About a year ago I went to the gym and didn’t feel like doing any of the normal stuff. When I am feeling this way and the sight of the barbells, Russian kettlebells, and the pullup bars make me want to puke, I try to do something totally random. In this case, I grabbed two 88 pound kettlebells, went outside, and started walking. I didn’t come back until I had walked a mile. It took 40 minutes and was absolutely one of the best workouts I’ve ever had. Challenging but not impossible. Simple but not boring. This is the Farmer’s walk.
I had first really started paying to farmer’s walks after attending a Dan John workshop in Salt Lake City at the Crossfit Gym where I teach kettlebell classes. During a section on deadfifting, something about the trapezius muscles came up and Dan immediately said something along the lines of, “Well, if you want bigger traps you just need to pick something up and walk with it.” He also talks about this quite a bit in the book Never Let Go, which is a wonderful read if you’re looking for a recommend.
The most interesting thing about the aftermath of my farmer’s walk was that I wanted to do it again. I knew how beneficial what I had just done was. How did I know? Because like most people working in fairly sedentary office jobs, I don’t walk as much as I need to. Along with standing, sitting, and lying down, there are few life movements that we be more comfortable with than walking. But I watch people every day who obviously have trouble as they walk.
There’s a lot going on in our bodies when we take a step and head in a direction. Arms, legs, hips, neck, all passing through various planes and speeds. If someone is obviously in pain when they walk, their performance in weight training is probably not going to be as good as it could be. If we guard and flinch from the sheer discomforts of doing something as simple as walking from point A to point B, then something is wrong in our bodies. At least one something.
Many of my group strength training classes end with ten minutes of people just picking up weights and walking back and forth, setting the weights down whenever they need to. I’ve heard from many people that the days following these walking sessions are as pain-free as any they’ve ever had. Just because they did some walking under resistance. Walking has a way of sorting problems out. It makes us move, and movement is often the only thing an aching body needs to get it back to a higher functioning state.
If you have never experimented with walking with weight, I highly recommend it. The amount of weight is not important–start where you can. The tool is not that important either. You can do farmer’s walks with sandbags, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, plates, etc. You can also carry them over your shoulders, in your hands, bear hugged to your chest, held overhead–you’re only limited by the amount of things you’re willing to try.
Other than ensuring that I get enough walking in my life, the benefits I have seen are:
- stronger hands
- bigger forearms
- better posture
- and yes…bigger traps
On those days when you’re not motivated to do much, but you still feel like you want to do something, pick up heavy and put one foot in front of the other. I think you’ll be surprised at how challenging and fun it can be.
Strength Training for body and mind
photo credit: New York Barbells