The Best Exercises Ever, Part II: Farmer’s Walks

I. Love. Farmer’s. Walks. Incredible exercise. It is a huge bang for your buck movement that you can get a on out of: grip strength, strengthened gait, better core and quite a bit more. Its the perfect exercise for the beginner exerciser all the way to the most experienced weight lifter.

Tons of benefits, very little down side and something most people can do. Emphasis on most. While it is a killer movement, it does have some potential downsides.

Before you pick up a pair of weights as you hum “Old McDonald” on your way to a gravity fighting constitutional, there are a few things you need to watch out for, with posture being the most CRITICAL to getting the full benefits of this exercise:

1) Packed Chin is a must: your spine must be stable like a California Redwood to do this right.

2) Those with extreme forward rounded shoulders need not apply. If you’re shoulders are to rounded, the weight you hold will only exacerbate the issue. Thoracic spine mobility is where you should start before trying farmer’s walks.

THIS MEANS YOU ENDURANCE ATHLETES! This is an incredible exercise, but your posture lines have to be as straight possible for it to be effective. I’ll tell you what though, mastery of the Farmer’s Walk WILL make you faster on your feet, in the saddle and in the water!

Once you get these things signed off on by your body, its GIDDYUP TIME!

Benefits of the Farmer’s Walk

“Farmers walks are one of the simplest and most functional exercises ever. Period,” says Ben Coker, (Farmer’s Walks: The Overlooked Solution to Many Problems.). “Standing and walking are primal essential functions of human life and this exercise is just that. Stand up with a heavy weight and then walk with it a given distance. Every major muscle group is involved in this exercise, and not only that, dependant on the working distance, great stress can be put upon the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.”

See, awesome grip strength!

Here some more benefits:

You will develop the grip strength of 1000 gorillas.

Ok, maybe one seriously roided out Curious George, but you get the idea. Your grip strength will go through the roof with this exercise automatically making every other exercise you do better.

You can develop a back that can rip a phone book in half.

Ok, probably not possible, but you get the gist. Just about every exercise in the gym requires the back to get involved somehow someway. The stronger the back, the better it can support, perform or sustain your lifts. Especially when you consider all of the stabilizer muscles of spinal rotation this lift enhances on top: spinal erectors, the lats, traps, rhomboids and rear delts.

You get total leg development

Very few lifts will hit the legs in a way that mimics the most primal of movement patterns, walking. This exercise will help you develop the necessary strength to extend the hips correctly when you walk, in turn making it easier for your body to support you in the standing position of any lift. Try doing deadlifts or KB swings without full upper and lower body integration in the standing position. Not possible unless your goal is hurt yourself.

Build a bullet proof core

Whenever we walk, there are a ton of multi-planar forces acting on our spine and the better your body can stabilize those forces, the safer it is to move. The stronger the core, the better the transfer of energy/forces throughout your joints. The Farmer’s Walk will do wonders toward helping you here.

You can clean up postural dysfunction

“The farmer’s walk is a self-limiting exercise in that it brings awareness to posture and breathing, two fundamental factors in shoulder function,” says David Wu (Farmer’s Walk: The Hardcore Corrective).

“It’s also very hard to cheat – nobody will ever farmer’s walk a lot of weight for a great distance with shoulders hunched over. Over time your body will either quit on you or it’ll learn to stack each body part on top of each other and straighten up. Anything but optimal alignment will hinder your performance in the Farmer’s walk.”

While yes, you are moving forward doing this exercise, the muscles that stabilize the hips when you walk get a ton of work. Every time you step you’re on a single leg, load that motion up, and you can build some serious hip stability over time. This, is never a bad thing!

“If the body is not able to correctly engage the lateral chain to prevent hips from shifting to the side (a frontal plane motion), then a person effectively falls off balance to the sides, says Justin Price, MA (Strengthening the Lateral Chain for Pain Free Walking). “If this happens every time a person steps forward, then the gait pattern starts to become a side shifting or waddling of the hips in the frontal plane rather than a stabilized forward movement in the sagittal plane.”

If you’ve never done the Farmer’s Walk, go pick up two weights and get on it! Do it long enough, and you will start to notice a lot of other lifts getting better allowing you to move more weight.

I love this exericse, I do it, my clients do and they have gotten a lot stronger as a result!