How To Get REALLY Good At Carrying In Groceries

A couple of months back I had one of those huge grocery shopping trips that is so incredibly awesome it gives you a half chub. One of those trips where you spend an exorbitant amount of money, and on the drive home immediately start thinking about all the various ways you can now start flexing your culinary muscle.

When I got home, I was immediately met with a challenge. I had a foe that we’ve all been faced with. There were, by my rough estimate, 33 grocery bags. Because I have yet to train my dog, Bowser, to carry groceries, this task fell on my shoulders.

33 bags. About 42.5 feet to the kitchen. That’s a lot of carrying.

10 minutes later I had all the bags brought in, and I was pleasantly surprised by how out of breath I was. My Apple Watch told me my heart rate was somewhere around 120 beats per minute. By most standards I had just done 10 minutes of cardio.

It got me thinking about one of the most underutilized movements known to man, and something that we need to be doing a hell of a lot more of.

The Loaded Carry.

I’m a big Dan John fan, as are most people in the strength and conditioning world. Dan has been around for a long time, and preaches the gospel of the loaded carry every chance he gets.

Why? Because it freaking works.

There are few things you can do that are more effective in the gym than just picking something up and walking with it. Don’t believe me? Go give it a whirl. Come back and let me know how you feel after you’ve got your wind.

Or maybe you’re like me, work at a gym, and inadvertently noticed this when you were tasked with re-racking a bunch of weights because some fuckboy was too lazy to put his weights up.

What is the loaded carry?

At risk of being too simple, the loaded carry is picking up something and walking. That much is obvious. In a gym setting it can involve a number of things, but the two most common variations are the Farmers Walk and the Suitcase Walk.

The Farmers Walk: This one involves you picking up a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand and walking. You can either go really heavy for a short distance, light for a long distance, or heavy for a long distance.

The Suitcase Carry: Hopefully you’ve got the mental imagery here. This involves picking up one kettlebell or dumbbell, holding it in one hand, and walking. If you’ve never felt your obliques before, this should do it.

There are a ton of other variations that can be done involving dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, barbells, or damn near anything you’ve got around the house. For now though we’re only worrying about these two.

Why does the loaded carry work?

Carrying an extra 20lbs in your hand isn’t that exhausting if you do it for a short period of time. Make that half your bodyweight in each hand, and suddenly you notice you start to get tired pretty quickly.

Loaded carrying does a fantastic job in building total body strength. The kind of strength that actually has carryover into the real world. In other words, gone are the days of when you’re all show and no go. Loaded carries give you the strength to be show and go.

Because you’re holding heavy weights in your hands and forced to walk with perfect posture there are a number of things you’re forced to do:

Keep your abs, obliques, and spinal erectors completely rigid, which causes these core muscles to respond by growing stronger.

Keep your upper back, shoulders, and traps tight, which improves posture, size, and strength.

  • Better balance. Walking with half your bodyweight in each hand requires a surprising amount of balance.
  • Work on your cardiovascular system. If you thought carrying in the groceries was exhausting, wait until you carry something that’s 3x as heavy as the grocery bags.
  • Build overall leg strength.
  • Build grip strength.
  • Build functional strength that carries over to the real world.

That’s 7 major qualities that are trained via doing loaded carries alone. What’s really impressive about that list is how diverse the qualities on it are, though. Everything from training your cardiovascular system, your legs, and your forearms is worked.

The loaded carry is a diverse and highly functional movement. It’s also one of the most basic forms of human movement there is.

How to start doing it.

You can’t just go jump into doing loaded carries all day every day. Sure, you can try. Sooner or later you’re going to hate your life though and your forearms will start hurling f bombs at you.

It’s best to use loaded carries as a finisher to a workout, or as way to work in some cardio on an off day.

One of my favorite ways is to use them in a circuit that mixes carries and mobility work. This leaves me feeling strong, but also like I can actually move around. Because what good is feeling strong if you can’t wipe your own ass?

It goes like this:

Pick up kettlebells that are ½ your bodyweight

  1. Walk about 50 yards (in my gym the space is 25 yards, so I go down and back)
    1. Place an emphasis on walking with perfect posture, squeezing the hell out of the kettlebells AND your abs while keeping your upper back tight.
  2. 4 bird dogs each side
  3. 4 Thoracic bridge flows
  4. 10 hanging leg raises (sometimes if my forearms are feeling it I’ll do pike push ups instead)

Set a timer for 20 minutes, and repeat. Rest as necessary, but try to never rest more than 30 seconds at a time.

That day with the groceries was a rude awakening as to why I need to be doing more loaded carries. You better believe every cardio session, off day, or finisher involved some form of loaded carry.

The results? I no longer struggle to hold on to a near max deadlift, which means massively improved grip strength. My abs and obliques actually show, and I can feel the muscle tissue for once. That’s a product of reduced body fat and increased core muscle, the only thing that’s changed in my program or diet? Adding in loaded carries.