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Farmer’s Walk Complexes

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There’s no cardio required. Just you, some dumbbells and the will to do a lot of intense work in a short span of time.

By Nick Tumminello

What is a Farmer’s Walk Complex? 

Put simply, a farmer’s walk complex is a series of dumbbell exercises interspersed between several sets of dumbbell (farmer’s) carries. These complexes are performed back-to-back (circuit style) without rest until all exercises within a given complex have been completed. 

Each farmer’s walk complex you’ll learn below involves two sets of dumbbells. You’ll use the heaviest set for the farmer’s carry portions of each complex. For the other set of dumbbells, you’ll want to choose a load that’s roughly 50-65% of the weight you’re using for the heavier pair. Example: 80lbs dumbbells & 45lbs dumbbells. This lighter pair of dumbbells will be used to perform a variety of traditional exercises. 

During the farmer’s walk portions of our complexes, the dumbbells are carried 40 to 50 yards, which is done by traveling back and forth between two cones set 20-25 yards apart. If you don’t have much free space in your weight room floor, just bring some dumbbells into the group-fitness training room at your gym. Or, go outside if the weather is permitting. 

Why use Farmer’s Walk Complexes? 

There are three main reasons why we at Performance U like using farmer’s walk complexes with our physique athletes: 

1. They’re high intensity

These workouts use heavy loads, which force you to work very hard each time you move the weight. High load = high intensity. Plus, it’s no secret that the higher the intensity, the greater the metabolic and muscular benefit. 

2. They involve the entire body

Each of the Farmer’s Walk workouts I’ve provided in this article combine heavy carries with various traditional dumbbell exercises. Although these complexes are upper-body dominant, they do involve every muscle in your body. More muscles worked = more calories burned, which is great for helping you to get (and stay) lean without losing muscle. 

3. They demand a sustained effort

All of our farmer’s walk complexes take over 60 seconds to complete. That said, when you combine a high intensity, total-body activity with a sustained effort like that, you don’t have to be a exercise physiologist to know that you’ll get a huge metabolic return from your efforts. 

In addition to the above three reasons, we’ve found these complexes to be a great way to add a new physical and mental challenge to your workout. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to keep your workouts fresh and interesting, as long as what you’re doing brings about serious results! 

When to use Farmer’s Walk Complexes 

At Performance U, we like to use these complexes at the end of an upper body (push or pull) workout to ensure the workout is fully comprehensive. And, to ensure that our athletes finish the workout knowing they’ve maximized the metabolic effects of their training time. 

Variations of Farmer’s Walk Complexes 

We use a wide variety of farmer’s walk complexes. But, when it comes to down to brass tacks, all of the farmer’s walks complexes we use are variations of these two methods: 

Finisher #1 – Bilateral Farmer’s Walk Complex

Place two cones 20-40 yards apart. At one end, place both pairs of dumbbells. 

Step 1: Holding the heavier set of dumbbells by your sides, walk one lap (up & back) between the cones. 

Step 2: Grab the lighter set of dumbbells and perform 6-8 reps of a bent-over row. 

Step 3: Switch back to the heavier set of dumbbells, again holding them by your sides, and walk another lap. 

Step 4: Grab the lighter set of dumbbells and perform 6-8 reps of an overhead press. 

Step 5: Switch back to the heavier set of dumbbells and walk another lap carrying them in the same manner as before. 

Step 6: Again using the lighter dumbbells, perform 8-10 front squats, holding the dumbbells parallel with one another and resting one end of the dumbbells on each shoulder. 

Step 7: Finish with one last lap of carries using the heaviest set of dumbbells. 

Workout #2 – Unilateral Farmer’s Walk Complex 

At Performance U, we love unilateral training because anytime you hold a heavy load on one side of your body and not the other, your core muscles (on the opposite side of the load) have to work over-time to offset the unbalanced weight and to maintain your posture. That said, this workout complex gives you both effective metabolic and core conditioning! 

This complex is performed in the same fashion as workout #1 except you’ll do the entire complex using the same side. 

Step 1: Holding the heavier dumbbell in your right hand, by your side, walk a lap from cone to cone. 

Step 2: Grab the lighter dumbbell and perform 10-12 single-arm bent-over rows with your right arm.  Note: The rows are done “free standing”, which means without propping your hand or knee on a bench. 

Step 3: Switch back to the heavier dumbbell and walk another lap holding the dumbbell in your right hand, by your side like a briefcase. 

Step 4: Grab the lighter dumbbell and perform 10-12 reps of a single-arm overhead press with your right arm. 

Step 5: Switch back, again, to the heavy dumbbell and walk another lap holding the dumbbell in your right hand briefcase carry style. 

Step 6: Pick up the lighter dumbbell in your right hand and perform reverse lunges, only stepping back with your right leg. Note: stepping back with your right leg while holding the dumbbell in your right hand forces you to work your left leg, which keeps you better balanced (and feels more natural) than if you stepped back with your left leg. 

Step 7: Finish with one more lap between the cones, carrying the heavier dumbbell. Rest and repeat with the left arm. 

Sets & Reps

The 7 steps I described above for each farmer’s walk complex represents one round (a.k.a., one set)! 

For our bilateral complexes, we like to perform 3-5 rounds with 2-3 minute rests between rounds. 

For our unilateral complexes, we like to perform 2-3 rounds on each side (4-6 total sets) with 1-2 minute rests between sides. 

Using the 3 Types of Farmer’s Carry Methods 

As we’re performing our farmer’s walk complexes, we don’t always restrict ourselves to using only the briefcase carry position, as described above. We also like to have our athletes use a racked carry position, which positions the dumbbells at your shoulders, as if you just did a hang clean. 

We also occasionally use the overhead carry position, which is where you walk holding the dumbbells locked out overhead as if you finished doing a shoulder press. This carry method is very tough because your shoulders and core get lit up when heavy loads are extended away from your body, overhead like that. 

Additionally, we’ve found the best reason to manipulate carrying positions within a given farmer’s walk complex is to manage grip fatigue. As your grip tires, you can change your carrying position of the weight in a manner that requires less from the hands (your grip) and more from the shoulders and core (like the racked or overhead position). Furthermore, this change in carrying position throughout a complex can also make the workout more comprehensive and well rounded. 

Coaching Tips 

- If you plan on mixing up your farmer’s walk carry positions within your workouts, we recommend starting with the hip carry position, then progressing to an overhead carry, then finishing with the shoulder (racked) carry position. No, there’s no magic in that sequence. It’s just what we’ve found to work best for our athletes. But, if you feel more comfortable in using a different approach, we don’t see any reason to not go with what works best for you! 

- Regardless of the grip you’re using during a given complex, we recommend taking long strides and move as fast as you can without losing control of the weight. 

- Don’t forget about progressive overload! To ensure your continual progress from workout to workout, try adding weights or reps to each exercise. You can also reduce the rest interval or lengthen the distance you carry the dumbbells every few workouts. 

Go Nuts with this Concept! 

The beauty of the farmer’s walk complex is its versatility. There’s nothing stopping you from modifying these complexes to make them longer, shorter, or involve different exercises, etc. It all depends on your fitness level, ability and training goals. 

Moreover, who says that you can’t superset farmer’s carries with barbell exercises or machines? Those are all great options we use as well. And you can too if you have the ability to implement them. 

What I’m getting at is that this article is by far NOT an exhaustive list of all the effective training options these farmer’s walks complexes can be successfully utilized for. So focus less on the exact protocols I provide above and more on taking away the overall concept of the farmer’s walk complex. 

Nick Tumminello is known as “the trainer of trainers.” He’s the owner of Performance University International, which provides hybrid strength training & conditioning for athletes and educational programs for fitness professionals all over the world. Coach Nick lives in Fort Lauderdale Florida were he trains a select group of athletes and teaches mentorship. Check out his DVDs, seminar schedule and very popular fitness blog at NickTumminello.com.

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