For an enthusiastic people-watcher such as myself, Friday nights are the ideal time to observe human behaviour in all of its glory, specifically that of the Gym Bro. Watching their rituals – how they primp and pose while getting their pump on before hittin’ da club in a haze of testosterone and Axe – is fascinating to behold.
Take one night last summer, when a young regular strutted into the weight room in slicked hair, studded Parasuco jeans, black dress shirt unopened, popped collar and pointy brown boots. Dude was ready … but not quite READY.
After admiring his reflection, our young Casanova did what all hot-blooded sex machines do when they encounter a rack full of dumbbells: He grabbed the heaviest pair and proceeded to shred his biceps with three sets of horribly executed curls. Next, he loaded the EZ-Curl bar and hit his triceps with some skull-crushers. He then flexed both arms in the classic double biceps pose and walked away, leaving all of his weights on the floor for this old chump to put away. Mission accomplished.
I think of this fellow and his two-minute Ron Burgundy-inspired gun-sculpting routine often. What if I – or a particularly time-strapped client who thought nothing of paying for a five-minute session – had a limited window of time in which to get my muscle on? Which exercise offers the most bang for the least buck, is safe and easy to perform, takes little effort to set up and, most importantly, can be cleaned up quickly so that the gym attendant – my lowly brother-in-arms – isn’t inconvenienced?
The answer is easy.
The Farmer’s Walk is probably one of the simplest exercises there is in terms of execution. I’ve never had a client who couldn’t perform it, and I’ve trained seniors in their 70s. You simply grab a set of heavy-ish dumbbells, stand tall with your chest high and shoulder back, and then you march. Sometimes you march quickly, sometimes a little less so. It all depends on what you’re looking to get out of the exercise. Slow sets take a greater toll on your grip; fast sets leave you sweaty and out of breath.
I like to use heavy weight at a fast pace for around 25-30 seconds per set, with minimal rest between sets. Four sets usually does it. By the end, the veins in my arms are popping, my traps are feeling swole (traps are the new abs, FYI).
Because the Farmer’s Walk is so simple and safe, you can afford to experiment with heavier weights. Beginners should start with 25 pounds an arm, upping the weight as grip strength increases. Advanced lifters should be able to carry their total body weight for at least 30 seconds.
Aside from providing the aforementioned superficial benefits, the Farmer’s Walk (or “loaded carries,” if you’re sensitive to othering beleaguered rural workers) is one of the, if not the, best exercises for improving posture. It strengthens the low back, the upper back, the rhomboids, the traps – all muscles that help support proper spinal alignment. Not only that, the exercise does a bang-up job on the glutes and hamstrings, two areas that everyone needs to work on.
The only caveat: You need space to perform the Farmer’s Walk, or it becomes the Farmer’s Standstill or the Farmer’s Lollygag, and those exercises aren’t badass at all. If you train at a big-box facility that focuses more on cramming machines and benches onto the floor than providing its members with ample space to perform awesome feats of strength, well, find a new gym.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA and a striking coach at Black Devil MMA. You can follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.