Generations ago we used to live very physically demanding lifestyles. Whether we’re talking about agrarian periods of human history, or hunter gatherer periods of human history, our ancestors were much stronger and in far better shape than we are now (generally speaking).
Strength training is a fantastic means of mimicking the physical environment in which humans evolved under. As a result of the fundamental demands strength training places on us, it causes our body and our physiology to activate genes in response to the stress that comes from weight training. The adaptation to this stress is what leads to positive changes in health including more muscle mass than body fat, increased bone density, improved insulin sensitivity, and many others, far too many to list here.
Despite the many advantages, most people shy away from strength training. In my experience, I have seen a few reasons why people don’t begin a strength training regimen. 1) They don’t think it’s necessary. This is a separate conversation. 2) They are intimidated by it and fear becoming “bulky” like a body builder. Body builders don’t look like that on accident. They look like that as a result of years of dedicated training and dietary protocols. 3) People don’t strength train because they don’t know where to begin. Yes, this one is easy to understand. Years of fitness advertising and general misinformation in the fitness industry has lead to much confusion. The best starting point is to develop mastery of bodyweight movements (push ups, air squats, pull ups etc). Begin to develop strength by mastering your own body weight.
This article isn’t about bodyweight mastery, though I will likely devote some content space to that in the future. This article is about adding a little weight to your training, or adding another exercise you don’t typically do. The most basic and simple (not easy, but simple) exercise most people don’t do is the farmer carry aka farmer walk. Think about it, what is more functional and necessary than picking up an object and walking with it? The farmer walk builds grip strength, core strength, shoulder strength, and leg strength in minutes a day. If you are already strength training (great, keep it up), add these at the end of your workout 2-3 times a week. If you are not strength training this is a great place to begin.
Here’s how to start. Pick up a weight in each hand, walk with it, set it down and rest. Start light and learn what you are capable of. If you start with 2 pounds in each hand, who cares? You’re starting somewhere. It is that simple…..
There are key points of performance to pay attention to. Number 1: maintain an upright posture with your shoulders retracted down and back and your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, and hips over knees. If you are unable to keep your ears over your shoulders you are likely using too much weight. Number 2: maintain slightly shorter than normal strides. A normal stride will work at moderate weight, just make sure you don’t elongate your stride unnecessarily. Number 3: maintain straight elbows. Don’t attempt this workout with flexed biceps. Just trust me on this one.
By adding weight to something as simple as walking you are forcing your body to activate stabilizing muscles in the core, shoulders, hips, and legs. By adding this simple exercise into your training you will be challenging your body to maintain an upright posture while moving a weight over a long distance. Being able to carry something heavy while transporting yourself is one of the most primitive exercises we can do. Think back to a time before suitcases had wheels? Ancient, right? Remember having to carry suitcases through airports and hotels without the luxury of ergonomically friendly handles and wheels? Remember how much of a workout we used to get from something that simple?
As with most exercises, there are many thoughts on the proper number of sets and reps, and every author claims there method is the best. I don’t know if mine is best, but this is what has worked for me in the past. Do 5 rounds of 30 seconds walking 30 seconds resting. After the fifth set, rest for two minutes and repeat the 5 sets one more time. Start light and perform the exercise 2-3 times per week and add a little weight each time until the load becomes too heavy to maintain proper posture and form. Once you reached a point where the weight becomes difficult, reduce the weight down by 50% the following week and start the linear progression again.
Yes, it is really that simple.