Strength Training for Yogis: Farmer’s Carries for Functional Strength
The first thing to understand is that there are two types of farmer’s walks. One type involves lifting your arms straight up off the ground and moving them forward while keeping your body still. The other type involves lifting your arms out at an angle with your torso so they point upward. Both types require different muscle groups.
In order to perform these exercises correctly, it is important to have good balance and flexibility. A strong core helps keep your spine stable during the movement. If you don’t have a solid base, then you will not be able to do these exercises properly or even at all! So if you want to improve your strength and endurance, then make sure that you strengthen those areas of your body!
One of the most common problems that I see when someone starts doing farmer’s carries is that they don’t have any balance. They just fall over every time! What usually happens is that they start out with their legs spread wide apart and then try to close them together as tightly as possible. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of strain on their back muscles which leads to pain and fatigue.
Instead of closing your legs together, you should keep them slightly wider than your shoulders while keeping your back straight. This will allow you to put most of the weight on your legs which are straddling your spine. Your upper body should feel quite light when compared to your legs. If it doesn’t, then you’re doing something wrong!
Most people also try to walk with their hands instead of picking them up and walking with just their arms. This is not only ineffective, but can also lead to injury. Your hands and forearms are meant to be used for lifting, so whenever possible you should always keep your arms straight when lifting weights or doing farmer’s carries. The only time when you need to flex them is at the very end of the movement. This helps to keep your forearms from getting fatigued too quickly.
You should also learn how to keep your abdominal muscles tight while doing this exercise. I mentioned earlier that you want to keep your back straight, but what I really mean is that you should keep a natural arch in your lower back. It should not look like a concave shape or even flat; rather it should look like a half dome. This will protect your spine and allow you to do these for extended periods of time without pain or discomfort.
Now for the actual exercise! Start with your hands about 6 inches off the ground. Pick them up as you would pick up a really heavy bag of dog food. Then, keeping your arms straight, walk forward for about 10 paces or until you feel your arms starting to shake. After that, turn around and bring your hands back to about 6 inches off the ground.
Try to touch your right hand to your left foot and your left hand to your right foot. This will help you get a little extra range of motion in the opposite direction.
Most people will start to feel the effects of farmer’s carries after 10-20 walks back and forth across the room. The best approach is to do the exercise daily until you no longer feel soreness in your forearms and shoulders. At that point, you’re ready to increase the weight.
As for an exact routine, I would recommend doing three sets of 20 walks with moderately heavy dumbbells or soup cans (14-20 pounds) for around 8 weeks. Don’t increase the weight until you can easily do three sets of 20 walks. This routine can then be followed for a few months or until you reach the maximum amount of weight that you want to use.
I’d also recommend that after 6-9 months of training, you start doing some explosive exercises like clap push-ups, medicine ball throws, jumping squats and the like in order to keep your body from adapting too much to a single routine. You can get a good deal of benefits from this program without them, but including them will help you to avoid stagnation.
Farmer’s Carries (3 sets x 20 walks)
Do these after your regular workouts. Try to use a weight that will make you struggle by the 20th walk. If you’re using soup cans, that means 10 – 14 pounds. If you’re using heavier weights, it’ll be around 35 pounds.
Get in the habit of keeping your abs braced and chest out while doing these.
Your goal should be to increase the amount of weight and/or distance each week. This will take some experimentation on your part, but will repay you with dividends later on.
Give yourself at least one full day of rest between workouts. You need to let your connective tissues recover a bit, especially your hands, wrists and shoulders.
Medicine Ball Cleans (2-3 sets of 5 reps)
Stand with your feet about hip width apart and grab a medicine ball (about 18-20 inches in diameter) in an upright position next to your thigh. Keeping your upper body as straight as possible, bend at the knees and hips and lift the ball as you would a weight, pulling it up in front of your chest. Then thrust your hips forward and throw the ball straight up in the air. As it comes down, catch it with one hand and then throw it back up again with as much force as you can. After doing this five times, change hands and do it five more times.
Shoulder Horn (2-3 sets of 5 reps)
Take a shoulder-width grip on a barbell padlock. Keep your elbows locked and raise the weight up until it’s just above shoulder height.
Elbows out to the side Push the bar away from you while keeping your elbows pointed out to the side. Don’t let them bend in. As they push away, try to touch them to your sides. This works primarily the inner head of your “pec major”.
This exercise will help prevent the dreaded “swimmer’s shoulders” that most people get from a lot of pressing movements.
Barbell Wrist Curls (2 sets of 5 reps)
Grab a barbell in an overhand grip with your hands just beyond shoulder width. Keeping your wrists straight, bend them backwards as far as you can.
Then roll them forward as far as you can. Go back to the starting position and repeat.
The exercises above are all you really need for strengthening the muscles that you use in handstands, but for targeting certain muscles you can do one of two things:
Do a second set of any of the three exercises above that targets a different area of the same muscle groups. For example, if I were doing a “second set” of handstand pushups today, I might do plate pinches instead of tuck front levers. Add in a fourth exercise that targets a completely different set of muscles. Do this twice per week. The reasoning behind this is that your primary exercises (above) primarily target slow twitch muscles fibers and your “secondary exercises” target the same muscles but primarily fast twitch fibers.
For the fourth exercise, pick something that works entirely different muscles. This will emphasize the “compound” nature of your training program and make it more well rounded and efficient. You’ll have to find something on your own for this or you could just go back to one of the three exercises above. It’s up to you and your imagination.
As far as recovery days are concerned, you should take at least a day off between heavy lifting sessions. For example, you can do your heavy lifting for the week on day 1. Then take day 2 off. On day 3, do your first set of secondary exercises. Take a day off (day 4).
On day 5 do your second set of secondary exercises, and take the next 2 days off (6 and 7). On day 8, start the cycle over again with your heavy lifting. This ensures that you get enough rest between sessions to optimize your recovery.
As your skills increase, you may find that you need/want more time to recover. This is perfectly normal and should happen regardless of your age.
Another way to look at it is this: for every year past 20, you need an extra day of rest between heavy lifting days. So if you’re 30 years old, you would take 2 days off in the example above. If you’re 40 years old, you’d take 3 days off, and so on. This compensates for the decline in recovery that naturally occurs as we get older.
You’ll also notice I didn’t suggest specific exercises for your second or third sets. That’s because these can vary greatly depending on what equipment you have available and your own personal preferences.
For example, your second set could consist of “Paused Bench Presses” or 2-3 different types of curls. The third set could be dumbbell flyes or tricep pushdowns.
Also, I didn’t mention anything about other types of equipment like the ergometer or rowing machine. These can be used to substitute some or all of the heavy lifting you do on E and/or R days every week.
The important thing is to start slowly and work your way up. Make sure every session is relatively pain free, and avoid straining yourself. If you find yourself really struggling with something, take the day(s) off and try again the next time you’re scheduled to work that specific body part.
You should also be eating a substantial amount of food whenever you do train. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Even if you don’t want to bulk up, you need ample amounts of protein and calories just to maintain your current physique. This is especially important as you get older because you will not only be trying to maintain your physique, but also preventing the natural muscle loss that begins to occur after age 25 (or even a lot sooner depending on your genetics and what you do in your spare time).
If you follow the guidelines above, you’ll be able to do just that. And with a little luck and determination, maybe even get a little bigger.
Sources & references used in this article:
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Effects of music tempo on perceived exertion, attention, affect, heart rate, and performance during isometric strength exercise by SR Colberg, RJ Sigal, JE Yardley, MC Riddell… – Diabetes …, 2016 – Am Diabetes Assoc
Light on life: The yoga journey to wholeness, inner peace, and ultimate freedom by KM Mustian, M Janelsins, LJ Peppone… – Oncology & hematology …, 2014 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Effects of a periodized training pro-gram and a traditional military train-ing program on functional movement and Y-balance tests in ROTC cadets by R Feiss, J Kostrna, JW Scruggs… – Journal of Sports …, 2020 – Taylor & Francis