Article written by Matt Mills
The farmers walk is one staple of my programming that I never take out. If you want to get bigger, leaner, and more athletic, then the farmers walk is the answer. If you are a strongman competitor, the farmers walk is absolutely essential to your training. If you are not a competitor of any kind, the farmers walk is about as functional as it gets, and should be performed by anyone. No, I’m not talking about squatting on a bosu ball because that’s considered “functional” for some reason beyond me. I’m talking about an exercise that we all do single day. Any time you carry a weight you are performing a farmers walk to some degree, hence where the name came from. One of the most rewarding things as a strength coach is when I have a member of my gym come to me all excited telling me how they were able to carry all of their groceries in at the same time. If you ever need help, moving be sure to ask the guy or girl that has a good farmers walk!
If you are a powerlifter, or just someone looking to get their deadlift up (and who isn’t?!) you want to carry some heavy weight in your hands. One of the biggest benefits of doing farmers is the increased grip strength. Whenever I see someone miss a deadlift because of their grip I can’t help but cringe. Having a strong grip is essential to living a healthy life, and ladies, I know you don’t like asking your guy to open that jar up. For those of you interested in more fat loss, the farmers walk is a perfect finisher. Literally every muscle in your body must work to either stabilize, or move the weight efficiently. The more muscle groups you work, the greater the metabolic effect is burning calories. One of my favorite benefits of the farmers walk is the amount of work your traps get. Whenever you see someone with some big traps and neck, you know they have put some work into the gym. In fact the farmers walk is my favorite builder for the traps, and is the first exercise I suggest when someone asks for advice.
The core is taxed heavily here, and is one of the best ways to get strong abdominals without doing any direct work. For you competitors that have a weakness on the farmers walk, and it is not your grip, then it is your core. A great way to fix this is with suitcase carries. Simply take one farmers handle, and load it up to a fairly light weight of about 50%-60% of your max and carry it for a given distance. I generally stick with 50-100 feet. Make sure you stay as tall as possible, and do not slouch to the side you are carrying the load. You will feel your obliques of your opposite side screaming by the end. Suitcase carries are also another great way to increase your deadlift, as strong obliques are essential to a big pull. Another great way to build your core strength is to carry uneven loads. Load one weight up to 75% of your max and the other to 50%. The challenge to stay upright will be extremely difficult. Improve on your core strength with these variations and watch your farmers go through the roof.
I would say for most competitors, grip is the biggest weak point on the farmers walk, and its what the event really tests in a contest. For those of you who are against straps, this is the reason why they are allowed in strongman on the deadlift most of the time. Strongmen arguably have the best grip in the world, and it is tested heavily on events like this. Put farmer walks in a contest with a husafel, keg, sandbag carry, stones and your grip will be fried by the end. If you are looking to hit farmers as hard as possible, look into getting a pair of lifting straps and use them on your deads and heavy rows. I do have to make a statement about one thing in your training that I get asked about quite a bit, and have even read in another article. NEVER USE STRAPS ON A FARMERS WALK…EVER!!!
When grip is your main weak point, you have a couple ways to make it your strength. First, use a pair of fat grips to make the farmers handles much thicker. You will have to drop the weight down quite a bit but once your grip increases from the thicker handles, the normal farmers will feel like tooth picks. Another option that I love to do on my final set of heavy farmers is to hold them once you finish your carry. Squeeze the handles are hard as possible and for as long as you can. Just make sure you save this for your last set because otherwise your grip will be shot for you other sets.
In a strongman competition, you will most likely run into a farmers event that will have a turn involved. Turning with farmer handles is incredible hard, and will tax your grip immensely. There are a couple tricks to help you master the turn. A common mistake I see are competitors trying to make a complete stop at the turning point, staying in place while slowly turning around, and then trying to pick up speed again. Stopping is only going to slow you down, and make you have to hold onto the handles even longer then you should have to. Instead of making this mistake, take a wider turn and keep your feet moving, so you don’t lose any speed.
You will have to slow down slightly to keep the farmers under control, but you will make the turn much faster, and be able to pick up momentum once you make the full 180 degrees. The most important part here is when you start to come around from the turn, you must not let the farmers handles continue to turn. Turning with the handles at a heavy load is extremely difficult to control, and without controlling them they will continue to turn you until you lose your grip. Right before you feel the handles start to turn you, push back against them hard in the opposite direction. When you turn against the handles it will actually keep them straight in line, and allow you to continue to the finish line in a straight shot. Finally while turning do your best to keep the plates in contact with one another. Once the plates stagger the turn will even be more difficult as the load will be unbalanced.
Here are a couple quick tips that make a huge difference on the farmers walk:
Grip the handles not in the middle but just a hair back from the center. Your grip mainly comes from your index, middle finger, and thumb. I grip the farmers in the middle then move them back just a half inch. Once you start moving with the weight the handles will dip slightly making you move the weight faster from the momentum.
Dig your hand into the handle for your grip. You should curl your wrist in as deep as possible. Once you pick it up your wrist will straighten. This will pinch your hands more but your grip will be better, which is more important than your sensitive hands.
Use a staggered stance when the weight is light enough. This is a little trick that will save you a second or two on your time. If you start in a staggered stance you can take a step right away as you pick the weight up. I line the toes of my back foot up with the heel of my front foot.
Take short choppy steps, do not try to take long strides as this will make the handles swing more, making them much harder to control.
I like to make my training more difficult then it will be for an upcoming contest. If this is possible for you always train an event slightly heavier then what you will be doing in a contest. For example, for the Arnold Classic I recently competed in I had to carry 345lbs in each hand for 75 feet. Leading up to the contest I trained only for 100 feet starting at a lighter load of 280lbs. By the final heavy week of training my heaviest carry was 365lbs in each hand for 100 feet. If you are not able to go slightly heavier, then work at the heaviest load you are able to for the given distance of the contest. Once you have reached a heavy max drop the weight down to about 65% and perform multiple sets of speed runs with short rest periods of 60-90 seconds. As always, find what your weak point is on the farmers as I have outlined above and make it your strength!