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Easy At Home Functional Trunk Training Exercises: Farmer’s Carry and Suitcase Carry

With gyms closed and home exercise equipment not readily available, you may be struggling to find ways to perform resistance training that provides enough progressive overload to build and maintain muscular strength. But worry not, there’s plenty of resistance training that you can do with things you already may have laying around the house. One of my favorite and easiest exercises to perform at home or in the gym is the farmer’s carry and suitcase carry. This one exercise will work multiple muscle groups from your grip strength, to your arms, back, shoulder, core, and legs. Not to mention it trains the very functional pattern of being able to carry all your groceries from your car into your kitchen all in one trip.

So what do you need for this great exercise?

  • Two shopping bags
  • Whatever you may have in the house such as the extra canned goods and bottled water to weigh down the bags. Loaded as heavy as you can carry for the distance you have available to walk and maintain form
  • A cleared path for you to walk 20-25 feet

How to perform these exercises?

This is the best part, you simply lift the bags and carry the bags across the distance you have available.

  • Farmer’s carry is carrying a bag on each side loaded as equally as possible
  • For suitcase carry, just carry one bag on one side

So, what about form?

Let us go from head to toe. It will be easier to adopt a forward head, rounder back/shoulder posture to carry the heavy load but this will put considerable stress on your neck, upper back, shoulder at a suboptimal position and reinforces an inappropriate movement pattern. Instead, try to adopt a more upright posture with a gentle chin tuck to keep the head align with the neck over the shoulder. Pull your shoulder blades back to get your shoulder in line with your hips and pull your shoulder blade down towards your feet to prevent a shrugged shoulder position. Arm should be straight down by your side, relaxed elbow, and palms facing in.

For your core, having an upright upper body position will already put you at a better position to engage your trunk muscles. In order to learn how to brace, the best cue is to imagine how you would react if someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Clench up your midsection by drawing your belly button towards your spine without totally sucking in your gut and draw your rib cage down towards the ground so it doesn’t rise or flare.

Finally, for your lower body, the tendency is to lean forward at the waist and stick your behind out, putting a lot of stress on your low back. Instead, think about tucking your tailbone underneath you so your trunk is stacked directly over your pelvis. Don’t try to shuffle and get through the distance as quickly as you can, but take normal strides at a slow pace. Imagine being as still as a brick wall from your head down through your trunk and only your legs moving underneath you.

 

For suitcase carry, apply the same concepts but avoid leaning away or towards the bag. Try to keep yourself upright and centered through the whole walk.

 

The key to this exercise is to keep the load as heavy as you can handle while keeping good form for the distance you have available to you. For a good work out, I recommend doing supersets of farmer and suitcase carries:

  • Perform a farmer’s carry back and forth
  • Switch to suitcase carry on one side back and forth
  • Do the other side of the suitcase carry back and forth
  • Finish with the farmer’s carry back and forth one more time
  • Rest for 1-2 minutes, enough for your breathing rate to get back to normal, and repeat for 5 sets

 

Once you master this exercise, you will be able to amaze your family and friends by performing an amazing feat of strength by carrying all the groceries in one trip!


Mike ChenMike Chen PT, DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Fellow in the American Academy of Manual Orthopedic Physical Therapists and works at our Issaquah clinic. Mike worked as a strength and conditioning coach before attending physical therapy school and is passionate about incorporating functional strength training when working with his patients to help them return to their activities and to enhance their performance. He loves the PNW outdoors — you can often find him backcountry skiing, rock climbing, or cycling about town. You can contact him directly at mikechen@mtipt.com or also follow him at @lift.ride.run_rehab on Instagram.