Picking up a heavy load from the floor and walking around with it is one of the best things you can do to improve your sports performance. Loaded carries are one of those weird categories of exercise that are rarely utilized but offer tremendous benefits for combat sports, especially Jiu Jitsu and grappling. Before we get into the six best carries for BJJ and how to add them to your routine, lets look at the benefits, and exactly why you should be carrying around heavy stuff.
The general benefits of loaded carries include burning fat, building muscle, and increasing work capacity. From a health and fitness standpoint, you can’t get much better than that with only one exercise (and its variations.) Specifically, the weighted carries improve stability via total body tension. Your muscles must maintain an isometric contraction while transferring from place to place in order to support your spine, maintain upright posture, and effectively move the weight.
Maintaining total body isometric tension for extended periods has an incredible effect on not only your stability, but your ability to accept and handle force. Think of this like your body’s structural integrity. Your ability to handle external loads, as well as your ability to apply force, will increase as you progress with loaded carries. This will transfer directly to the mat with improved stability on your feet during takedowns, enduring pressure positions, and finishing submissions that require long efforts of tension to get the tap.
Certain carries also develop other qualities specific to that carry, which we’ll get into, however, all of the carries are relatively safe, with a fairly low injury potential. And in fact, many of the lifts target the stabilizing muscles needed to prevent injuries in the first place. So from a training and performance standpoint, it’s only makes sense to add these to your routine ASAP.
The Loaded Carries
Touted as the “King of Carries,” the Famers Walk will shred your core, improve your posture, strengthen your rotator cuff, and give you a vice-like grip. Simply grab a pair of heavy dumbells or kettlebells and walk to reap the benefits. You’ll want to take short steps and maintain your shoulder blades back and down, with good upright posture and your head up. A worthy goal is to work up to half body weight and above in each hand.
Similar to the Famer’s Walk, the Suitcase Carry puts the weight in only one hand, which has a dramatic impact on the effect of exercise. The asymmetrical load will demand more from your core to stay upright, specifically your QL muscles in your lower back. Again, your grip and rotator cuff will benefit, and how often do you face perfectly symmetrical forces in BJJ? Never. The suitcase carry will get you functionally strong.
The Rack Walk involves holding two kettlebells in the Front Rack position. The bells will be resting on your chest as you walk from point A to B. This carry restricts your ability to take full deep breaths, and is almost like having someone on you in mount or side control. This will improve your ability to maintain composure under stress and load, and will strengthen your core and lower back. Make sure you don’t hyperextend from the lower back, but maintain good tight, upright posture, and attempt to breath deep throughout the carry. Start lighter on this one, especially if you’re already smoked from your workout, and build up over time.
This variation will tax your lower back and core, and improve the same position you would assume for a takedown. Hold two kettlebells between your legs as you walk in a low crouched position, hinging from the hips. Keep your eyes up and back flat as you make your way through the carry. If you suffer from lower back pain, put this one on hold until you build up your core strength and stabilizers.
This carry requires either a sand bag, keg, or heavy bag, which may be hard to find, but will develop your ability to hold someone in side control substantially. Pick up one of the objects mentioned (a bumper plate or two could work as well) in front of you as if you were hugging it. Squeeze the weight hard to your body and walk for distance. Your breathing will be restricted and your muscles will have to work isometrically to hold the weight. Try it with different grips as well; gable grip, clinching the fabric if using a sand bag, or no grip at all, just your arms around the weight.
The Waiter Walk is one of the best exercises you can do for shoulder stability. It requires you to hold a weight, preferably a kettlebell, over head, stabilizing it as you walk. As grapplers we are constantly pushing opponents away, posting for base, and using our arms to frame and apply techniques. This is why stable, healthy shoulders are extremely important.
To perform the Waiter Walk, press a kettlebell over head, pinning your biceps next to your ear while keeping a straight wrist, knuckles to the sky. Stabilize the weight over head as you walk, not allowing your elbow to bend or wrist to collapse. Keep a packed, tight shoulder throughout the carry.
How to Add Them To Your Routine
You can add loaded carries to any workout as a super set or finisher. As a super set, simply perform any of the carries above directly after an exercise like squats, presses, or pulls.
Super Set Example
5×3 Front Squat
80m Farmer Walk
5×5 Bent Over Row
25m/s Waiter Walk
30 Seconds Swings
30 Seconds Rack Walk
As a finisher, add just one or multiple carries for a few sets at the end of your workout.
3 x 50m Bear Hug
2 x 50m Duck Walk
3 x 60s Farmers Walk
Loaded carries should be performed with heavy loads, however, work up to these weights if you’re new to them or extremely taxed from your workout. Keep the volume relatively low as well, 2-4 sets of loaded carries per session will be enough to elicit the benefits. You can also go for distance, 40 – 80 meters is plenty, or time, where 30 to 60 seconds will do.
Once you’ve built up some strength in the above mentioned carries, try combination carries which will demand even more from your structure. This is where you combine two carries together. Some examples include:
Waiter Walk with Suitcase Carry
Rack Walk with Waiter Walk
One Arm Bear Hug with Suitcase Carry
One Arm Rack Walk
Double Waiter Walk