Farmers Walk: Benefits, Muscles Used, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
May 3, 2022

The farmers walk or farmers carry is a classic strongman and athletic exercise that activates practically every muscle group in the body to a certain extent - with each muscle group being contracted significantly in both an isometric and dynamic manner.

Performing the farmers walk will often result in a variety of training results sought after by many individuals, with such benefits like significant caloric expenditure and functional strength development being a direct result of the farmers walk exercise.

As such, the farmers walk is considered a truly excellent addition to many different training programs - so long as the exercisers' particular training goals and health are in line with the characteristics of the farmers walk.

What is the Farmers Walk?

The farmers walk is a multi-type compound movement with a body-wide muscular activation pattern and relatively simplistic mechanics that make it among one of the most commonly suggested strength building exercises by athletic coaches.

It is primarily considered a compound core exercise due to its capacity to utilize every muscle group in the body in a stabilizing capacity, with each muscle being activated at some point during the movement in both a dynamic and static manner.

benefits of farmers walks

When speaking of equipment requirements, the farmers walk simply requires a sufficiently heavy enough pair of implements and a relatively clear path to walk, making it both efficient and entirely possible to perform for home gym exercisers.

In terms of rate of perceived exertion or RPE, the farmers walk is generally meant to be performed at a score of approximately 7 or higher, as the relative exertion intended by the movement is multiplied by its muscular endurance based nature.

What Muscles Does the Farmers Walk Work?

The farmers walk is considered one of the most defining compound exercises, as it is capable of activating practically every available muscle group in the body to a significant degree - making listing each muscle group worked by such an exercise rather excessive.

However, the muscle groups contracted to the most significant degree are that of the core stabilizers, the quadriceps femoris, the hamstrings, the erector spinae and the various muscles of the forearms.

This is due to the fact that, throughout the entirety of the farmers walk, the aforementioned muscle groups are responsible for stabilizing both the exerciser and the weight itself, inducing a constant time under tension and a type of training stimulus otherwise difficult to achieve in other exercises.

As such, the farmers walk is a suitable exercise for individuals seeking to train their abdominals, obliques, erector spinae and various other core stabilizer muscle groups in an endurance and stabilizing capacity.

How to Program for the Farmers Walk

As the farmers walk is distinctly different from the majority of strict compound exercises used in training routines, programming it into said training routine may be rather difficult without professional athletic coaching - though it is possible for one to do it themselves.

Generally, farmers walks are best added to the end of a full body training session so as to avoid prematurely fatiguing basically every available muscle group in the body - though this will generally require that the relative resistance of the farmers walk be reduced so as to avoid injury from fatigued stabilizer muscles.

However, most intermediate to advanced training programs do not have a full body training session, and as such it may be a challenge to fit the farmers walk into such routines.

The most suitable workout session to implement the farmers walk into is that of a “pull day” wherein such exercises like the rack pull, deadlift or row are normally performed.

The logic behind this is that, at the start of each farmers walk set, the exerciser will pull the weight from the floor in a manner quite similar to the deadlift exercise in mechanics and form - thereby classifying it as a pull exercise, if it must be constrained in such a manner.

This is not applicable if the following day involves a leg training session, as it is likely the significant activation of practically every leg muscle during the farmers walk will eventually lead to long term overtraining without proper recovery time.

Athletic training routines may be far easier to program the farmers walk into, as it may simply substitute any lower body or core AMRAP set, or in late phase training sessions for athletic training routines utilizing reverse periodization type programming.

In the case of linear periodization programming, the farmers walk is most applicable during progression weeks as a moderate to high intensity compound movement - allowing it to be substituted with a less intense exercise during subsequent recovery weeks.

How is the Farmers Walk Performed?

Performing the farmers walk is relatively simple, though it is still quite important for the exerciser to utilize proper form so as to maximize possible training stimulus and reduce the risk of injury.

To begin, the exerciser will grip the weights in both hands as they drop their hips and bend the knees in a motion similar to that of the deadlift, with the weights coming to rest at both sides of their hips or upper thigh as the exerciser prepares to walk.

farmers walk

Bracing their core, setting their shoulders back and facing their head forward - the exerciser will then begin walking in short, rhythmic steps that ensure they do not lose their footing or swing the weight in an injurious manner.

It is vitally important that the exerciser retain their core stability and neutral spine throughout the entire length of the farmer’s walk, as higher levels of resistance will increase their risk of joint injury, especially if the exerciser has less than optimal walking habits.

Once the exerciser has walked the predetermined distance for the exercise, they may simply lower it to the floor once more, completing a set of the exercise.

How Long Should the Farmers Walk Be?

The distance at which the exerciser should perform the farmers walk for will depend on the exerciser’s own physical strength, the relative resistance they have chosen to use, as well as their particular training goals.

For novice exercisers just starting out with the farmers walk whose general goals are simply growing stronger and inducing muscular hypertrophy, approximately 10 yards with a light to moderate weight should be more than sufficient in order to acclimatize the exerciser to the farmers walk.

More experienced exercisers or athletes performing the farmers walk for its functional strength and multi-type training stimulus may carry the weights for approximately 30 to 60 seconds per set, with the relative distance of this length of time depending on a variety of factors that make it difficult to calculate.

In conclusion, unless training for a specific distance or a novice to free weight resistance exercises (especially the farmers walk), it is best for the exerciser to simply pick an appropriate amount of resistance and length of time under tension - usually within the span of a minute or less, if using a medium amount of weight.

How Heavy Should the Farmers Walk Be?

The weight used during a farmers walk set will also vary between exercisers and their training goals, with higher levels of resistance corresponding to less volume (or in this case, time under tension) and thus resulting in a somewhat different training stimulus and injury risk.

In addition to these factors, the structuring and programming of the exerciser’s training routine will also play a major factor in the level of resistance the farmers walk can be performed in, with the presence of other intense compound exercises in the same workout session requiring a lower resistance be used.

Generally, a good starting point for most novice exercisers is approximately 40 lbs per side, though it may be slightly less for lighter individuals or women, and heavier for heavier individuals or men.

What are the Benefits of the Farmers Walk?

The farmers walk presents a myriad of benefits, both due to its nature as an exercise itself as well as certain effects that are characteristic to the farmers walk alone - with few other exercises being capable of recreating the same benefits.

These benefits may range widely in scope and specificity, with such factors like significant cardiovascular improvements being far more useful for individuals than supraphysiological loading of connective tissues to induce a rehabilitatory recovery response in injured athletes.

Regardless of what purpose the farmers walk is being performed for in the exerciser’s training program, it likely presents several positive effects that are difficult to replace, making it an invaluable exercise in the correct circumstances.

Multi-Type Training Stimulus

All exercises present some specific form of training stimulus when performed by an exerciser - though few present such a wide variety of training stimulus as the farmers walk, of which is capable of inducing cardiovascular, skeletal muscle, central nervous system and connective tissue improvements due to its multifaceted mechanics and form.

This will result in the exerciser’s entire athletic ability being improved, as opposed to simply muscular hypertrophy or cardiovascular endurance as would be the case in other kinds of exercises.

Significant Caloric Expenditure

Though all compound exercises activate several muscle groups in unison during a repetition, the farmers walk is unique in the fact that it activates practically every single muscle group in the body - requiring significant energy be utilized in order to achieve such a feat.

A usage of energy at this level will usually take the shape of significant metabolic expenditure, of which is more commonly known as ‘fat burning’, making the farmers walk an excellent choice for individuals seeking to induce a caloric deficit in themselves for the purposes of weight loss.

Functional Strength Development

Functional strength is an ever sought-after form of strength training stimulus by athletes and other individuals that require physical strength in their day to day activities, of which is a direct benefit of the farmers walk and its combined isometric and isotonic muscular contraction.

This functional strength development potential is among one of the primary reasons why strength based athletes such as powerlifters, strongman competitors and olympic weightlifters will often incorporate the farmers walk into the mesocycles of their periodization training programming.

Such a result will, of course, depend on the intensity, level of resistance, volume and other training factors involved in the exerciser’s training routine.

Carryover to Other Athletic Activities

When considering the farmers walk’s functional strength developing capacity and its ability to develop significant cardiovascular and skeletal muscle endurance, it is by no stretch of logic that the farmers walk can significantly improve other areas of an athlete’s physical activities.

Whether it be by improving the speed at which a sprinter may run, or the length of time a swimmer may remain moving - the farmers walk is more than capable of inducing improvements in an area directly related to such athletic activities.

In Conclusion

The farmers walk is a truly excellent exercise to add into practically any training routine - though doing so may require additional workout programming and a rather slow acclimatization process in order to avoid fatigue or overtraining.

Athletes, individuals with physically intensive jobs or fitness enthusiasts will be best served by this particular exercise and its various benefits - though practically any healthy gymgoer may perform it, provided that they utilize proper levels of resistance and form.

References

1. Hindle, Ben & Lorimer, Anna & Winwood, Paul & Brimm, Daniel & Keogh, Justin. (2021). The Biomechanical Characteristics of the Strongman Yoke Walk. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 3. 670297. 10.3389/fspor.2021.670297.

2. Caravan A, Scheffey JO, Briend SJ, Boddy KJ. Surface electromyographic analysis of differential effects in kettlebell carries for the serratus anterior muscles. Peer J. 2018;6:e5044. Published 2018 Jun 12.

3. Struder, Jeb & Newmire, Dan & Boham, Mikaela & Webb, Heather. (2021). The Effect of an Acute Farmers Walk Exercise Bout on Muscle Damage and Recovery in Recreationally Trained Adults. Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise. 1-12. 10.1007/s42978-021-00135-z.

4. Winwood, Paul W., et al. “A Biomechanical Analysis of the Farmers Walk, and Comparison with the Deadlift and Unloaded Walk.” International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, vol. 9, no. 5, Oct. 2014, pp. 1127–1143, doi:10.1260/1747-9541.9.5.1127.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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