10 Smart Loaded Carry Variations For Safer, More Effective Core Strength

By Chris Cooper

loaded carries

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Carry Yourself To Real Core Strength

Loaded Carries are about as basic of an exercise as you’re going to get. In fact, they should be a staple of your program along with the other fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, and hip hinge that can be loaded heavy and trained hard, all while enhancing full body resiliency against injuries in the process. Whether the goal is to get stronger, build muscle, rehab an injury, or build work capacity, loaded carries are the way to go. It’s why they are a staple of Dr. John’s FHT Program.

Loaded carries, no matter what variation you choose, challenges the core more than any crunch or direct core training exercise ever could, but also provides a test for grip strength and full body stability. As if that isn’t enough to start carrying some heavy weights, as an added bonus, for many of these variations, shoulder stability is challenged, creating more ideal shoulder positions to train from, and hence optimized shoulder health.

If you want to build strength, improve your metabolic capacity and bulletproof your shoulders and back against potential injuries, loaded carries need to be a staple in your programing. Lets review the basics of the carry to set the stage for success.

The Basics of The Loaded Carry

For any variation of a loaded carry, the first step is owning the starting position, and maintaining full body tension throughout the duration of the carry. Without setting yourself up in good neutral starting position with tension at the core and torque at the shoulders and hips, you’re doomed to fail or at the very least limit the effectiveness of the loaded carry itself.

Here’s the basics of the proper setup you need to master to make carries as safe and effective as possible:

  1. Pick up the weight.
  2. Get the shoulders, ribs and hips in alignment. They should be stacked over each other.
  3. Brace your core and pillar (shoulders, core, and hips).
  4. Take small steps so that your feet stay underneath you and maintain alignment from step #2.
  5. Go the programmed distance, time, etc.
  6. Repeat.

If this step by step approach wasn’t enough, check out the video tutorials for the loaded carry in THIS article!

Now that we have the non-negotiable basics down on the setup, lets review how to intelligently program carries into your program.

How To Intelligently Program Carry Variations

When programming loaded carries, you have a wide array of options, such as carrying for time or distance. Take it one step further and create a carry medley where you’re challenged in different ways, depending on the carry.

For more smart core training exercise variations, check THIS article out!

Just like any other exercise, you can adjust different variables to create a new workout each time. If the focus is strength, load up the carry as heavy as you can handle. If the goal is better work capacity, then lighter, more moderate loads will likely be better.

Ensure that you are matching your loads, duration of carry and rest periods to your goals. Here are three basic programming setups for power, strength and strength-endurance:

  • Load: Maximal
  • Work Duration: 10-15 seconds
  • Rest Duration: 45-60 seconds
  • Sets: 2-4
  • Load: Heavy
  • Work Duration: 20-45 seconds
  • Rest Duration: 30-45 seconds
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Load: Moderate
  • Work Duration: 45-75 seconds
  • Rest Duration: 30-45 seconds
  • Sets: 3-5

As previously mentioned, there are almost endless ways to challenge yourself with loaded carries, but of course, some provide more optimal benefits than others. Here are the Top 10 loaded carry variations that will forge an iron-clad core and develop real core strength and full body function.

#1 Traditional Farmer’s Carries

The most basic of the bunch. Pick up 2 heavy dumbbells, squeeze your armpits to lock in the shoulder complex and walk. Make sure you follow our alignment rules from the set up and go. Each time you do these, work on adding a little more weight and work up to walking around with your bodyweight.

#2 Cross-Body Carry

The offset carry requires holding one heavy dumbbell at your side and a lighter weight above the head. Make sure to lock in the overhead arm & shoulder before you start moving. Due to the positioning of the dumbbells, there is an intense demand on the core musculature to maintain stability.

#3 Goblet Carry

Even though it is technically only one dumbbell being held, you are still using two hands, so let’s roll with it in this category. Grab a heavy dumbbell and hold it in the same fashion you would for a goblet squat. However instead of squatting, go for a walk. Make sure the weight is not resting on your chest and that there is a slight separation between the weight and the body. This places a lot of emphasis on the core, but especially the posterior chain and the goblet carry acts like an anti-flexion exercise.

#4 Trap Bar Carry

These carries are similar to the Farmers Carries mentioned above, but without the limiting factor of having to lug around heavy dumbbells. At a certain point it doesn’t make sense to carry 100lb dumbbells. Enter the Trap Bar. With this carry, load it as heavy as you want and can handle. Then go to work.

#5 Hanging Band Overhead Carry

One of the great things about loaded carries is the demand they place on creating shoulder stability, and really, shoulder stability is necessary for a myriad of exercises. This carry takes creating shoulder stability to the next level. Regular overhead barbell carries are challenging enough, but when you add in weights hanging from bands, the instability and variability of load escalates, creating an exercise that has carryover for any goal, especially those in need of shoulder rehab.

#6 Suitcase Carry

Similar to the farmers walk, pick up 1 dumbbell and hold it at your side. It is going to be more of a challenge to maintain a neutral posture as the body tends to adjust to weight on one side with a hip shift. Try to stay as neutral as possible, and go for a walk. The suitcase carry is a great anti-lateral flexion core exercise as well.

#7 Overhead Carry

Want to improve shoulder stability in an overhead position? Of course you do; who doesn’t. The overhead carry can be done unilaterally or bilaterally, but either way, they will test your shoulders. One of my favorite variations of an overhead carry is holding a kettlebell bottoms up as it presents an even greater challenge to the stability of the shoulder. Grab 1 or 2 dumbbells or kettlebells and hold them overhead. Then go for a walk.

#8 Bottom’s Up Carry

Pick up a kettlebell by the handle and hold it upside down so the bottom of the bell faces the ceiling. The upper part of your arm should be parallel to the floor, with the elbow bent at 90 degrees. Then walk. This is best done with a single kettlebell, but if you’re feeling extra frisky, double up.

#9 Shoulder Loaded Carry

One way to really test yourself is to carry awkward objects that may not have a set handle like a dumbbell or barbell would. In this case, the shoulder load carry uses a med-ball as resistance. Scoop the ball up to the shoulder and carry it for the prescribed time or distance, making sure to stick to the basic principles and alignment discussed earlier.

#10 Med-Ball Carry

These can get quite challenging as there is no easy way to grab and hold the medicine ball. Med-ball carries are complex in their simplicity. Just scoop it up, and carry it as best you can. Being that the load is solely in front of you, it creates a huge demand on your anterior core.

About The Author

chris cooper

Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT, LMT is a personal trainer with 10 years of experience in the fitness profession. He is co-owner of Active Movement & Performance, a training facility on Long Island. In addition to being a trainer, he is also a New York State Licensed Massage Therapist, which has allowed him to blend the two worlds to not only get his clients stronger and in better shape, but to also fix dysfunctions to make them better movers overall.

Website – AMPTraining , Facebook — AMPTraining , Instagram — @amptraining 

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  1. Gustavus Adolphus February 5, 2017 at 6:00 am - Reply

    Great article Chris, but how dare you leave out zercher carries!

    • Chris February 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      If I had an endless stream of carries, they would have been on there with the yoke and keg. Prioritized things I use with general pop clients

  2. Brian February 15, 2017 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    I’m doing something different, somehow everyone says these are finishing exercises ( who started that???)i am making them eighty percent of my workout ( varied carries and just a few presses and a row and some FLUFF exercises).Its a concentric exercises that kills me cardio wise and I get massive pumps, I just started this and I’m noticing loaded carries are ten times harder.What’s your opinion on this?

    • Steven January 15, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      I thought about that type of training. Did specific loaded carry for specific muscle group. Some were easy, Overhead carry for Shoulders, 90* bent arm carry for Biceps etc. Difficult was training the Triceps and Chest with loaded carries. Yes, I was attempting to be very muscle specific. What is your program look like?

    • Steven January 15, 2018 at 2:04 pm - Reply

      Brian – email ?

  3. Brian Gray March 21, 2018 at 8:21 am - Reply

    What I don’t understand is, I’ve got a strained rectus abdominus and can do no ab work whatsoever without pain. I can however do all the carries with challenging loads which leads me to believe that the complete core is not really involved. Any help for me in understanding this?

    • Steve T July 1, 2018 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Bump. I’d like to see this one answered!

  4. Cara June 8, 2018 at 7:18 am - Reply

    Love the article! Thank you.

  5. George Locke February 6, 2019 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Slosh pipes and kegs add a lot of instability for greater proprioceptive and stability challenges. I’m also fond of bear hugging a duffle bag filled with heavy stuff, e.g. battle ropes.

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