Coach’s Blog: The Best Way to Ultimate Fitness

As many of you know, I am quite a fan of Strongman implements and movements due to the effect they have on the body.  There have been multiple studies that have shown the benefits of “odd objects” training and even the founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, suggested that workouts should look like work.  Meaning the work of our ancestors did which included lifting, throwing, pushing, pulling, and carrying. I will be focusing on the last one for the remainder of this article.

Carrying objects is one of the abilities that differentiate us from animals.  The moment human beings were able to stand upright and walk in two feet we became moving machines. We can carry objects in one hand or both, we can take things overhead, in front of us and on our backs.   All these different ways to carry allowed our ancestors to develop incredible core stability and grip strength. Two essential factors when we look for optimal performance and health. Unfortunately, we don’t carry things as often as we used to and our bodies have suffered because of it. 

Most fitness programs focus on developing core strength and stability by doing planks, sit-ups and core isolated movements like “dead bugs.” However, most of these movements neglect the fact that the human body is not in isolation when exercising or performing an ordinary task such as picking up a child or a laundry basket.  Our body works as a unit, and although those exercises previously mentioned had value, there is more value in getting back to our roots, getting back to carrying things.

Here are some benefits of carrying objects in your training program.

Let’s start with the most basic principle:  Time under tension(TUT). TUT is known as the time expend under a load during an exercise.  The amount of TUT a person can experience during a carry is unlike anything else. Even if a person is using Tempo work, carries allowed for more time under tension.  You could complete a set of 8 bicep curls or deadlifts with a 4020 tempo, and you won’t be as challenged as a 200 m Farmer’s Carry. Additionally, if we want to improve TUT for dynamic contractions such as touch and go power cleans or big sets of front squats, then we should be able to walk and stabilize weight first.  It is like human development, before running we have to walk.

Balance in the body
Carries allow the body to work together.   When an athlete walks with a heavy sandbag in a bearhug position, this athlete has to brace for the sandbag to stay close to his/her body while staying in a vertical position and not falling forward.  Additionally, every step this athlete takes requires every part of the body to turn on, when the right leg steps forward, the left side turns on: glute, quads, and hamstrings. The obliques work together with the rectus abdominis ( the six-pack).   And the best part is the athlete doesn’t have to think about all of this, the body does it automatically. Sure, we can create more mind-body connections by really focusing on the movement, but our bodies understand the concept of carrying objects more than a snatch. (Don’t get me wrong, I love me some snatching)

Calorie expenditure
If you are in the fitness world looking for body composition goals, then carries are also an excellent tool for you.  For both of the reasons mentioned previously, Time under tension and full body activation. Carries will demand more calories from the body because more muscles are being used and getting fatigued.  If you have any doubt, try taking a heavy yoke for 50 meters as fast as possible and let me know how easy was that (let me save you some time, it’s not easy). Therefore by using more muscle fibers, the body will use more fuel.

Recovery and Safety
Another benefit of carries is don’t make you sore, most of the time.    Carries don’t have an eccentric phase, especially if you hold the position instead of walking.   If we go back to the concept of TUT, we can accomplish an increase of this by adding a long eccentric and concentric phase to a movement.  Let’s say a deadlift with prolonged eccentric contractions break lots of muscles fibers and although this is great for strength and muscle size.  Sometimes depending on the training cycle might not be the best idea. That’s were carries come in, you can still strengthen the body without an increase in soreness.   There are some exceptions to this, and those are: really heavy yoke and farmer’s carries. These two, when done at high weights, can leave you sore but also taxed your Central Nervous System and leaving you feeling exhausted for a few days.  So if you plan to go heavy, I suggest no more than once a week per one of these movements.
Additionally, carries are really safe since they are self-limiting.  Unlike deadlifts, cleans or other resistance movements, to lift an odd object,  you have to be strong enough. Otherwise, you won’t move. If you can not lift a set of farmer’s handles off the ground, you can’t carry it.  If you can’t stand a heavy yoke, then you won’t get a chance to move it. If the sandbag is too heavy, it won’t come off the ground. So you’ll be forced to lower the weight to perform a carry.  However, most people tend to be too cautious when it comes to carries, but that’s for a different post.

So now you know, if you want to train your whole body, get a strong, resilient core and excellent grip strength, then you should add carries to your training.  You don’t need a lot of equipment or even space, just a couple of kettlebells, dumbbells or even water jugs and take them for a walk or a hold. 

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