At this time of the year, we often need to carry heavy, bags and parcels and this can play havoc with our back, neck, and shoulders. We can learn a great deal from farmers as they are some of the strongest, healthiest, and most mobile people you’ll find, but it’s not because they spend their days lifting weights in a gym.
However, they are lifting heavy things – bags of feed, mechanical equipment, hoses, hay bales, buckets of water, sick animals, you name it – and they’re carrying them from one place to another. Most of the rest of us aren’t carrying heavy things around all day, so for us, we need to think outside the square if we want to mimic what the strongest people do. Enter Farmer’s Walks.
Unlike most exercises one does the in the gym, there’s almost no technique to be learned in a Farmer’s Walk (a type of loaded carry). You simply pick up a weight or two and start walking with them by your side. While you can use dumbbells for this exercise, kettlebells are almost perfectly designed for the purpose with the offset handle making them feel very natural to carry.
The benefits of picking up and walking with heavy things are many, but to summarise a few of the key upsides:
They strengthen your grip. And everything else.
This has carryover effects to numerous day-to-day tasks like opening jars and carrying shopping, and anything else which requires a tight grasp. Studies have also shown a direct correlation between grip strength and longevity: the stronger your hands, the longer you’re likely to live.
It doesn’t stop with the grip though. Your forearms, shoulders, upper back, core (abdominal muscles), glutes and all your leg and foot muscles are working overtime to help you move the weight from one end of the room/road/park to the other end – and strengthening and stabilising you in the process.
They help correct your posture.
When you’re walking with kettlebells or dumbbells in your hands, your body can no longer get away with moving on autopilot; the only way to fight the extra weight pulling you forwards or to the side is to actively engage your postural muscles. Even after you’ve put the weights away, your body remembers what it did to stay upright and starts to do it unconsciously.
They build muscle.
In addition to making, you stronger, they add some muscle to your frame and tighten everything up. It certainly won’t be ‘bulky’ muscle; it will be a little bit added to your whole body, working with your added strength to make you more resilient. As with all resistance training, this is especially important as you age: the loss of muscle in older age (sarcopenia) is one of the main issues leading to poor health and loss of independence.
They improve balance.
Every time you take a step when you walk, you’re balancing on one foot, brief as it is. When you add weight to your hands, your balance is being tested more than usual – everything is working harder to stop you falling over. This is especially true when you’re holding a kettlebell or dumbbell with a single hand as you’re not only fighting extra total weight; you’re also working against being pulled over to the side. If you slow the movement down, you’ll find it’s a very intense exercise in controlling your entire balance system.
They boost fat loss and cardiovascular health.
Farmer’s Walks have the effect of turning the very natural movement of a short walk into an exercise which elevates your heart rate and your breathing due to all of the muscles in the body working with every step. A working muscle is also a muscle which is burning energy so you’re really ‘stoking the furnace’ of your metabolism when you add a loaded carry to your sessions.
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up a couple of kettlebells and get walking!
By Tom Flint