The Very Best Total-Body Exercise

10 Loaded Carry Variations to Get Jacked

Walking is already essential. Now load it up and get stronger than ever. Here are 10 variations to help you build an athlete’s physique.

I’ve yet to see loaded carries fail to make someone stronger, more jacked, or more athletic. It suits every goal, and there’s a work-around for nearly any limitation.

Loaded carries build core and total-body strength, increase work capacity, and even add fun to workouts.

Here are ten carries you can do with different implements. And while each has a standard recommendation of 2-3 sets for X number of yards or time, you can add them to your workout in whatever way you want.

1. Kettlebell Front Rack Carry

This carry is great for developing upper back and trunk strength. The kettlebells will constantly be forcing you back into excessive extension, so you’ll need to maintain proper posture.

You can load it up a little heavier if you’re able to maintain proper positioning and really challenge yourself. Do 2-3 sets of 10-40 yards.

2. Kettlebell Single-Arm Overhead Carry

With this variation, you’ll build a stronger midsection and stronger, more stable shoulders.

This is a lot more difficult than it appears. Stay locked into the proper alignment and maintain the kettlebell overhead without excessive forward or backward lean. Go lighter at first to get a feel for it, then intensify once you’re more comfortable. Do 2-3 sets for 10-20 yards each side.

3. Kettlebell Single-Arm Overhead Carry (Bottoms Up)

Going single-arm and bottoms-up is the next progression. This is an advanced movement to challenge your shoulder and trunk stability.

Focus on all the same cues from the previous exercise, but now hold the kettlebell so that the bottom is pointing towards the ceiling. Do 2-3 sets for 10-20 yards each side.

4. Kettlebell Uneven Carry – Front Rack

Start by holding one implement down by your side, like in a typical farmer’s carry, and the other implement in a front rack position. The heavier load should be in the down hand, while the front rack load should be around 10-15 pounds lighter depending on the implements.

This carry is pulling the body in two different directions. One side must maintain a strong upper-back position and endure the front rack position. The other side is pulling the body down and out of the path when walking. Do 2-3 sets for 10-20 yards each side.

5. Kettlebell Uneven Carry – Overhead

It’s the big sister of the uneven carry. Just take the front rack position from the previous uneven carry and raise it up overhead. Do 2-3 sets of 10-20 yards each side.

6. Farmers Carry

The tried-and-true farmers carry. Nothing fancy, yet no less effective. Do 2-3 sets of 10-40 yards.

7. Suitcase Carry

This is just a single-arm farmers carry. It’s more difficult than the two-handed version because of the instability you get from loading just one side.

If you hold the implement in your right hand, your left side will have to isometrically contract to prevent any movement. So while you’re trying to walk in a straight line, there will be a constant teeter-totter effect that you’ll be battling throughout the exercise. Do 2-3 sets for 10-20 yards per side.

8. Zercher Carry

The Zercher carry puts stress across the entire posterior. There are two ways to do it: barbell or sandbag:

The two are equally difficult but in different ways. The barbell is easier to load, so the sheer amount of weight is what dictates the difficulty. The sandbag may not be as heavy, but it’s just as challenging because of the shifting and chaotic nature of the bag. Do 2-3 sets of 20-40 yards.

9. Bear Hug Carry

Use a sandbag for this one. Hugging a barbell or kettlebell would just be awkward. Squeeze the implement tight with your hands wrapped around it. You’ll build total-body strength that you can’t get with a barbell. Do 2-3 sets of 20-40 yards.

10. Shoulder Carry

The shoulder carry will just load one side of the body at a time. Do 2-3 sets of 20-40 yards each side.

Bonus: Grip-Challenging Carries

Try these to strengthen your grip so you can crush it on all other big lifts:

Upside-Down Kettlebell Carry

This carry doesn’t just build grip strength; it also strengthens the forearms and upper body. Begin with a pair of lighter kettlebells and grab from the bell portion with the handle/horns down.

Dumbbell-Pinch Farmers Carry

Use this variation not just to build grip strength but to test it too. Do it with the hexagon-shaped dumbbells and hold them by pinching the outside of the dumbbell head rather than having your fingers curled under the dumbbell.

Plate-Pinch Farmers Carry

Start by placing the inside of two plates together so the smooth side of each plate is facing out. Now pinch the plates together. Make sure you’re pinching as hard as you can because the plates will easily slide off each other and fall. Go for as long as your grip will allow. Set a timer and work to beat your time each week.

The Benefits of Loaded Carries

  • Core Strength & Stability: Carries require you to create stability while walking, and, in the process, they’ll help you build a midsection as strong as a tree trunk. The key to true core strength is anti-movement. This is far more demanding and applicable to heavy lifting, athletics, and everyday life than crunches.
  • Work Capacity: Loaded carries can absolutely build work capacity. This is your ability to maintain a level of work for a period of time. Once you have a solid base, you’ll have the ability to train harder for longer. When it comes to building work capacity, I recommend modalities of exercise that don’t beat up your body more than necessary.
  • Total-Body Strength: If you choose an appropriate weight, carries require total-body tension to maintain your body positioning. The entire body needs to be involved.
  • Fun: The most underrated training variability is fun. Carries can be performed in a variety of ways. You can go for speed, maximum strength, or distance.

I rarely, if ever, speak in absolutes, but carries are an exercise that nearly every person should be doing in some form or another.

Make any workout work better. Fuel it.


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