There is one such exercise that most of us are unaware of, which you won’t find many people performing. It is one of the most powerful exercises to improve posture, burn fat, and increase strength in the back, shoulders, and legs. It is one of the finest exercises to increase grip strength. On top of that, it gives your body a phenomenal cardiovascular jolt. It is the good old “FARMER’S WALK”.
There are certain exercises that form the base of strength training workouts but got diluted due to the wrong influences of fancy isolation workouts. Squats and Deadlifts are two such exercises without which the word strength itself is incomplete. Similarly exercises like pull-ups, bench presses, bar-dips, etc. all form a part of this powerful group of exercises.
Farmer’s walk forms the part of the regular practice sessions of the most powerful athletes on the planet i.e. the Strongman athletes. In the World’s Strongest Man competitions, it’s quite common to see the Giant Farmer’s walk, where the world’s strongest and biggest athletes carry app. 160kg weight in each arm. The exercise despite being so effective is the simplest exercise you can do out of all the strength exercises.
World-famous coach and rehab specialist “Mike Robertson,” said in one of his articles that “if you cannot coach someone into the right position, then trick them into one.” This simply means that give them an exercise that will unconsciously train that component of fitness which you want them to improve in and they are least interested in doing it. World-famous strength coach “Dan John” calls this “Reflexive Training”.
Farmer’s Walk is nothing but walking for a given distance with a given weight in both your hands. Walking with a bucket of water in both the hands is nothing but Farmer’s Walk. We have been performing this movement since the time humans evolved. Unfortunately, in most Indian cities, the basic lifting of household stuff, which used to be a part of our daily lives, no more exists. The life has become so sedentary, that carrying a bucket of water would mean a pain the body for days together, a task our parents and grandparents used to do multiple times a day, without even blinking an eyelid. I know the movement sounds childish, but try it once with two heavy dumbbells in each arm, you are sure to cry like a child at the end of the workout.
Walking with heavyweights in each arm will force your core to engage and your posture to remain straight. Imagine a person walking with two buckets of water. He will walk fast and upright. It is his brain that forces him into that stance, in turn, improving his posture. Let’s take another example, try and lift a heavy dumbbell from the floor from one hand and let the other hand be empty. What happens? Your body automatically bends opposite to the hand in which you are holding the dumbbell to balance it. This is the natural reflex or response of your body you are not doing it consciously.
Heavier the weight during the walk, more the core will be braced to make sure the spine remains neutral protecting itself from compressive and shear forces. There is a phenomenal amount of muscle growth, as there is a constant tension in the muscles, throughout the movement, especially in the arms, legs, and upper back. The strongman exercises like the loaded carries, stimulate an excellent hormonal response for muscle growth and fat loss.
During the farmer’s walk, the arms and the grip work extensively to hold the weight stable. It is a great grip strength builder. World renown spine specialist Dr. Stuart McGill has even referred to the farmer’s walk and other loaded carry variations as a “moving plank”.
In a 2015 study in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, a team of researchers led by Paul Winwood compared the biomechanics of farmer’s walk, deadlift and unloaded walk. Six experienced male strongman athletes performed farmers’ walks and deadlifts at 70% of their 1RM deadlift. Significantly greater mean vertical and anterior forces were observed in the Farmers lift than the deadlift. The farmer’s walk demonstrated significantly greater peak forces and stride rates and significantly shorter stride lengths, ground contact times, and swing times than unloaded walk. The study concluded that the farmer’s lift may be an effective lifting alternative to the deadlift, to generating more anterior-propulsive and vertical force with less stress to the lumbar spine due to the more vertical trunk position.
While performing a Farmer’s Walk, keep your posture upright and shoulder blades back, it not only engages your trapezius muscles but your entire core. Once you are holding the dumbbells, brace your abdominals to get an additional strengthening effect.
This exercise was one of the primary reasons why our grandparents had such an upright posture. They used to unconsciously perform this exercise by carrying heavy loads of ration or buckets of water for long distances. When was the last time you actually lifted a bucket of water?
I have seen guys and girls with putrid postures purely due to a lack of strength. Wearing loose low waist denim, oversized T-shirts and walking with drooping shoulders has become a sort of fashion statement not realizing that how dearly it is going to cost them in the future if they do not take corrective action. And, most of them are already suffering. I meet multiple such cases every single day without a break. Cervical pains, low back issues, knee and ankle pains, shoulder injuries, tennis elbows and you name it. The “S” shaped spine is turning into a “C” shaped spine. The resulting complications! Multiple.
Farmer’s Walk does not require any special equipment, just pick up two heavy objects like dumbbells, kettlebells, water/sand buckets, etc. and walk for a distance of 20-30ft and back 4-5 times.
The tendency while picking up weights and walking is to round the shoulders and loom down. This puts a lot of stress on your neck and shoulders and can lead to injury. So make sure that you keep your neck straight, chest up, hands by the side (not in front), shoulders back and look in front. Additionally, brace the abdominals to not only workout your abdominals but also to provide a cushion to the back.
The distance is inversely proportional to weight, so heavier the weight lesser will be the distance you can cover. Similarly, the speed will also vary with weights. Heavier the weights, slower you go. You can start with comparatively lesser weights, but to increase strength the weights have to increase progressively. Lifting straps are a no-no for the beginners but can be used where grip fails before strength.