Farmer's Walks for Strength and Hypertrophy.
Farmer's Walks can help athletes address subtle weaknesses, imbalances and instabilities that would otherwise hinder their progress. They're a simple solution to an often complex problem.
The Big Rocks
Developing strength or building muscle is like trying to fill a bucket as completely as possible. If you want bang for your buck(et), it only makes sense to start with some big rocks. If asked to pick a few big rocks I’d probably look to the same movements coaches have relied on for generations: squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and the like. 90% of the time I’m grabbing a barbell of some kind for this work with the aim of moving as much weight as many times as possible.
Not bad; as you can see a few rocks went a long way towards filling our bucket, but we’ve still got some room.
The next step in filling our strength bucket as completely as possible is to look for smaller stones to fill in some of the gaps. Here we find what we’d typically call accessory work. Dumbbell rows, lunges, pull ups and pull downs, glute ham raises and the like all do a tremendous job of developing strength and building muscle.
These movements themselves can build both strength and muscle—filling our metaphorical bucket—but their real value comes in their role as fillers. The lunge improves stability and builds the squat. Direct arm work builds bigger, stronger arms to assist in pressing and rowing. I could go on, but this is still likely familiar territory. Once again we’ve made good progress in filling our bucket, but there’s still room for more.
At this point the bulk of the work has been done. In muscular terms I’ve hit my hamstrings, glutes, quads, lats, pecs, shoulders, arms and calves. I’ve probably done some core work, and what’s left is, well, filler.
When it comes to filling in the rest of the bucket here are two approaches we can take. The first is this: we can carefully examine the bucket—our body’s strength and muscular development—for gaps and address these by targeting each lagging muscle individually.
This is no longer the realm of the bodybuilding split; we’re now looking at things like femoral adductors and abductors, ankle stabilizers like the peroneals, spinal stabilizers like the multifidus and the erector spinae, shoulder and scapular stabilizing muscles... you get the point.
The second approach is the one I prefer. It’s simpler, has ancillary benefits to strength and hypertrophy, and is quite honestly just more fun. Pick something up and carry it.
The Benefits of Keeping it Simple
Farmer's Walks work so well because, despite being brutally simple they require a ton of muscular action and coordination. While it may not be visible–and ideally speaking probably shouldn't be visible–the stabilization demands placed upon the body by a heavy loaded carry are tremendous. Legs want to shake, shoulders want to slouch, backs start to round, the entire body starts to wobble, and all the musculature discussed above has to kick in and keep things from going badly.
Femoral adductors and abductors keep legs from shaking, upper back and shoulder muscles keep posture from slouching, spinal erectors and multifidi keep backs straight, and muscles too small and numerous to name help coordinate all of this into one of the human body's most functional patterns: picking something up and carrying it.
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