Core Training with Loaded Carries

Once upon a time, I was really into crunches. I finished off every workout with a circuit of “core” exercises several days a week. I scoured fitness magazines for the latest and greatest exercises on core training and tried every single one of them. They all worked to an extent, but as I wised up about exercise I realized that doing hundreds of crunches was a huge disservice to my overall strength. That’s because the “core” is everything between the neck and hips, including the abdominal. Hitting up 10 exercises for one muscle group seems like a waste of time when you put that into perspective. I still care about nice abs, but having a stronger core enables me to pursue an active lifestyle and lift heavy things without breaking down. If aesthetics is your goal, by all means keep on crunching your heart out if it works for you, but don’t neglect this super powerful exercise, too: The loaded carry. 

Loaded what?!

If you’ve ever carried a sleeping child up a flight of stairs or walked from your driveway to the front door with a bag of groceries in each hand, then you my friend, have experienced the joys of the loaded carry. Unlike crunches, loaded carries have real-life carryover and it’s a lot harder to cheat on this exercise than when you’re lying on the floor lifting your head up and down (P.S. that’s not how you do a crunch). There are loads of benefits to the carry that make it a superior form of core training than traditional ab exercises. They include:

– Higher core activation

– Functional – because we already carry sh*t all day!

– Better grip strength

– Improved forearm strength

– Can be programmed as a strength or conditioning exercise

– Use of minimal equipment, some of which, are DIY

– Will make you sweat bullets no matter what

While traditional ab exercises have their place in a training program depending on your goals, loaded carries give you more bang for your buck. And you know I’m all for getting the most out of an exercise so I can hit it and quit it (the gym, I mean).

Here are three carry variations you can start incorporating now.

Farmer’s Carry

Equipment needed: Dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells

DB farmer's carry

DB farmer’s carry

Suitcase Carry

Equipment needed: One dumbbell, kettelbell, barbell or plate


Suitcase carry

Suitcase carry

Bear Hug

Equipment needed: A heavy sandbag, plate, keg, backpack full of rocks…you can get creative here.


Bear hugs sound cute until you do them.

Bear hugs sound cute until you do them.

How to Ace Your Carry

The idea of the loaded carry seems easy peasy, right? Just pick up some weights and walk with it. A well-done loaded carry should feel anything but easy. Here are some tips to make the most of it.

Go heavy. For women this might be around 50-60lbs and men 80-90lbs to start. It depends on which exercise you’re doing, of course. Play around with it until you find your sweet spot. This exercise should feel uncomfortable, but don’t mistake ‘more weight’ for better. If your form suffers then scale back the weights. You want to engage all the muscles in your trunk and turn on those arms. Carrying 10lbs weights in each hand won’t have much of a training effect.

Go the distance. How far you go is entirely up to you but more distance isn’t necessarily better either (no 1 mile carries over here). Select a distance of 25-50 yards, a few feet, or whatever you can manage that day. At the gym, I do a lap around the weight machines. I have no clue what the distance is but I know it’s enough based on how challenging it is and because halfway in I start wishing it was over.

Go quick. The loaded carry is intense and aggressive because it challenges so much at once. Even at a short distance you will want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Move like you’re going for a brisk walk and tell me you don’t feel it in 5 seconds!

Incorporate loaded carries into your workouts up to three times per week. Don’t do them all at once, just select one variation per workout. Play around with the weight and the distance each time. You’ll find out soon enough that this movement is anything but easy. In one month, you’ll see changes in your grip strength, your back, core, legs and arms. And you’ll look leaner without having to do a million crunches. How’s that for core training?

Let’s get to work!

Comments 4

  1. Pingback: Smarter, More Effective Core Training Alternatives - Barbell Pilates with Trish DaCosta

  2. I’ve just started incorporating loaded carries into all my clients programmes (and myself). Like you say the carry over into real life is “Real”! Thanks for the bear hug, I’ve not tried that one yet 🙂

    1. Post

      Ohh so happy you’re doing these! I loved carries…so subtle yet so hard and there are so many variations to pick from! 🙂 thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Better Core Training with Bear Crawl Variations - Barbell Pilates with Trish DaCosta

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