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Build Crushing Grip Strength with Loaded Carries

In part two of our series on self limiting exercises we look at loaded carries, what are they, why they are useful, and how you can add them to your programming

Loaded carries are receiving quite a bit of attention lately, and rightly so. As a whole they provide a way to load the human gait pattern in a way that is unique from traditional bilateral gym based exercises. Today we will look at a variety of different carries, as well as a few different ways to add them to your programming.

As we saw in Part one of our series, there are a number of different factors that classify a movement as self-limiting, such as demands on grip strength, balance, and posture (three things that loaded carries develop in spades). Loaded carries are one of the best bang for buck exercises you can do. The are fantastic for developing the musculature of the upper back, teaching correct breathing patterns, improving core strength, conditioning, and shoulder health. They're one of the best ways to develop crushing grip strength. There are any number of ways you can choose to do them, today we will focus on a few of the best bang for buck versions.

Farmer's Carry

Probably the best known and easiest to perform properly (a bonus if coaching these to novice lifters), the farmers carry simply involves carrying a heavy object (usually a kettlebell or dumbbell) in each hand for time or distance. Personally I prefer kettlebells for these as many (especially smaller) lifter's legs tend to get stuck between the plates on a dumbbell, which changes their gait and often results in a carry that looks.... not quite right.

The downside of using kettlebells for these is that unless you are dealing with novice lifters (or have access to giant novelty kettlebells), you are somewhat limited by the amount of weight (hint: just walk further).

When you hold the weight on just one side these become my personal favourite- the suitcase carry. These have the same benefits as the Farmer's carry, but also hammer the oblique on the opposite side of the body in order to keep a nice upright posture while walking.

Rack Carries

This variation has you hold either one or two kettlebells against your chest in the rack position. These are easier on the grip, and may be used on days where your grip is already fatigued (such as heavy pulling days). One unique benefit of these variations are the demands they place on breathing correctly. As the weight rests directly on top of your lungs, this makes it very difficult to breathe using your accessory muscles- you are really forced to use your diaphragm to breathe properly. This is great in a time where many people have forgotten the ability to belly breathe.

Bottoms- Up Carries

Similar to the press in the first article of this series, this version has you holding the kettlebell upside down by the handle. Because the weight is off centre in a kettlebell these again really challenge the grip strength. Don't be surprised when you can't use anywhere near the amount of weight you think you might. These are also great for developing reflexive strength in the rotator cuff and helping to rehab banged up shoulders. Check out the video below as the awesome Eric Cressey gives a few technical tweaks to get the most out of this particular movement.

Programming Loaded Carries

There are a number of different ways you can program loaded carries as part of your workout. You can use them as a finisher, as part of a circuit, a superset, or as a stand alone exercise. Carries can be used to improve strength, hypertrophy, or conditioning, so programming carries will also be determined by your training focus at the time.

Strength: 3-5 sets with a weight that allows you to walk around 30 metres. Rest 2-3min

Hypertrophy: 3-5 sets with a weight that allows you to walk around 60 metres. Rest 2min. You can also use these as part of a superset, use exercises that aren't super taxing on the involved muscles (push ups or similar).

Conditioning/fat loss: 3-5 sets with a weight that allows you to walk around 90 metres. Use a 1:1 work rest ratio. You can sprinkle in other conditioning exercises to the rest periods to really ramp up the intensity (skipping/bodyweight squats etc). Expect to hate life if you go this route though!

That's it really, loaded carries are one of the best bang for your buck exercises. They require little coaching, are great at developing grip and overall body strength and can easily fit into nearly everybody's programming. Make these a part of your training and reap the rewards!

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