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From start to finish, carries are a go-to move for full-body fitness. They fire up the core as well as muscles in the mid- and upper back, hone your stability and balance, and build grip strength.

Carries are also useful for refining your lifting habits, providing ample opportunity to practice packing the shoulder blades down and back, bracing the abs, knitting the ribs down to avoid rib flare, and building confidence handling weights. 

To top it off, carries offer an intense cardio workout: Although you’re not running with the weights, you are trying to move quickly and with intent. A taut heel-to-toe gait, done with speed and control, is optimal.

But carries are too often done sloppily: Hunching forward, rocking from side to side, and taking slow, leisurely steps amount to poor form. These habits are not only inefficient, but they also set you up for discomfort or pain, especially in the shoulders and lower back.  

These tips can help you avoid these problems.

  1. Stand with two heavy weights — kettlebells, dumbbells, or weight plates — on the floor, one at each side. Hinge at the hips to reach down and grasp the weights, and then deadlift them to stand up, weights at your sides. 
    • Tip: With the shoulder blades drawn together, stack your shoulders over your ribs and hips. Don’t let them sway behind you, which puts pressure on the lower back, and don’t let them roll forward.
  2. With glutes engaged, abs braced, and shoulders drawn back and down, walk forward quickly in a straight line. 
    • Tip: Stand tall with a proud chest and brace your core to avoid swinging or bending from side to side.
  3. Walk about 20 yards, then set the weights back on the floor with control by hinging at the hips and bending at the knees. Turn around and repeat the exercise in the opposite direction. 
    • Tip: Take small, choppy steps, flowing from heel to toe and moving as quickly as you can with control.
  4. Perform three there-and-back rounds, with 60 seconds of rest between rounds. 

5 Variations

1) Offset Carry

Carry two different-size kettlebells — one lighter, one heavier — at your sides. Switch arms at the end of each carry.

2) One-Arm Carry

Carry a weight in one hand only. You’ll have to work hard to stay upright. Don’t let this turn into a side bend by letting the weight pull you down to one side.

3) Zercher Carry

Hold a barbell or sandbag in the crooks of your elbows. If you find yourself leaning back, reposition your shoulders over (not behind) your hips and raise your elbows in front of you as a counterbalance.

4) Waiter Carry

Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and press it overhead. Keep your arm straight (don’t let your elbow bend) to stack the wrist and elbow over your shoulder as you walk.

5) Shoulder Carry

Carry a sandbag on one shoulder, switching sides at the end of each length.


This originally appeared as “Break It Down: The Carry” in the October 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Jasmine Mendes

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