5 Carry Variations to Build Strength

How Can Something So Simple, Be So Effective

Pick up weight and move it from point A to point B (properly of course).  It can’t get any easier than that,…. well simpler than that. (It shouldn’t be easy!) So simple, people look at you funny the first time you demonstrate it to them.  By the time they are done, they feel it everywhere.

The key to making this effective is to maintain a proper posture and a stable torso.  The weight can not cause you to deviate from a “tall” upper body postition, meaning your are not flexing to one side or the other or leaning backwards (Heck, even slouching forward!).  Shoulders are rolled back and stable with abdominals tight.  Walking gait is slow.

The forearms will probably be the first to burn out, just don’t drop any weight on your toes.


  • Muscle mass and hypertrophy
  • Increase work capacity
  • Increases grip strength and endurance
  • Increases core strength
  • Improves coordination and athleticism

DB Farmer Walk Carry

The DB Farmer Walk Carry is a basic variation, carrying dumbbells in each hand.  You will want to roll the shoulders back to create a stable shoulder girdle to stabilize and resist the pull of the weight.  The abdominals are drawn in and maintain an upright torso.  Like a string is pulling your head up to the ceiling.  Slow walking gait, with no torso flexing and bending in any direction.


DB Suitcase Carry

Progressing from the Farmer Walk, we drop down to one dumbbell on one side.  This will create more of a challenge to not allow the body to flex laterally in either direction.  You may try to counter balance the weight by flexing to far to the opposite side or flexing to the side of the dumbbell. Your goal is to not do either.  I use the cue, “Level Shoulders”.  Imagine you had a barbell on your shoulders, the two ends should be level, without one side dropping down and causing the other side to raise up. Use the abdominals/obliques to resist the pull of the weight.


Double Racked Kettlebell Carry

The Double Racked Kettlebell Carry will challenge you more in the front and back of the torso.  By holding the weights higher than at your side like before will require more from the shoulders, so shoulder position is critical.  Since the weight is front and wanting to pull you forward and into a “crunched” position, the abdominals will need to be held tight to resist, along with the shoulders being back.  If you begin to arch through the lower back, correct your form, stop, and/or drop the weight down to something more manageable.


Overhead Barbell Carry

Now that we are getting overhead the ability to get your arms in a proper overhead position is needed.  If you can not do this then you need to do some soft-tissue and mobility work before attempting overhead walks.  The weight will be too far out in front of your body and will not end pretty in some way, shape, or form.  The ability to get into proper overhead position is a topic for another article.  A quick way to assess yourself is to stand with your back to a wall.  Your butt and shoulder blades should touch the wall with a slight gap in your lower back.  Raise your arms up and attempt to touch your thumb to the wall overhead.  The key is not needing to arch through the lower back to achieve this.  If you can touch the wall without the lower back arching, keeping the abs tight and pelvis neutral, you are good to go. If not, stick with the previous carries until you get better shoulder range of motion.

The Overhead barbell carry is now putting the weight overhead, creating a very unstable position.  This will require shoulder and trunk stability to a greater degree as the weight will want to sway as you take each step.  Keeping the shoulders down and back in the “pocket” and abdominals tight to resist the lower back from extending.  Keep the walk slow.  Be careful as you bring the weight back down.


Overhead Bottom Up KB Carry

The Overhead Bottom Up KB Carry will not only create a stability issue front and back, but by dropping down to one arm, it will create a lateral force to resist as well.   So a lot of resisting going on for the trunk from all sides.  The shoulder is overhead, so stabilize the shoulder in the joint.  Since the weight is overhead using half the stability with using one arm the kettlebell will sway more.  This variation also requires a lot of grip strength.  Just holding the kettlebell upside down will really challenge the forearms and possibly burn out the forearms first.  If you do not have the forearm strength yet, then hold the kettlebell in a racked position.  It will still be effective, but safer for you at the moment.  Using a dumbbell as a substitute until forearm strength increases is another option.


Throw one of these in at the end of your workout, as a filler, or in some type of circuit style workout.



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About The Author

Kevin Fulton

Kevin Fulton is personal trainer in Pittsburgh, PA. His goal is to help his clients look, feel, and move better. In his spare time you can find him under a barbell or practicing jiu jitsu.

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