Bang-For-Your-Buck Exercises Part 1: Farmer’s Walk (2016)
The Farmers walk was one of those exercises that I started doing when I first started training that packed on some slabs of muscle on me in my first months of doing it. Although I did go overboard with it in the past and did develop some serious upper trap imbalances, it was still a phenomenal exercise and it was just me who didn’t program it properly. Rule of thumb, too much of anything could be bad and in life you need balance in most cases.
Some people say that my traps and upper back are some of my best bodyparts and I honestly credit a lot of that mass to the farmers walks I would do back in the day.
The farmers walks are one of the most bang-for-your-buck movements that hits all of the muscles below in an isometric fashion. If you’ve read my article on how the muscles in the outer extremities of the body make you look the biggest then you will notice that the farmers walk hits most of these muscle groups. Here they are:
Traps & Neck
The weights in the farmers walk are literally pulling your traps and neck which makes them great for that area especially for the neck if you keep somewhat of packed neck (double chin tuck). Another important tip to work your traps more with the farmers walk is to avoid bending your elbows. Instead you want to keep your arms long (without slouching) to really stretch out those traps under tension, that will help hypertrophy them. Remember that just because your traps are not shrugging it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working.
Just like your traps, your upper back is also working hard in an isometric fashion to trying to stay upright and keep good posture with all of that weight. In order to maximize the upper back recruitment with the farmer walk, you want to keep your chest up as high as possible like you are in the military.
The forearms are hands down one of the muscles that get the most torture out of this movement because your hands have to literally try to crush the bar in order to not drop the weights. I personally like to do a bit of a sideways wrist curl to work and overload my forearm flexors a bit to develop my forearms just a bit more, but don’t think that you could do this for long because eventually the weight will be so heavy that you won’t be able to hold that position.
Remember that the traps, neck, upper back and forearms are all on the outer extremities of the upper body and these are the muscles that are going to make you look big in a t-shirt so you would be a fool to not incorporate this exercise because you are really killing 4 birds with one stone.
Some bodybuilders will argue that farmers walks don’t build forearms and all you really need is reverse curl variations and wrist curls/extensions, but I think that the farmers walks are a great addition to those exercises. I’ve written in past articles that I like to do farmers walks at the end of my forearm training because that way my forearms are “activated” and per-exhausted so you will feel your forearms working a lot more I can promise you that. Besides that, you can’t argue about the fact that some people in 3rd world countries who carry heavy stuff or construction workers who have never been to a gym in their life have some good forearms and I can guarantee that it has to do with the time under tension and heavy load of the farmers.
I like to talk about lifting standards and I think that if somebody is able to eventually work up to doing farmers walks (with dumbells) that add up to 1.5x their bodyweight with sets that last 1-2 minutes without dropping the weights while walking at a steady pace then he/she will have big forearms. This basically means that if you weigh 200lb and you are able to do farmers walks with two 150lb dumbells with solid form, no running, good posture and all of that other stuff for sets that last 1-2 minutes then you will have big forearms, no question about it.
Will the forearms really be fully developed? They won’t be developed in every region, but they will definitely be considered big (especially the forearm flexors).
The muscles above are the main muscles that the farmers work, but the other muscles that still get some decent stimulation are:
If you perform the Farmer walk properly with strict form then your core and even your obliques will work hard because the natural tendency is for the body to rock from side to side, but we want to keep the movement as strict as possible by avoiding that.
I wouldn’t call the farmer walk a pure rear delt builder, but the weights are pulling your upper arms like crazy and the rear delts are really at the top of your upper arm. Remember, this aren’t the most optimal exercise for the rear delts, but there is still some stimulation and activation taking place.
Lets say that you are a 200lb man and you are walking with two 125lb dumbbells for 1 minute walks. During that 1 minute your body is literally walking around with 450lb which is a pretty big shock because in real life humans don’t normally walk around with that much (unless if they are doing labor or construction which I will mention more about below) so it is going to stimulate the calves to a significant degree. Now I am not saying that you will build huge calves by doing farmers walks, but they could contribute to some growth. Most of the heaviest people I know who weigh 240lb+ all have big calves and it makes sense because it you weigh over 240lb then that’s a lot of weight for your calves to be handling everyday so if you make farmers walks a habit then you could see some results in that department.
As a bonus, the Farmers walk is also a great exercise for better posture (which will make your chest and shoulders look more impressive) and its one of the best grip exercises known to man (especially if you use a thicker handle or a trap bar). I mentioned in my trap-trap article that if you abuse this exercise too much then your posture will obviously turn to shit because you don’t want to incorporate it every time you walk into the gym for 10+ sets either.
Farmers walk are good for GPP work which stands for General Physical Preparedness for strength and power athletes too.
THE BEAUTY LIES IN THE SIMPLICITY
There are some people who have never been to a gym in their life but they do a lot of heavy labor work such as carrying heavy objects and/or some form moving or construction yet they possess big forearms and traps. The main culprit to this situation is the farmers walk because carrying heavy weight around whether it is dumbbells or heavy watermelon baskets will do the trick in helping you stimulate these muscles.
This is good for you because it means that if you have a home gym or some heavy stuff at home then you could simply do some farmers walks at home later on in the day after you main workout or you could do it on your off days for extra volume. It all depends on your schedule and how fast your recovery is.
HOW I LIKE TO PROGRAM IT
There are hundreds of ways to program this powerful exercise, but just for people starting out on this exercise and people who are trying to bring up their traps, upper back and forearms, I would suggest they start off with my simple approach.
My approach for starters is to include the farmers walk twice per week at the end of your workout. I say at the end of your workout because you wont have much energy to do anything else after that. Your grip strength be finished and your upper back will be smoked as well after doing this lift so I like to end with it.
Lets say that you train your upper body on Monday and Thursday, I would suggest that you do 3-5 sets of heavy farmers walks on Monday and 3-5 sets of moderate weight on Thursday for 3-5 sets. On both days you will perform the farmers walk at the end of your workout and the “heavy days” means that you take a weight that you could handle for 30-45 seconds while on the moderate day you use a weight that you could handle for 1-2 minutes.
Remember to chalk up because your hands will need it and to try not to drop the weight in the middle of your set because then you will be compromising your results. You want to always pick a weight that you can handle throughout the whole duration of the set or else you are going too heavy.
As far as equipment if concerned you can use heavy dumbbells, kettlebells or even a trap bar. Once you max out your dumbbells then I would suggest that you use the trap bar because the loading potential is a lot higher.
Another option if your gym doesn’t have a trap bar would be to simply use the heaviest dumbbells you have, but for longer sets. For example, if you have been able to do farmers walks with 130lb dumbbells for a minute then try doing them for sets of 2-3 minutes.
There are just too many benefits to this exercise to skip out on it so make sure that you make it a staple while always following the rule of progressive overload to try to eventually work up to some good numbers.
I personally wish that I never stopped doing this exercise, but you live and learn and now I will start getting back to my old habits (with a lot less volume of course) so I could reap all of the benefits of this exercise in a healthy way.