Is the Farmers walk actually useful for grapplers or is it just an exercise thrown around by coaches because it looks ‘cool’ and is different to the more conventional exercise you see in the gym?
Lets find out…
First of all what even is a Farmers Walk?
The Farmers Walk is a staple of strong man training and is essentially part of the family of exercise we refer to as ‘loaded carries’.
If you’re like me and can’t go a Christmas without tuning into Worlds Strongest Man – then you’ve probably seen those Juggernauts moving some pretty epic weights in the Farmers Walk.
To perform a Farmers Walk simply pick up two Farmers Walk Handles (or heavy dumbbells) hold them at your side, lock your core tight and take them for a stroll.
What do they work?
The Farmers Walk has a range of benefits and can be used as a tool for both strength and conditioning. They are an excellent movement for many reasons – so lets explore them in three tiers (We love tiers in 2021)
In this tier I will talk about attributes the Farmers Walk absolutely nails, first off :
It builds excellent grip strength
This should be no-brainier – you are holding two heavy pieces of metal in each hand! This is incredibly challenging for grip especially as you walk them – you will have to contend with the movement of the bars. Thicker grips, Gi Grippers and towel grips can be added if you really want to look like a grappler in the gym lol.
Building Upper Back, Trap and Forearm Strength and Endurance
The Farmers Walk hits the traps, upper back and forearms hard!! The great thing is it actually loads the spine a lot less than a conventional Deadlift, so often people find them more ‘comfortable’ on the lower back – it feels more similar to picking up a Trap bar.
The Traps and Upper back work hard to stabilise the weight and the forearms are working double time to keep that grip locked around the bars. Heavier, shorter carries will hit strength harder, whereas lighter, longer carries will really hit your endurance hard – both excellent facets for any athlete.
Enhance Bracing and Core Stabalisation
The Farmers Walk provides an excellent challenge to your core (oblique’s, rec abs and transverse abs) and spinal stabilizers as you will need to brace hard to resist a plethora of forces such as Spinal rotation (twisting caused by the bars when walking) Spinal Flexion and extension (the bars bending or folding you in half) and lateral flexion one bar pulling you down to one side as you step forward. With every step you need to make sure your core is working hard to keep upright, move forward and not drop those bars.
In this tier I will look at attributes the Farmers Walk is pretty damn good for:
Any type of weighted carry will help develop your athleticism – rather than just standing still lifting you now have to move from A to B. This could be a straight line, through cones or in circles. Each individual set up provides challenges to your strength, speed, grip, proprioception, balance and co-ordination all essential attributes to any athlete.
The Farmers Walk can be an excellent tool in your conditioning repertoire, when performed for timed intervals or similar it can be an absolute beast! The use of loaded carries as part of conditioning is often a good choice for lifters as it has a more synergistic and less divergent relationship with their other programming. If you’ve ever taken a Farmers Walk for 15 minutes straight you’ll know about it…
Like most weight training Farmers Walks will help to make your body more robust and resistant to injury. This is achieved by strengthening your muscles, connective tissues and bones. As we are in locomotion there is also a great deal of stabilization happening at the ankles, knees, hips, elbows and shoulders – strengthening these areas from common injuries. I have seen some physical therapists swear that farmer’s walks are the best rotator cuff exercise out there…
In this tier we look at things the Farmers Walk contributes to but isn’t its strongest suit.
So I often see the Farmers Walk touted as able to build ‘slabs of muscle’, while I don’t believe this is the case it will for sure help to build some muscle. After all you are holding a heavy weight for time, so you will likely see increases in your traps, upper back and forearms especially as a beginner. The reason this is included in low tier is I believe there are a lot better and more effective ways to build muscle.
Having to hold and move a heavy weight will have good carry over to your overall posture. Improved posture is a great tool in injury prevention as well as a great way to work on the imbalances we can pick up in our every day lives. The Farmers walk demands a ‘good’ posture and so practice of this skill can translate over to your everyday posture – potentially.
Cool…So how does this apply to a Grappler?
Well lets look at the attributes it works in summary:
– Improved Grip Strength
– Improved Strength and Endurance
– Better Core and Stabilization
– Improved Athleticism
– Improved Work Capacity
– More Injury Resistant
– Builds Muscle
– Improves Posture
I don’t know about you but I think that’s a great list for any grappler! The most important things I have personally found when including this movement for athletes is definitely improved grip, work capacity and stabilization especially in the lower limbs.
There is also the X Factor of ‘grit’ or mental toughness – the Farmers Walk can for sure be a mental challenge as well as physical one and dependent on the athlete’s current mental resilience this can be a game changer.
So is it the best exercise ever?
Nah, its really good though. I know of coaches who would absolutely rank this in their top 3 and I would agree for athletes (especially combat athletes) there are a lot of benefits to the Farmers Walk. Compared to other carries it can be very accessible, easy to learn and very time efficient as a movment.
I believe a ‘carry’ of some description is an excellent addition to a grapplers programming and the Farmers Walk is a fine choice but I try not to place too much of a ‘halo’ on any one movement. Often there are better and worse choices, but this can come down to the individual and their specific goals.
Other carries I think challenge the Farmers Walk for the best carry for a grappler include:
Single Arm Farmers Walk
Sandbag Squeeze Carry
Each variation has its own nuance and benefit so why not include variations over the course of different training cycles?
If you want better grip, more strength and endurance and an upgraded engine then I highly recommend the farmers walk. It is an efficient way to work multiple attributes simultaneously saving us time and energy in the gym that we can spend on the mats building our skill.
Just always remember to choose an exercise because it fits well with your goals not because your mate, coach or anyone else told you to do it. Understand the benefits and limitations and always try variations of the movement to suit you.
Ps. It also really helps when you need to carry shopping from the car in one go lol