If you had to choose just one exercise to help you build strength, increase muscular endurance & cardiovascular functioning, improve coordination, stability, and mobility; then you would be hard pressed to beat the loaded carry.
The loaded carry is as simple as picking up a load (weight) and carrying it for time or distance. You may be familiar with them from competitions like the World’s Strongest Man where competitors have to pick up all kinds of heavy, weird objects like huge stones, beer kegs, truck tires or oversized circus dumbbells, and carry them a certain distance.
The loaded carry is not just for competitive strongmen. It is as basic and functional as it gets. So much so that you should be regularly including them in your training program.
Benefits of the Loaded Carry
Core Strength & Stability
Loaded carries are great for strengthening and stabilizing the whole torso from shoulders to hips. You have to work hard to maintain an upright posture during loaded carries, which forces you to really contract and brace your core.
Unilateral (one-sided) carries go a step further by adding the extra element of dealing with trunk rotation and flexion. Now you have to work even harder not just to stay upright but also to stop from twisting.
Cardiovascular & Muscular Endurance
It doesn’t take long for loaded carries to get pretty taxing on the cardiovascular, pulmonary and muscular systems, as another who has ever helped a friend move will tell you.
Loaded carries can challenge both the anaerobic and aerobic systems depending on the distance or time of the carry. Also with the bear hug carry, where the weight is held in close to the chest, this places extra pressure on the lungs making breathing that much more difficult.
We already mentioned the need for a strong, stable core for loaded carries, but you also need a solid pillar of a back.
Loaded carries work the whole back from the big upper muscles of the traps and lats down to the smaller individual lower back muscles of the erector spinae and multifidius muscles.
Loaded carries challenge grip strength like no other exercises. Picking up and holding a heavy weight as you walk engages not only the wrist and forearm but the fingers and whole hand with every step.
Benefits of Using SteelBells
Traditional dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells have solid handles and the weight is evenly distributed and does not change when moved. While these are extremely useful training tools for loaded carries, a much more challenging option is the dynamic SteelBell.
The live weight action of the SteelBell that shifts as you try to move it, makes for uneven weight distribution and instability. The shifting steel shot filling requires the user to constantly adjust their grip and positioning as they carry it.
The SteelBell is also flexible and malleable making it better suited to carrying positions like on the shoulder or rack positions where metal weights can really cut into a person making the exercise unbearable.
SteelBells are also extremely safe. The patented disc design and steel shot filling allow for the weight to expand and force to dissipate over the surface area of the bag, so if it was to be dropped on a foot or say a shoulder from overhead it will not cause injury.
All these factors make the SteelBell a truly “functional” option for loaded carries.
Loaded Carry Variations
Holding a SteelBell in each hand.
Holding a SteelBell in one hand to one side.
Bear Hug Carry
Holding a SteelBell against your chest with your arms crossed in front.
Holding a SteelBell over one shoulder
Holding a SteelBell overhead in both hands with arms full extended.
Holding a SteelBell overhead in one hand with arm full extended.
So what is the best way to add loaded carries into your workouts?
As with any new exercise or movement, loaded carries should be introduced gradually. They may look pretty simple and innocent but they can and will take their toll, which is why they are so effective.
They can be performed for time or distance using a medium to heavy load. I suggest starting with a medium load (up to 40 lbs.) carried for distance (up to 40 yds.) using the Farmer and Suitcase carry variations for 3-4 reps each side performed 1-2 time per week at the end of your regular workout.
After 2-3 weeks include the Fireman and Bear Hug for the next few weeks. Then work up to the Overhead variations last.
Once you have mastered all variations you can start to play with the volume i.e. the amount of weight and the distance or time of each carry as well as how often you perform each carry.
Now get out there and carry something heavy around!
Hyperwear Director of Education