< Walk Like an Iowan...
by Jason F. Keen

    Yes, you geniuses out there have no doubt already figured out that this article will be about the farmer's walk.   What you *don't* know, however, is what I am going to say about the farmer's walk...

    To start off, for those who do not know what the farmer's walk is (and I know there are some of you out there), this is an event/exercise/lift where you take an object in each hand and see how far you can carry them.  Sounds simple right?  Well, actually it is simple.  Easy?  No way.  In this day and age, with strongman contests on TV and 'Dinosaur Training' inspiring almost as much of a cult following in the lifting world as Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones did, more and more trainees have at least tried the farmer's walk.  Most of them don't 'get it right', though.  The problem I most often see (or hear about) is someone who is not using enough weight.  Now, I am not saying that you must subscribe to the current 'Americanized' competitive version of the farmer's walk.  That is, you do not have to pick up 350 pound cylinders in each hand and walk them 10 feet.  I think that is a stupid way to do the farmer's walk as well, and just adds another reason why so many American strongmen do not succeed on the international level... however, that aside, there are too many adult males out there who try the farmer's walk and grab 35 pound dumbbells and go 400 yards with them.

    What *IS* the 'right way' to do the farmer's walk?  Well, to me, there are a few basic variables that can be manipulated to give you some variety in your walking, but basically a farmer's walk is supposed to do 2 things:
    1) be a feat of grip strength, and
    2) work all of the stabilizer muscles.
When you use a very light dumbbell, it is basically a test of grip endurance as opposed to grip strength, and many experienced lifters will have no trouble walking around, whole body-wise, with a 35 in each hand.  I have always felt that 100 yards or so is a good training distance if you are at least close to 'going to failure', because anything heavy enough that you can only carry it the length of a football field is really testing your grip, or your walking ability, with that weight.

    Now, what are the variables that I think are best manipulated to help your walking?  Well, I think that there are 3, and they are:
    1) load,
    2) handle, and
    3) speed.

    The 'load' variable is pretty obvious, though like I said above do not go to extremes.  It is alright to go ultra-heavy or ultra-far with your farmer's walks on occasion, but for the most part you should stay in a range that really gives both the grip and full-body components a good workout.  Changing the weight just 30 pounds (15 on each implement) is often enough to make the movement seem 'different'.  That is, if you lighten it up a bit you will often have sore hands from making your grip work longer, and if you go a little heavier you will help build up the traps, back, forearms, and legs to support more weight when walking.
    The 'handle' variable is one that people rarely tinker with, and it is actually my favorite.  I personally have at least 3 sets of implements that I use on a regular basis.  One set is a pair of 165 lb. large tractor-hub weights that have handles that are trapezoidal in shape, 9" in circumference, and have sharp edges.  Obviously this pair is a little hard to hold onto.  Another set weighs only 150 pounds per implement, with 1" handles, but they are 6' long filled pipes suspended from the handles by rope.  These implements are VERY 'wobbly' and bang into your legs the whole time, malking the actual walking and balancing element of the walk very tough.  The last thing I do the farmer's walk with is my PDA Shrug Bar.  I will usually use this when I want to go pretty heavy (+ or - 500 total) and my walks are then only about 50-80 yards.  You can go even heavier occasionally, however, and really get the body used to walking with some big weights.
    The 'speed' component involves timing your walks, or making yourself walk faster to put it another way.  Basically, if it has been taking you X number of seconds to go a certain distance with a certain weight, try to do it 5 seconds faster the next time.  The one thing one must be careful of is not to get 'sloppy' or to take strides that are too big.  The secret to a successful farmer's walk with a big weight at a high speed is not long strides (as they will get you off balance...), but a high rate of turnover with respect to the feet.  In other words, you don't stride out, you just take small steps much faster.

    What are the benefits of the farmer's walk, the uninitiated might ask?  Well, once you try them, you will find out.  For one, again, they will do great things for your grip.  Even if you are not a strongman competitor or grip specialist, it will do you a lot of good.  You will be able to hang on to deadlifts without using a mixed grip, and you will not have to use straps on any exercises.
    When this is combined with the fact that farmer's walks work almost all of the stabilizing muscles in your body and give you iron traps, hips, obliques, and ankles, it doesn't make sense NOT to have the farmer's walk in your training program.

Here are a couple of the various tools I have used for the farmer's walk, with the above being the tractor wheel hub weights and my homemade torpedoes...

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.