Over three years ago, I shared a brief article about carrying heavy sandbags. Loaded carries have long been a favorite of mine. The physical and mental strength developed by carrying heavy odd objects or weights is undeniable. Unfortunately, heavy carries remain just as uncommon today as they were when I wrote about them before. Although few will argue against the difficulty of a loaded carry, it’s rare that you see many people outside of strongman circles performing heavy carries on a regular basis.
Flash vs. Substance
Loaded carries don’t get much love because they are difficult and lack visual appeal. In today’s social media driven world, you’ll never get too much attention by walking around with a heavy log or stone. Take a look below for an example.
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I’m not ashamed to admit that carrying a stone isn’t the most intriguing footage. That doesn’t take away from the physical and mental challenge however. Loaded carries will challenge you from head to toe.
When people ask me where they’ll feel the exercise working, my response is always the same. Everywhere.
Not a Number Game
Another reason that odd objects get overlooked is because they don’t come in standard weights. Every object that you lift will have a unique size, shape, feel, and weight. As a result, some people shy away from such work.
Whenever I lift an odd object, it’s all but guaranteed that someone will ask how much it weighs. I’m then greeted with strange looks when I say that I don’t know and don’t care.
All that matters is that the stone (or object) is heavy enough to provide a challenge. As I’ve said before, precise loads don’t matter. As long as you are challenged, you will improve (physically and mentally).
Another misconception about loaded carries is that you’ll need special equipment. After all, if you train at a commercial gym, odd objects might not be an option. You also might not have access to farmer walk handles.
Fortunately, there are still options available though. A basic farmer’s walk is still a tremendous exercise. All that you’ll need is a pair of heavy dumbbells. You can even add a weighted vest to the mix as seen below.
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The combination of dumbbells and a heavy weighted vest make for an extremely challenging finisher. It doesn’t take long for this combination to get the best of you.
Another mistake that’s often made with loaded carries is the assumption that you must reconfigure your entire routine to accommodate the exercise. That’s entirely untrue.
I have performed loaded carries for many years and have never used even the slightest hint of complexity when programming the exercise. More often than not, I simply add a loaded carry as a finisher at the conclusion of a workout. I’ll either perform a few sets or see how much I can accomplish in a short block of time (ex. 10 minutes). It may not sound like much, but you’ll be surprised at how taxing 10 minutes of carrying can be.
Loaded carries can be added to almost any routine without interference. The simple addition of a brief finisher once or twice a week will prove to be extremely valuable over time.
Never be fooled to believe that an exercise must be flashy or visually appealing to be effective. A loaded carry isn’t a “hey look at me” activity. Instead, it is a simple exercise that builds real world strength. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything that’s as effective or efficient as a heavy carry.
“The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and an athlete.” – Dan John
Thanks for the reminder on the “deceptive” power of the Heavy Carry! Need to program it back in!
Great article as always Ross.
I made the mistake of leaving some spare bags of quick setting post cement outside uncovered after building my deck. The bags became rain soaked and solidified.
I realized my mistake had actually added to my homemade workout equipment for just the purpose you outlined here Ross.
Ive duct taped two bags together to keep them from falling apart and to make the load heaving enough. It would be easy enough to add bags as needed and the slight slipperiness of the tape adds a small grip challenge also.
I think it would be easy enough to slightly modify the shape of the bags prior to wetting to add to the challenge of an odd shape if desired.
A happy accident I thought you might appreciate.
Colin that’s great! I have one bag that solidified quite a while back and at the time I saved it for just this purpose. However, as I’m progressing in my training the one bag is inadequate for a real challenge. I’ll have to get another and try your technique. Thanks for sharing that tip.
I regularly do farmer’s carries, but I don’t have any heavy dumbbells. What I do have however are two EZ curl bars which I load up and carry. Gripping them in the (curved) center tends to make the load shift rather easily, which really works the hands. I have also experimented a little with carrying big firewood rounds such as Ross demonstrates, but most of mine are a little smaller and lighter, which is good since I’m not nearly that strong! As soon as everything thaws in the spring I need to break ground on a new garden plot. Then I will have my choice of a great many heavy, irregular objects, and they will all need to be moved!
I’m sure you guys know this but I went to a Lowe’s store in the gardening section and bought three fifty pound bags of sandbox sand and wrapped them in plastic then duc tape over them.I currently do a variety of loaded carries with nothing to grip but one small corner area ( no handles) , it’s the hardest thing I’ve done.I also use a army issued duffell bag in addition to that for bear hugs etc etc etc.Its strange, but running with heavy weight is easily the most brutal heart attack workout I’ve done.And even a fifty pound slick sandbag with NO handles is deceptively hard to handle.Everyone is using these as finishers, when I think they should sometimes make up the entire workout or close.
I never tried those before, but I think that carrying loads while running is one of the best ways to exercise. I want to try that out, but my house is near the main road and people would see me doing that. I guess, I would get embarrassed when someone is watching me while doing that.
I Do loaded carries every weekend, two kegs of different weights, one extra large plastic barrel that I can’t get my fingers to touch when I carry it and because it’s large it doesn’t need much weight, I feel up empty plastic bottles with water and just put them in. Works a treat.
Ross great article.I have done ruck marches for years and you have to suck it up, but carring a jerry can filled with water in baby carry or farmer carry style, thats the one for me and other on my group that really suck was. In the end not only the physical part is trained, the mental is train too.
Excellent article, Ross. I recently added carrying my 100 lb sand bag (over the shoulder carry) up and down my home stairs as a finisher. I was spent after just a few repetitions!
Fantastic article and great exercise. Thanks for sharing, can’t wait to try!!
Well said, sir!
thanks for all the great info
have been looking around though, and never found anything about sandbag humidity. I bought an actual commercial sandbag last month, filled it with sand and just noticed that when not used for a few days, it’s wet on contact point with the floor or any surface i leave it on. (and floor or surface is completely wet too)
Do you have any experience with this? as the creative DIY trainer, you must have an idea to help out !
If you have only a barbell, would you recommend carrying just that from a dead lift position? I’ve seen overhead and front rack carries, and suitcase carries, with a barbell. But suspecting that you could go much heavier carrying from the dead lift position.
Thank you for any insights you can share.