Note: After reading this, head over to my other functional fitness post, Crawling My Way to Fitness, for an update. Now, back to Farmers Walking My Way to Functional Fitness.
A while back, someone on Twitter asked a great question:
If you could do only one exercise for the rest of your life, which would it be?
I thought about it and to me the answer was clear.
I then proceeded to scroll through the comments to confirm that everyone agreed with my brilliance, only to be shocked to find that my point of view was not assumed by the rest of the world, just because I had it!
Could it be that I’m not as smart as I think I am?
I think we’ll just chalk this one up to a “to each their own” type of thing.
To be honest, there are a lot of great exercises out there to choose from.
Lunges provide a great all-around lower body exercise, building muscle, strength, and even some mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles if you do them properly. They also target your core for stability, but obviously don’t do much for your upper body.
The same goes for another great exercise, the squat. Which is fairly self-explanatory.
Deadlifts could be a good contender as an all-around exercise, with a pretty good distribution of muscles targeted in the lower and upper body, along with core.
The clean and jerk or clean and press would also be great contenders, but can you consider those single exercises or multiple exercises built into one? Is that against the rules?
I don’t know who governs these types of discussions and I don’t want to run afoul of them, so let’s set those to the side for now.
Power cleans would be a great option as a whole body single exercise.
But if you live on an upper floor in an apartment or condo building, your neighbors might not appreciate all your power and grunts as much as you might.
So what’s left that will work your entire body, you can do at home or at the gym, and prevents disharmony with the community?
Gosh I love a good farmers walk.
A good, whole-body training, quiet, non-offensive farmers walk.
I love them so much that I’ve decided to start a new experiment and go all-in on them. Farmers walk-training only.
I like to experiment with myself and see how things go.
Sometimes, they go very well. Like when I experimented with the carnivore diet, which was lots of fun. At least for a short period.
That experiment didn’t work out as well. But it was still fun at times, so there’s that.
(Believe it or not, all you meaters out there, vegan restaurants have very creative items that can be very cool.)
When it comes to exercise, I’ve tried exclusively bodyweight exercises (travels well). I’ve also recently experimented with a resistance band-only workout (also travels well), which I really enjoyed.
You can do a lot and do well with just a resistance band.
But it occurred to me as I walk through the course of life that there is one benefit of strength and fitness for the non-competitive athlete that rises above all others. And this is the benefit that I need to focus on.
Enter the farmers walk.
This is why I love the farmers walk so much.
To me, it most effectively mimics actual, real-life work.
Such work that a farmer may do, you might say.
Farmers walks are not complicated. They are effectively picking up something heavy and moving it from one place to another.
With good posture and form, of course.
So, as a fan of work and developing a good work ethic in general, I decided I would go all-in on the one exercise that mimics work the most.
Because it mimics good old-fashioned labor, I also hypothesize that I will receive positive mental feedback from my body that, as my body puts in the work that mimics manual labor, will increase my mental enjoyment of labor and work ethic as well.
That’s just a theory, though, so we’ll see what happens.
How is the farmers walk functional?
Most of the physical labor that we do in daily life can be benefited in some way by the farmers walk.
Think about simple things we all do like carrying in bags of groceries or Amazon packages. These are essentially farmers walks with food and boxes. (And if you live in a large apartment building, having the strength and fitness to carry a lot of groceries at once is a serious bonus.)
Think about some other things we do around the home like moving furniture, picking up and carrying children, or, should you find yourself in such a position, picking up and carrying an adult whose had a few too many.
You just never know when functional strength will be called into action.
Farmers walks target virtually every muscle group in the body, lower body to upper body, with core included.
Even your hands and feet get in on the action, and these are the two areas that I believe are criminally undervalued today.
Never neglect your grip strength!
We don’t give nearly enough credence to grip strength, in my opinion.
While a lot of us like to train the “show” muscles, everything really does start with the grip.
Having greater grip strength allows you to access the strength in your larger muscle groups better.
It may not matter so much how strong your shoulders are if your grip can’t get you there and allow you to tap into more of it.
Now, to be fair, if you have fire shoulders, you likely have a fairly decent grip as well.
But what if you had out-of-this-world grip strength to go along with those fire shoulders?
How much more would you be capable of athletically and in regular life?
Sky’s the limit.
Not just for carnival games – grip strength makes you better at life!
Having great grip strength is one of the ultimate useful functional strength factors in everyday life.
It’s great for more than just opening pickle jars. Great grip strength can help you in every facet of labor.
Say you are moving something heavy or awkwardly-shaped so you can’t get some of your larger muscle groups or your core underneath it very well. You’ll be helped tremendously by being able to rely more on the strength of your fingers.
Perhaps you are moving something heavy that does not have an ideal spot to pick it up. As we know, not everything comes fully equipped with handles for our ease of use.
For example, imagine you are changing a heavy car battery in a tight space where you can only squeeze in your fingers to pick it up or move it.
Whatever the case, grip strength opens up a new world of tasks you will be able to achieve with more ease and comfort.
Sometimes you don’t realize how helpful it is until you find yourself in one of those situations and your body calls on it.
The greatest benefit, ultimately, is that you become more useful.
With greater grip strength, you’ll be more useful to yourself, your spouse, your partner, your family, friends, community, all of it.
We should all strive to be more useful.
All-body strength training, grip-strengthening farmers walks can help with that.
Variations on grip training in farmers walks
To increase the intensity of grip training in farmers walks and make that grip work even more potent, I like to employ fat grips on my dumbbells.
Increasing the size of the grips on my dumbbells may mean I can’t carry quite as much weight on my famers walks, but the gains in grip strength, pinching grip strength in the tips of your fingers in particular, are more than worth it to me.
Besides, I can take the fat grips off later and get more “reps” in without them so I get the best of both worlds.
Since grip strength is so valuable (and if you’re a guy, having some swole forearms isn’t the worst thing in the world), I will employ much use of fat grips along with some standard grips. This will help me exercise the grip in a different way and avoid overtaxing any specific muscle group.
The super-complicated farmers walk training plan
I’ve thought long and hard about how I will go at this farmers walk training plan.
It’s complicated, so bear with me.
I’m going to pick up heavy things and moving them around the house from one spot to another, maybe a hundred or so times a day.
That’s work to me, and good work feels good.
Now picking up the weight and putting it down properly requires me to also do a hundred or so non-sequential deadlifts a day as well. So some days I will focus on picking them up and moving them a hundred or so times, other days I might just go for distance and time instead of picking them up and putting them down so much, and other days I will rest and recover.
Just because I’m doing only one exercise doesn’t mean it has be stale or static.
Can you feel the excitement too?
This is not fitness advice for you.
This is just an experiment for me.
I’ll see how it impacts my overall body in terms of strength, mobility, physique, and feel.
Importantly, what kind of physique will it shape? Will it create the tapered look with wider shoulders to a tapered waist? If not, we might need to make some changes.
Will the numerous deadlifts off the floor going along with each stretch of farmers walk result in a strong, mobile, and most importantly functional-for-daily-life lower body?
Will the cardio element put my heart rate in a good and safe zone to get positive cardio benefits at the same time? And will it provide a good balance of resistance training and cardio, which appears to be the best for weight loss?
Time will tell.
So far, after about a week, I feel good. But I’m sure I’ll make some tweaks along the way, maybe splicing in some suitcase carries (a single-arm farmers walk which will engage my core differently) and I will listen to my body and get enough recovery to ensure I’m not overtaxing any muscle groups or joints.
Strength and injuries do not work well together. It doesn’t matter how strong you are. Injuries will sideline all the strength you have in that affected area.
In other words, not useful.
Farmers walks are fun for me
All exercise should be fun, or at least enjoyable or satisfying.
There are more than enough forms of exercise to choose from that we shouldn’t have to just grin and bear it.
The feeling of my workout being like actual work is kind of a joy to me. There really is a mental effect there that I love.
So a farmers walk experiment is good for me. So much so that I actually look forward to it when I wake up in the morning.
If you can find something that’s safe and makes you feel the same way?
You might be on the right track.
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If you like this article, you might love my totally unrelated gratitude journal!
I wrote the introduction to help guide you and provide you with motivation to start your mindset shift and contribute to your growth, then watch your growth compound over time and your life change for the better.
Having something – anything – to serve as a motivational reminder to be grateful can help a great deal. Whether it’s a gratitude journal or something else.
I like a gratitude journal.
Stay consistent and watch your life change positively.
You have the power to decide what you believe and who you will be.
So believe in the best and believe in you!