing this movement. Again, add a Fat Gripz on your farmers and work on both things at once.
Finally, let's work on performing this movement. It’s not as simple as just "grip and rip," as some might think. The grip set-up is extremely important. I start by finding the exact center point on the handles and grip there. I then move my hands slightly back, no more than half an inch. The reason for this is that you are getting most of your grip strength from you index and middle finger. Positioning your hands this way allows them to be centered on the handle and maintain your grip since the handles also tend to dip forward slightly as you stand up and carry them. With this slightly forward lean, you are now using the weight of the handles to carry you forward even faster. Another trick, as far as the grip goes, is to dig the handles as deep into your palms as you can. Think about it as if you were to flex your forearms to do so. Just as a warning—this will hurt your hands a lot more and pinch where your calluses should be, but your grip will hold up much more.
If you are training for an event that is using a moderate weight that you know you can move pretty well, here is a way to shave a couple fractions of a second off your time: Start with a staggered stance. This way you can begin to walk as you stand up with the weights. But again, you cannot do this with a max load, so make sure you get this down before you try it in contest. I like to line my toe up with the heel of my opposite foot—any more than this and you can get off balance and drop the weight right away.
Now that you know how to perform this great exercise, start using it in your program and with your clients, no matter what their goals are.