If you were stranded on a desert island with just one exercise that you could do for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Forget, for a moment, that if you actually were stranded on an island there would be a million exercises you could do.
Swimming certainly comes to mind. Running on the beach. Climbing palm trees for coconuts. Scaling volcanic mountains, even.
You could swing from vines, dive for crabs, and hike to your heart’s content.
But I’m trying make a point here, so pick just one. One exercise for the remainder of your days.
What’s it going to be?
Hardcore lifters might go for the squat or deadlift. Paleo folks might say swimming or sprinting.
All good choices of course.
But there’s one exercise that trumps them all . . .
And I’m not talkin’ albatross shit. I’m talkin’ heavy shit.
We have a name for such an exercise. It’s called the Farmer’s Walk.
You’ve heard of it before.
The name conjures up images of hulking strong men, anvils in hand, straining with all their might to carry the heavy dead weight as far as human flesh will allow.
But if you’ve never watched a strongman contest, then maybe it just brings to mind the picture of some thick-necked farmer carrying a bale of hay in each hand as he goes about his daily work – without a thought to the profound load which he’s carrying.
Personal trainers call this functional strength.
I hate that term.
I call it pure fucking badassery.
The ability to carry heavy shit in our hands over distance is primal. Not primal in the ancestral sense (sorry paleo crew), but primal as in elemental. Pure.
That’s right. The Farmer’s Walk is fucking innate.
And you can tap into this primordial exercise right this very moment. You don’t need to have iron anvils lying around. You don’t even need dumbbells. Fill a couple buckets with sand and go to town. No buckets? How about milk jugs? Water bottles? Paint cans?
Don’t have anything handy? Nothing at all? Then grab those two fatass cats lying on your couch; grab them by the chubby scruff of their neck and get walking. They’ll get over it.
Using the Farmer’s Walk for Strength
The Farmer’s Walk was practically designed to build strength. Why else do you think that farmer has such a thick neck? And did you get a gander at those forearms?
Training with the Farmer’s walk will get you “yoked.” If you go heavy enough, your shoulders, traps, and neck will grow in proportion to the load you’re carrying. Build up to regular walks with 100 lbs. (per hand) and you’ll be one frightening mofo.
But it’s not just the upper body you’ll build. Heavy Farmer’s Walks require a strong core and sturdy legs. Go heavy enough and you’ll feel these everywhere.
And let’s not forget about the grip strength.
A lifetime of heavy Farmer’s Walk’s will build hands strong enough to crush bricks.
The Stregnth Plan in Brief
- Start light – Use whatever weight is comfortable. 20 or 30 pounds maybe. It should just be starting to feel heavy after a minute or so.
- Progress in weight – With each new week of Farmer’s Walks, add 5 pounds to the dumbbells. The goal is to eventually build to a heavy weight that you can only walk with for about a minute. If you’re a man, 80-100 lbs. is a good solid weight; if you’re a woman half that is pretty damn impressive.
- Progress in time – Now that you’re able to carry some respectable weight for a short period, it’s time to make those walks last a bit longer. Drop the weight by about half of your max, but try and double the time of your walk. Aim for two minutes. It will feel like a lifetime. If you need to drop the weight even further that’s ok. You will slowly build it back up over time, but now using the longer duration.
The Farmer’s Walk is the perfect exercise for building strength. But it’s capable of so much more than just that . . .
Using the Farmer’s Walk to Lose Weight
When trained for distance, the Farmer’s Walk is one of the best conditioning exercises I can think of. Few exercises will bring you to the brink of collapse like a good long Farmer’s Walk. See this post for a real life example of just what I mean (and for an awesome picture of one of the world’s strongest men doing his anvil thang).
Long distance Farmer’s Walks will put just as much strain on your heart and lungs as a good hard sprint. But anybody can go for a sprint. It takes balls to pick up some heavy shit and see how far you can carry it.
The weight lost from long Farmer’s Walks doesn’t come from calorie burn (though you’ll definitely burn some, if that’s what you’re after), it comes from the EPOC effect – Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. Let’s just call it Afterburn.
The idea is that high intensity training creates an oxygen debt that we continue to make up for in the hours after the exercise. How much this Afterburn actually affects weight loss is highly debated, but I’ve personally seen excellent results from this type of training so I’ll vouch for it.
It all comes down to conditioning. Training for conditioning is training for fat loss – you will rarely see a well-conditioned overweight person (sumo wrestlers and world class strongmen aside).
So how do we use the Farmer’s Walk for conditioning?
The Weight Loss Plan in Brief
- Take it outside – Yes, you can do this indoors going back and forth down the hall (I do it that way during winter), but it’s boring as hell. If you can, do your Farmer’s Walk outside. It’s fun, refreshing, and easy to gauge your distance. And I guarantee you’ll turn some heads.
- Keep it light – We’re not trying to get “yoked” here (though you likely will anyway). Reduce the weight you would normally use by a lot (yeah, I hate specificity). Believe me, after half a mile, even just 30 pounds will feel like a sack of bricks.
- Aim for distance – I shoot for 3 to 6 “laps” back and forth down my (long) driveway. That works out to just over half a mile. It all depends on the weight carried though. Pick a weight then find your distance. As an example: start with 20 lbs. per hand and walk a distance that takes about 5 minutes (walk fast – you’re trying to get conditioned here). You should be able to build up to 10-15 minutes using that weight.
- Progress in weight – Once you can reasonably handle such a long distance with your current weight, up it by 5 pounds per hand. It doesn’t sound like much, but you will feel the difference. You can expect your distance to drop by half at the start. So build it back up. Then increase the weight again. Get the idea?
Now Get Walking
The Farmer’s walk is simply one of the best and most versatile exercises you can perform. Period. But don’t fuck around – train it hard and train it often. Three times a week minimum.
Make it hurt.
You’ll find that strength and fat loss are just a natural byproduct of the most awesome exercise ever.
And badassery will become you.
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