The Best Loaded Carry Workouts for Brute Strength and Shoulder Stability

Picking up something heavy and putting it right down again is both impressive and tough. But sometimes (AKA, grocery day), you don’t just need to pick something up. You need to bring it to a new location. Enter the loaded carry, which has you pick up a heavy weight and take it for a walk. In that way, it might be just one of the coolest exercises in the gym — and one of the most effective.

The beautiful simplicity of finding a heavy object and carrying it for distance is only matched by the tremendous amount of benefits it can impart. Although they’re often underutilized, loaded carries have a relatively low barrier to entry — requiring minimal skill to actually start training. If you can haul some grocery bags outside of the gym, you can perform a basic loaded carry.

A person prepares to perform a farmer's carry.
Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

As simple as it is to execute, the loaded carry is just as easy to progress. With countless variations to keep the gains rolling, simply changing the position of the weight brings on a world of different challenges (and benefits) for you as the lifter. From overhead to unilateral carries and beyond, here are the five best loaded carry workouts.

Best Loaded Carry Workouts

Best Loaded Carry Workout For Shoulder Stability

Hoisting a weight over your head is hard enough to begin with. But when you spend time holding that weight over your head, you’re going to seriously challenge and improve your shoulder stability and strength.

Adding movement — as with an overhead carry — is another wild card that can make it even more difficult to keep your shoulders packed and steady. To complete the trifecta, load the carry unilaterally. A unilateral load forces increased core engagement to prevent you from falling over and losing proper shoulder positioning.

The Workout

Using a kettlebell is a great idea for this workout. You can safely hold it overhead for a long period of time without risking a mid-workout knockout because of a sweaty palm.

When combined with a dynamic mobility movement like a kettlebell windmill, these two exercises can be the perfect pairing for increased shoulder stability.

Coach’s Tip: Swap working arms for the second set of kettlebell carries and windmills.

Best Loaded Carry Workout For Brute Strength

When you’re looking to build brute strength, there’s just something different about strongwoman implements. These unusual pieces of equipment force your full body to act as one unit. They are also awkward — which promotes stabilizer strength and forces your whole body to engage even more — while being extremely loadable. 

Large, ungainly equipment can provide the perfect combination for building a powerfully strong body. The yoke carry (performed with what is basically a loaded door frame) is one of the best tools for this job.

The Workout

Building extreme strength isn’t just about going hard. You also need to practice restraint. In this case, you’ll only perform one exercise through your workout. It will be exclusively centered around loading up the door frame-like yoke and carrying it as far as you can until you need to rest. Repeat several times after resting for as long as necessary to max out your effort again. That’s it. Load it, carry it, and get strong.

  • Yoke Carry: 5 x max distance

Note: Rest for 5 to 10 minutes between sets, or as long as needed to fully recover. Add sets as your work capacity improves.

Best Loaded Carry Workout For Conditioning

Kettlebells are going to make a second appearance here. That’s because they offer a broad diversity of movement options and are to transition between exercises. Both of these factors are important when you’re programming a strength-based conditioning workout.

Use your kettlebells for your carry first before ripping into a few more high-intensity exercises to crank up your heart rate to round out a circuit.

The Workout

You only need two kettlebells and three moves for this loaded carry conditioning workout. Each of these exercises can be done in rapid succession for a powerful burst of heart rate conditioning. Even though two of these three moves aren’t carries as such, they both require you to focus on holding and stabilizing the bells — just like during carries.

Note: Perform this circuit for as many rounds as possible within 30 minutes, resting as necessary between rounds.

Best Loaded Carry Workout For Functional Strength

Functional training is often touted as being more applicable to everyday activities or sports than machines or other free weight training. There won’t be many better ways to become functionally strong than by mimicking some of the most common everyday activities — such as carrying heavy objects.

Two people perform loaded farmer's carries.
Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

Once again, strongman and CrossFit offer some pretty effective implements to the cause for these loaded carry workouts.

The Workout

The classic strongman loaded logs paired with a heavy sandbag make for a great one-two punch for functional training. The loaded logs offer a heavy bilaterally-loaded carry for distance, with the return trip sandbag carry offering a slightly more forgiving — but more awkward — load. As an alternative for a sandbag, swap in a heavy medicine ball if necessary. You’ll need some huge grip strength for this one, and the instability of the sandbag will work wonders on your stabilizers.

  • Strongman Log Farmer’s Carry: 1 x 20 yards
  • Sandbag Carry: 1 x 20 yards

Note: Perform this superset for five rounds, resting as long as necessary after each.

Best Loaded Carry Workout For Fat Loss

Fat loss doesn’t have to be a goal of every strength athlete and gymgoer. But if body recomposition is on your mind, you might be looking for a way to tip the scale in your goal’s favor.

Since losing body fat is primarily a function of calories in versus calories out, one way to help account for total calorie balance on any given day is by working out. The loaded carry, especially in some of the more grueling variations, can be extremely effective at targeting as many muscle groups as possible. By using this full-body movement and some smart (or masochistic) accompanying exercises, the loaded carry can be the centerpiece of a well-crafted fat loss workout.

The Workout

Here, you want a carry that demands a ton of core engagement and has huge overall load potential. With that in mind, you need something you can go heavy with safely during a circuit. Even in a fatigued state, the carry you choose should be safe to execute — enter the trap bar farmer’s carry. Combined with some calisthenics to crank the heart rate and you’re ready to rock.

  • Trap-Bar Farmer’s Carry: 20 yards
  • Burpee: 1×10
  • Trap-Bar Farmer’s Carry: 20 yards
  • Burpee: 1×10
  • Trap-Bar Farmer’s Carry: 20 yards

Note: Perform this circuit for as many rounds as possible within 30 minutes, resting as necessary between rounds.

Benefits of Loaded Carries

Loaded carries are fantastic at forcing your entire body to get stronger, improve coordination, grip strength, and have a huge carryover to a generating a solid core brace.

Full-Body Strength

Loaded carries aren’t about any one part of your body alone. Your hands, forearms, traps, lats, rhomboids, abdominals, and hips are all going to be working overtime to keep you from being thrown around by the weight in your hands.

The aim of a loaded carry is to neutralize the weight’s movement with each stride — AKA, not wobbling and tipping over. Under sufficient load, you’ll call on nearly every muscle fiber in your body to accomplish that task.

Improved Coordination

It’s one thing to simply lift heavy weights — it’s quite another to take them on a walk with you. You need quite a lot of coordination when you’re working to neutralize the momentum of the weight you’re carrying. Walking mechanics, proprioception, and overall body awareness will all be tightened up.

Grip Strength

One of the primary criteria for successfully carrying a heavy object is not dropping it. You’re going to have to improve your squeeze to see progressive weight increases in the loaded carry. With that comes greatly improved grip strength that should carry over to everything from rows to deadlifts.

Improved Brace

When you pick up and carry a heavy object, your body will need to brace itself by feeling where the load is trying to drag you with each stride.

This is a valuable skill, and you need it in other major lifts such as squats and deadlifts. A loaded carry can be an excellent assistance exercise to help beef up your core brace without having to spend extra time with a bar on your back.

Types of Loaded Carries

There are several different styles of performing a loaded carry, each with its own challenges and benefits. Each style will help with grip and core strength, as well as full-body conditioning. But the different approaches to the lifts can carve out even more specific gains.


Unilateral loaded carries place the implement in only one hand. By carrying only one object, you force your body to compensate. You’ll engage your back and core to prevent you from walking lopsided. This has tremendous value in training your spinal stability, especially dynamically, as you are required to perform double-duty to keep each side balanced.


Bilateral loading places a weight in both hands, balancing the distribution evenly between them. While a unilateral carry will recruit your core to prevent undue rotation during each stride, bilateral loading actually helps to lower your center of gravity. That means that you can carry a much greater amount of weight. This makes it a great tool to challenge grip strength, loaded walking mechanics, and your traps.


The overhead loaded carry uses any implement that can be safely secured in your hand and supported directly over your shoulders.

This style of loaded carry is fantastic for challenging your rotator cuffs as they must to keep your loaded hand from deviating too far from your shoulder line. You can work overhead either unilaterally or bilaterally.


While not necessarily a formal category, think of a strongman or CrossFit-style of loaded carry as a category using any implement typically seen in either sport. They are usually much more awkward to carry, which forces an extreme amount of coordination and balance, along with intense strength. Yoke bars, sandbags, logs, and numerous other implements fall under this umbrella. While extremely beneficial, these tools tend to be even more advanced than a typical dumbbell or kettlebell.

Get Carried Away

The loaded carry is a unique exercise that is about as cool as it looks. Picking up a heavy object imparts a ton of really useful benefits on its own. But then taking your weight for a walk puts your exercise on a whole different level. 

You’ll work muscles you forgot you had. Loaded carries force your stabilizers into action to prevent momentum. Your grip will be roasted and your full body will be called upon to make sure you reach your destination. Try out these loaded carry workouts and embrace the beautifully simple process with brutally effective results.

Featured Image: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

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