March 22, 2022
6 min read

Whether you are an athlete or just going through everyday life, one thing that we all must have is strength. In order to have strength, we need to create tension. Put most simply, this tension is critical  to pick up and hold something in order to perform the task at hand and without injury. For athletes, tension and strength comes into play when looking to run faster, jump higher, change direction more efficiently, and rotate effectively. One more example is that you create tension when stabilizing yourself for impact. One of the best ways to build and learn to create tension is with carrying.

Carrying Prerequisites

Before we begin carrying, there are a few prerequisites we need to cover. The first one is being able to lock down the core at the most basic level without having to focus on other areas of our body like the knees or ankles. We do this with what is called a tall kneeling kettlebell vertical plank.

From there, the next prerequisite is creating and holding your tension in a plank position, as well as various plank variations.

Once you can own these practices, then it's time to dive into the world of carries!

Carrying Variations

A great way to introduce carrying into your workouts is by holding dumbbells in both hands and creating the same tension and positioning as you did in your plank position (see now why that was one of the prerequisites?). This is what is commonly called the farmer carry.

From there, you can walk back and forth in space while maintaining that tension. If you don’t have a space where you can walk around, then simply march in place. The same rules apply and the same benefits are produced. In fact, a great flow of progressions for any carry variation is stand in place, march in place, and finally walking.

The next level is going to a single-arm carry. This forces us even more to be able to hold and maintain the tension in an upright plank position since we only have weight on one side of the body.

Progressing further is a carry from the rack position. With this position, the weight is now higher up and further away from the core, so it forces you to have to fight even more to maintain that upright plank position. A couple important pointers, aside from that plank position, are keeping your forearm vertical and wrist locked. If these things aren’t done, it can lead to pain and discomfort. We can follow the same progressions that we used for the farmer carries and start with two dumbbells or kettlebells standing in place. From there, you can march in place, then finally walk. Once you have mastered these areas, you can even reduce to a single-arm rack carry and follow the same process.

The last carry variation is called the waiter walk. The name comes from how a waiter would walk while carrying trays overhead. This is the most challenging carry due to needing adequate shoulder mobility in order to perform it properly (for anyone with limited shoulder mobility, stick to farmer or rack carries). For this carry, a sandbag is beneficial because it will naturally try to pull us backward and we have to fight to lock it down maintain that plank position. Make sure to follow the same progressions that we have followed for our other carries. Once you mastered this variation with the sandbag, you can go to dumbbells and kettlebells.

Common Carry Mistakes

Now that we've reviewed the basics of what to do with carries, let’s go over common mistakes for each of these carry variations that you may experience and how we can fix them. Starting with the farmers carry, a common issue is people dumping their shoulders forward and letting things collapse. This leads not only to bad posture but can contribute to some bad neck pain. A great to fix this is to use a logo on your shirt and imagine you have a mirror right in front of you and position yourself so you are able to see the logo proudly.

From the rack position, avoid flaring your elbow out; this essentially creates a platform to rest the weight on. This can put a lot of stress on your shoulder. Instead, engage the lat and keep the wrist locked and forearm vertical, as though you are driving your elbow into your hip.

Then with the waiter's walk, watch out for the joint to be out of alignment. When holding any load overhead, if all joints aren't stacked properly, the shoulder and back can receives a lot more demand to try to stay in place, which could lead to strain. Envision that there is a straight line for each of your joints to align with while thinking about pulling the shoulders back and down.

Carrying Conclusion

Today, we discussed a few different ways to perform a carry, as well as common mistakes with each one and how to fix them. The added benefit of carries is how convenient they are to perform – you can even do this at home with simple things you find around the house; such as a milk carton or even a backpack. Remember that carrying can and should be done by anyone and everyone, not just athletes. Being able to carry load and stabilize in different positions is critical for a higher quality of life.


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