Saturday, May 23, 2015


I have constantly lamented on the point that increased popularity of a topic is an indication of decreased effectiveness.  This observation is hinged upon the principle that the average, by definition, is not elite and the elite are not average.  Thus, anything that is embraced by the average person is most likely NOT an effective means of becoming something greater than average, and as such, anything appealing to the average populace is most likely something that should be avoided if one wishes to become something better.  It is with this understanding that it becomes time to analyze the farmer’s walk, and specifically address how this once beneficial movement has become completely perverted and warped by the masses.

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Quick, before it's too late!

Let’s talk background.  The “farmer’s” portion of the farmer’s walk derives from (wait for it) farmers.  Yes, the industrious, salt of the earth people responsible for raising the pigs that you eventually consume as bacon and the vegetables you most likely aren’t eating.  In performing their farmerly duties, farmers were, at times, require to carry heavy objects in each hand for short, intense distances.  Bales of hay, buckets of feed, baskets of watermelons as the infamous picture of Chinese strongman competitors indicates, etc.  The point was, things needed to be moved, and it would’ve taken too much time to load them into the pickup truck just to unload them a few feet down the road, so it got picked up and moved.

Heavy weight and short distances: it bears repeating.  The farmer’s walk does NOT reference that time that the farmer was carrying a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other and carried it for 3 miles out to the field.  As such, if you’re pacing around the gym for 4 minutes carrying 40lb dumbbells, you are NOT doing the farmer’s walk, you’re just a lunatic.  Also, you’re hogging those dumbbells when someone could use them for ANYTHING else that would be infinitely more productive.

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Even this guy gets the right of way

Somewhere along the line, the idea that the farmer’s walk was a “grip exercise” came about, and ultimately it has resulted in the perversion we witness today.  It’s the telephone game come to life in lifting.  Someone observed that the farmer’s walk had really improved their grip, and someone took this to mean that, if you want a stronger grip, you should do farmer’s walks, which in turn meant that the farmer’s walk was called a “grip exercise”.  This is akin to calling the deadlift a grip exercise: asinine, and professed only by the weak.

The farmer’s walk isn’t a grip exercise, it’s an EVERYTHING exercise.  It’s like if the deadlift and the yoke walk made a baby, only to realize that they were actually brother and sister and that their spawn was horribly deformed.  As soon as you pick up the implements, you should immediately regret the decision to do so and the rest of your time moving forward should be motivated purely by rage, self-loathing and the hope that, when you cross the finish line and put down the implements, maybe one day in the distant future you’ll be able to live painfree again.  Every second of the walk should feel like agony, and every step should feel like you’re falling.  This just plain AIN’T happening with a pair of dumbbells at a commercial gym.

This is why implements are used for the farmer’s walk in the first place: the amount of weight needed is going to exceed what can be fitted onto a conventional dumbbell handle.  Yes, there are some Kroc row handles out there that can be fitted with 300lbs, but most the kids doing “farmer’s walks” with dumbbells are capping out at the 150lb range, tops.  You’re going to be sprinting with that kind of weight, putting very little stress on your body and getting about zero of the benefits of the movement.  If all you wanted was a grip exercise, why even walk at all?  Why not simply hold the dumbbells for time?  It would be more productive toward your goal of grip, and you’d look like less of a spaz.

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Although wearing this shirt won't help

Additionally, the implements move the weight further out from the lifter, meaning more control is required to keep them stable so that faster movement can be achieved.  This speaks even more to the full body aspect of the movement, and why dumbbells fail.  Trying to steer an errant 300lbs with your wrist is going to develop some massive hand/wrist/grip strength, while having a dumbbell plopped limply at your side while you go for a stroll is just going to bruise your hip.

My intention here is to not be an elitist, it’s simply to point out that anyone hoping to obtain the benefits of the farmer’s walk by performing these bizarre substitutions is going to be sadly disappointed.  The purported benefits to upper back and trap growth, along with the fat melting cardiovascular improvement and general “man making” quality is simply non-existent when taking a light weight for a long, leisurely stroll.  This is a strongman movement, as such, it needs to be intense and heavy, and most likely not last longer than a minute.

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This may be a more familiar idea to some than to others

Don’t get me wrong, long distances can be viable, but it’s going to make things suck even harder.  I know of a trainee who talks about carrying bodyweight in each hand for a mile as a challenge.  I can’t even fathom the amount of crazy is takes to accomplish this, but one can at least observe the subtle difference between this challenge and carrying some dumbbells around the gym.  The intensity is through the roof for that entire mile.

I even engage in blasphemy and perform farmer’s walks with straps, because I find that the rest of the benefits of the farmer’s walk greatly exceeds any grip strength building benefit it can give me, and would prefer to just train my grip with static holds while I use farmer’s walks to build up my entire body.  Additionally, since I am no longer limited to moving as far/as long as my grip will permit, I can push the farmer’s walk to such a degree that, after 2 trips, I am pretty much done for the rest of my life.  This movement should totally kick your ass, it’s not something that you should be able to squeeze in in between trips to the drinking fountain.

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Ever since I started doing farmer's with straps, I also started practicing this drill...just in case

There are so many viable DIY options to have access to some sort of farmer’s walk implement that there is no excuse to perform this movement with dumbbells.  You could build your own implement entirely with just hand tools for $50 using some railroad ties and plumbing pipe if you want top loaders, or only plumbing pipe and about $80 if you want side loaders.  You could built handles that attach to barbells that you can bring in your gym bag.  You can always just buy some professionally made ones for slightly over $100.   The possibilities are endless, and the result so much more beneficial.        

As a people, let us make a conscious decision to no longer refer to walking around holding dumbbells as the “farmer’s walk”.  Let’s call it something like “stealing dumbbells” or “carrying groceries” or something that more accurately describes the action.  Additionally, if one simply wants to improve their grip, let’s tell that person to hold onto something heavy until they can’t.  However, if someone wants to become a stronger person overall, let us tell them to do the farmer’s walk.  And then, let us laugh when they puke after their set, before we set up to do the same.

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