Gain Core Strength and Body Awareness With the Farmer’s Walk Exercise

This move is no leisurely stroll—and it’s one all runners should do.

File this one under “simple yet effective.” The farmer’s walk may not look all that difficult, but it only takes a couple of laps to feel your entire body (and brain) working to get from point A to point B.

“The farmer’s walk is a fantastic global strengthening exercise in that you pretty much get stronger everywhere because of it,” Dane Mikluas, C.S.C.S., founder of WORK Training Studio in Irvine, California, tells Runner’s World. It’s often considered a core exercise, but the farmer’s walk engages the entire kinetic chain, from the soles of your feet to your grip muscles. A standard exercise for functional fitness, the farmer’s walk will make you faster and more efficient in your everyday life and on your runs.

Performing a weighted carry like the farmer’s walk may also bolster your mental focus and body awareness, both of which are critical to running, Miklaus says. “Running is a tremendous mental exercise (often more than physical) that demands focus to different aspects of body and movement throughout,” he says. “You’re thinking about your foot strike, stride length, arm swing, breath, cadence, etc. In the same manner, the farmer’s walk asks you to consider all these things as well, especially your breath (don’t hold it!), as you move to achieve your goal.”

How to use this list: Select one or two variations to add to your current strength-training routine. Perform 3-4 sets, walking 20-30 yards.

Each move is demonstrated by Alyssa Simonds, a certified trainer, in the video above so you can master the proper form. You will need a set of dumbbells and a hex bar.

Farmer’s Walk

Why it works: The traditional farmer’s walk challenges your stability and mental focus while strengthening your entire kinetic chain.

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall with shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor, and arms straight down at sides. Remain as vertical as possible and relax your traps (i.e., don’t shrug your shoulders) as you slowly walk forward.

Farmer’s March

Why it works: The farmer’s march builds on the benefits of the farmer’s walk, explains Miklaus. “By adding in the extra knee drive and pause on one leg, a whole heck of a lot of extra work is now being performed at your ankle, knee, and hip (on the standing leg) and throughout your core,” he says. “Move slowly, take your time, and consider shorter steps to keep your balance.”

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall with shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor, and arms straight down at sides. Remain as vertical as possible and relax your traps as you slowly march forward, raising one knee at a time to hip height with each step.

Suitcase Carry

Why it works: Because it’s weighted on just one side, the suitcase carry is an anti-lateral-flexion exercise; you must resist the urge to lean away from the pull of the dumbbell in order to maintain proper alignment. Doing so recruits the obliques, quadratus lumborum (a deep core muscle), and hip abductor muscles—all running power players.

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in one hand, stand tall with shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor, and arms straight down at sides. Keep shoulders over hips (be careful not to lean away from your weighted arm) and relax your traps as you slowly walk forward. Repeat on the opposite side.

Hex Bar Carry

Why it works: The hex bar is easy to balance and allows you to achieve a more neutral center of gravity, explains Miklaus. “Because of this, I wouldn't consider it a progression on the traditional farmer’s carry, except that you can usually go heavier than you would holding individual kettlebells or dumbbells,” he says. “It's a great way to introduce heavier loads to individuals who may not be used to them.”

How to do it: Step into the center of a loaded hex bar and stand with feet about hip-width apart. Hinge at hips, bend knees slightly, grab the handles, and lift the bar as you return to a standing position. Keeping chest lifted and shoulders relaxed, slowly walk forward.

Overhead Farmer’s Walk

Why it works: “This variation is especially difficult because most people have some kind of muscular imbalance either in their hips, along their trunk, or up in their shoulder girdle,” Miklaus says. “Mastery of this version really requires a lot of body awareness and an ability to control one’s trunk and core.” Only try this move if you can safely hold the weights overhead, while keeping spine straight.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, at shoulders. Press the pair of dumbbells directly overhead, palms facing in. Relax your traps and engage your core. Be careful not to lean back or tilt your pelvis forward (i.e., don’t stick out your butt) as you slowly walk forward.

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