Why Loaded Carries Build Optimal Functional Strength

Loaded carries are a great way to build muscle and strength while getting rid of stubborn fat.

Many exercises build muscle, increase your strength, target range of motion, and provide for overall functional output. But the exercises that do all of the above are ones you should be targeting to maximize growth and optimal functional strength. While those exercises that involve a bilateral stance are very beneficial, loaded carries are even better, for they require minimal equipment and can work to boost your overall training program and results.

Loaded carries are compound exercises, meaning they require a wide range of muscle to do work, target core engagement, and improve the body’s overall performance when it comes to running, walking, and posture support. They are also great grip strengthening exercises to encourage proper lifts and positioning. With many variations and tons of combinations to try, loaded carries will really put the functional into practice.

loaded carries

What Are Loaded Carries?

Loaded carries are some of the best total body exercises and are considered “game-changing” in the fitness world. They require you to load a weighted implement, such as a barbell, and walk for a set distance or certain amount of time. Working nearly every muscle, they are the ultimate functional exercise, meaning they improve strength, build muscle, enhance stability and promote solid conditioning to see a huge increase in your overall performance and ability to function properly in daily life (1).

Since carrying is an important part of all human activity, loaded carries seem to be lost in the world of big lifts like the squat, bench press, and deadlift. While many people can lift big weights, and others can move quickly, it is rare to see both done at the same time and as efficiently as possible. This is where loaded carries really come into play.

loaded carries

Benefits of Loaded Carries

Promote Muscle Growth & Increase Strength

Since you spend a lot of time under load with a loaded carry, this puts stress on muscular hypertrophy leading to growth (2). Whether you perform a loaded carry for a brief time or for longer periods, this can really induce stressors for growth. By working multiple muscles at once, you target each in their own way to develop strength in those muscle groups. Since they require so much balance, your core really feels the work and will develop strength as well as your grip, which is often overlooked.

Develop Conditioning

Increasing your work capacity and performing these for a set distance or amount of time will work to promote greater lung capacity and overall aerobic conditioning. This will allow you to work harder and for longer expanding on your not only your muscular endurance but endurance as a whole (3).

Increase Stabilization and Balance

As a compound exercise, loaded carries require you to move as efficiently as possible. With many muscle groups at work, your stabilizing muscles are asked to provide support, not only for those larger muscles, but for overall balance and stabilization as well (4). Core, hip, and spinal stability are all targeted to support the movement and prevent any injuries that may arise.

Enhance Functionality

Lifting to get big and look good are reasons to want to stay active. That desired physique can give you confidence and help improve overall performance. But functionality should also be important with your lifts as everyday life requires us to be fully functional with every activity (5). Loaded carries will build that strength for whatever movements you need it to, but also provide or anything you need in daily life, even if its as small as carrying the groceries.

loaded carries

Loaded Carries & Exercises

Farmer’s Walk

Farmer’s Walks are perfect for forearm and grip strength and will strengthen your core and hips to provide for great stability. Choose your desired weight in dumbbells or kettlebells and hold each in one hand. Walk for a set distance or for time and watch your progress increase. Whether it be light, moderate, or heavy weight, each can enhance growth and functionality.

Suitcase Carry

A fantastic spin-off of the Farmer’s Walks, the Suitcase Carry can get your heart rate going, target grip strength, and provide for overall functional strength and endurance. In one hand, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with your desired weight. The imbalance of this will force you to engage your core for added stability. Walk for a set distance or time, switch the weight to your other hand, and repeat the process.

Rucking

Rucking, or using a weighted backpack, is a basic exercise to burn calories, boost endurance, and perform a loaded carry exercise with less risk of back pain or injury. Place the weighted backpack on and begin a walk of a set distance. You can run with this as well for the added cardio challenge.

Zercher Carry

Similar in grip position to a Zercher squat, this shifts the load onto your erectors, lats, and core. Place a barbell in the pit of your elbows with your arms crossed in front of you. Engage your core and perform this for your desired distance or time.

Overhead Walks

Overhead Walks will improve overhead stability and get you comfortable with having big weight over your head. Working your traps and shoulders for muscle growth, it relies on your core to keep your back stable with the increased overhead load. Lift a barbell or dumbbells over head and extend your arms. Maintaining good form with your core and shoulders, perform this exercise for a set distance or time.

Wrap Up

Loaded carries are exercises not used enough in training programs. As a compound movement, they work multiple muscle groups at once while also strengthening stabilizer muscles and working on conditioning. Simple to assemble yet challenging to do, loaded carries will work for your overall functional benefit both in the gym and out of it. Try any of these exercises or variations and see what loaded carries can do for you when it comes to muscle growth, increased endurance, and optimal functional ability.

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*Images courtesy of Envato

References

  1. Butcher, Scott J.; Rusin, John S. (2016). “Core Strength and Functionality with Loaded Carries”. (source)
  2. Baz-Valle, Eneko; Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Torres-Unda, Jon; Santos-Concejero, Jordan; Balsalobre-Fernandez, Carlos (2019). “The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men”. (source)
  3. Khosravi, Maryam; Tayebi, Seyed M.; Safari, Hamed (2013). “Single and Concurrent Effects of Endurance and Resistance Training on Pulmonary Function”. (source)
  4. Williams Jr., Martin R.; Hendricks, Dustin S.; Dannen, Michael J.; Arnold, Andrea M.; Lawrence, Michael A. (2020). “Activity of Shoulder Stabilizers and Prime Movers During an Unstable Overhead Press”. (source)
  5. Weiss, Tiana; Kreitinger, Jerica; Wilde, Hilary; Wiora, Chris; Steege, Michelle; Dalleck, Lance; Janot, Jeffrey (2010). “Effect of Functional Resistance Training on Muscular Fitness Outcomes in Young Adults”. (source)
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Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.