One of the Best Exercises for Developing Full Body Strength and Size
In terms of full-body development, there are few resistance exercises that can compare to the farmers walk.
Not only is it a highly effective exercise it is also one of the most basic exercises to perform as all that is required is picking up heavy weight and walking with it.
Often due to its simplicity, the farmer’s walk can be overlooked and more technically challenging exercises are selected instead.
However, if you aspire to build full-body strength, size, and stability, then it is worthwhile considering the farmers walk.
Farmers Walk Technique
Although the exercise is very simple in both principle and execution, it is always worthwhile paying specific attention to a number of areas.
First and foremost it is important that the weight is picked up safely from the floor. Therefore, squat down, lift the chest, flatten the back, grab the weight and then drive through your heels to stand.
Before taking your first step, ensure that the shoulders are back & down, the chest is lifted and the core muscles are braced.
As you take forward steps, it is crucial that you keep the head up and don’t allow it to drop down as this may encourage the shoulders to move out of position.
Having this forward head position and allowing the shoulders to round should be avoided as it will place a great amount of strain through the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
The length of the strides you take depends on the weight being used as with lighter loads you may be able to safely take longer strides whereas heavy loads typically require shorter strides.
Be aware that the farmers walk can be performed using a range of equipment; depending on which piece of kit you are using the technique may be subtly altered.
Consider your training goals and experience to determine whether to use heavy loads and short distances or lighter loads and longer distances.
If your goal is to improve raw strength, there is no denying that a heavy load and a short distance will be of the greatest benefit (1).
It is possible to use the farmers walk to facilitate changes in the cardiovascular system too by utilizing lighter loads and increasing duration. Sets of 2 minutes or more are recommended for cardio improvements.
If you have never performed the farmers walk or are a beginner to resistance training, start with light loads to allow you to master the technique first – specifically maintaining the upright position.
Farmers Walk Muscles Work
As mentioned, the farmers walk recruits muscle groups throughout the body and can be considered a full-body exercise. The following muscles are all engaged in the farmers walk:
Holding heavy weight in both hands puts a great deal of stress through the arms and the muscles of the biceps and triceps must isometrically contract in order to stabilize the shoulder and elbow joint.
In addition, forearm muscles are heavily recruited in the farmers walk so that a solid grip on the weight is maintained. As a result, grip strength will drastically improve with regular practice.
Back & Shoulders
A great load is also placed on an array of muscles found in the back and shoulders with the trapezius muscle being specifically targeted.
The traps must stay contracted throughout the farmers walk to keep the shoulders back and down. Doing this effectively will enhance the stability of the shoulder joints.
For core development often too much emphasis is placed on ab-specific exercises rather than heavy compound exercises.
The core muscles are highly activated during the farmers walk as they must support the trunk and work to keep the body upright throughout the duration of the exercise.
Squeezing core muscles through bracing is imperative to protect the spine & lower back from shear stress and for enhancing farmer walk performance.
While all other listed muscle groups isometrically contract, the muscles of the legs must constantly concentrically and eccentrically contract to cause locomotion.
Walking primarily requires effort from the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. There are also a number of other muscles in the legs that must contract either to stabilize or cause movement.
Farmers Walk Benefits
Regardless of your level of experience, the farmers walk can be of substantial benefit for the majority of athletes and lifters.
It is undoubtedly one of the most “functional” exercises going and its benefits extend far beyond the confines of the gym walls and into day-to-day life.
This section highlights 3 of the biggest benefits associated with the farmers walk.
Although performing the farmers walk regularly will generally work to enhance full-body strength, there are two areas that are particularly targeted – core and grip strength.
The muscles of the core must contract powerfully and maintain this contraction throughout the walking phase of the movement in order to enhance stability (2).
When thinking about engaging your core, imagine that you are about to be punched in the stomach. Automatically you will activate all the muscles in the trunk to withstand the impact.
Working the core in this fashion will place great stress on the core muscles thus causing a significant adaptation in strength & consequent stability.
Building core strength is highly recommended as it can assist with day-to-day activities, facilitate better performance in the gym and reduce back pain.
The second evident area that will be strengthened through the farmers walk is your grip. Typically you will find that your grip is what goes first, rather than the muscles of the legs or core.
Routinely performing heavy lifts (such as the farmers walk) will apply a great force through the hands and forearms which will cause them to increase in strength.
As with developing core strength, improving grip strength will not only facilitate a greater performance with other lifts in the gym, it can assist in everyday duties and tasks.
You may have seen straps being used by many gym-goers for a variety of heavy lifts. The purpose of the straps is to support the wrists and reduce the overall strain they experience (3).
Some argue that going strapless with the farmers walk will increase grip strength to a much greater degree whereas others believe that straps are essential for performance and injury reduction.
The recommendation is to avoid using straps until you reach a certain point. If you are lifting 50% or more of your bodyweight in one hand, start using straps to lower the risk of sustaining injuries like tendonitis.
The farmers walk is an excellent choice to improve full-body strength and stability; therefore, performing the farmers walk may lead to a better performance with many other compound exercises.
As touched on, improved core strength and grip strength can lead to a direct improvement with any and all exercises which place a demand on the core and grip.
Any exercise that involves pulling serves as a prime example. Deadlift, pull-ups, bent rows, shrugs, and lat pulldowns all require a large degree of core and grip strength.
Improved bracing and breathing may also have a significant knock-on impact on resistance training generally (4).
Being capable of bracing effectively will enhance stability and consequently facilitate a better performance throughout a range of free weight exercises.
Farmers Walk Variations
There are a number of farmers walk variations that can be utilized. The type of equipment you use or the manner in which you use it will slightly alter the demand of the farmers walk.
Standard – Using heavy farmers bars, dumbbells or kettlebells, grab the individual weights, stand up tall and walk as far as you can.
Single – Grab one heavy weight, rather than two. This will place a greater demand on the core muscles as they must work harder to keep you upright and stable as you walk.
Barbell: Grip a heavy barbell and perform and deadlift to lift it from the floor before commencing the farmers walk.
Overhead Dumbbell: Grab two dumbbells and drive them up and lockout so that they are in the overhead position and walk with them. The overhead position places an increased demand on the core and shoulders.
Overhead Barbell: In the same fashion, press a heavy barbell overhead and lockout. Keeping the bar directly overhead, begin to walk with it.
Uneven Farmers Walk: Select two different weights – one heavier than the other – and hold them in either hand. Carry the weights for a determined length and then switch the weights to the opposing hand and repeat.
Trap Bar: Stand in a loaded trap bar, grab the handles and deadlift so that you are standing with it. Walk as far as you can with it, taking moderate strides so not to make contact with the bar.
Although the farmer’s walk is often underutilized in strength training due to its simplicity, it has real potential to significantly build full-body strength & stability. Therefore, the majority of people will find that the farmers walk is a worthy addition to their strength training.
*Header image courtesy of stu_spivack under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
1 – Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Contreras, Bret; Vigotsky, Andrew D.; Peterson, Mark (December 1, 2016). “Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men”. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 15 (4): 715–722. ISSN 1303-2968. PMC 5131226. PMID 27928218.
2 – Clark, David R.; Lambert, Michael I.; Hunter, Angus M. (July 16, 2018). “Contemporary perspectives of core stability training for dynamic athletic performance: a survey of athletes, coaches, sports science and sports medicine practitioners”. Sports Medicine – Open. 4. doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0150-3. ISSN 2199-1170. PMC 6047949. PMID 30014195.
3 – Coswig, Victor S.; Machado Freitas, Diogo Felipe; Gentil, Paulo; Fukuda, David H.; Del Vecchio, Fabrício Boscolo (2015-12). “Kinematics and Kinetics of Multiple Sets Using Lifting Straps During Deadlift Training”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 29 (12): 3399–3404. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000986. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 26595133.
4 – Tayashiki, Kota; Maeo, Sumiaki; Usui, Seiji; Miyamoto, Naokazu; Kanehisa, Hiroaki (2016-09). “Effect of abdominal bracing training on strength and power of trunk and lower limb muscles”. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 116 (9): 1703–1713. doi:10.1007/s00421-016-3424-9. ISSN 1439-6327. PMID 27377782.