BENEFITS OF CARRYING
Carries in the weight room are some of the most applicable patterns that carry over to the real world, and the mats. Anytime you can think back to a heavy carry you have performed in your life, whether it be a removal of an old fridge, helping an injured buddy, or making the grocery run with multiple shopping bags in each hand, all in one trip, there’s one thing that cannot be avoided; effort.
Heavy carries recruit muscle fibres head-to-toe and summon the inner primal realms of pure effort. Torso strength and stability are challenged, as are many of the hip, knee, ankle and shoulder stabiliser muscle groups. The beauty of the carry as an exercise category is that it can be used for a variety of adaptations, depending on what you’re after. They don’t all have to be balls-to-the-wall.
Stability, strength, endurance, power, hypertrophy – all available depending on what you’re after.
GRAPPLERS AND STRONGER CIVILIANS
When I program carries for grapplers, I think in terms of pragmatism relative to the phase. For example, a heavy farmer’s carry will really tax the grip faculty, trapezius muscle group and torso strength. A suitable place for this variation is in the grappler’s off-season, where they can afford heavier work in the weight room and slightly longer recovery periods because they are not competing.
For stronger civilians, because they are not playing a sport, I also program the carry variation depending on what adaptation we’re after, and adjust the variables accordingly. I really like using carries with everyday people because they’re always challenging and there’s so many options.
Here’s some of my favourites for you to try;
WHAT ADAPTATION ARE YOU AFTER?
Shoulder Stability – Double Arm Overhead, Single Arm Overhead, Offset Overhead + Farmer’s. Bottoms Up variations: Bottoms Up Single Arm Overhead, Bottoms Up Offset, and Double Bottoms Up.
Torso Stability – Single Arm Farmer’s, Double Arm Farmer’s, Single Arm Front Rack, Double Arm Front Rack, Offset Overhead + Farmer’s, Offset Overhead and Front Rack, Wheelbarrow
Isometric Strength / Squeeze Endurance – Zercher Sandbag/Medball, Gable Grip Sandbag/Medball
Grip Strength – Heavy Double Arm Farmer’s, Plate Pinch Grip, Wheelbarrow
Hip Stability – Carry upstairs
Knee Stability – Carry downstairs
HOW TO PROGRAM
For strength gains, heavy carries work best – aim for 80%-90% of bodyweight.
30s-45s of work, 2-3 minutes of rest.
For hypertrophy gains, lighten the load – 60%-70% of bodyweight.
45s of work with 90s of rest.
For power endurance gains, set a distance of 20-30m and carry a heavy weight (60%-80% of bodyweight) as fast as you can, then rest 5x the time it took you to complete.
For example, the carry takes 15 seconds, so you rest 75 seconds. Do 4 -5 rounds.
For isometric strength or squeeze endurance, sand-filled objects work best.
For isometric strength, load yourself in a position where the sandbag is locked to your body.
Zercher, Gable grip, Ten Finger grip, etc.
Work hard for 10-20 seconds, then rest 60-90 seconds. 5-6 rounds.
For squeeze endurance, try and burst the object with your squeeze for at least 30 seconds of work time. You can do this moving, or static. The slight give of the sand compressing will give you a little bit of feedback that you’re doing it right. Choose a variety of grips with your hands.
Rest 90 – 120 seconds. Repeat 2-3 rounds.
For stability work, back the load off to 20%-40% of your bodyweight and focus on really controlling the load, moving smoothly towards to finish line. It’s not about speed, but controlling the natural oscillations that occur when you start walking.
For conditioning work, think about which energy system you’re trying to tax and then setup your work:rest ratios, accordingly.
For example, if you’re trying to hit the glycolytic (anaerobic glycolysis / lactic capacity) system, lift something heavy (75%-90%), carry it for 30 seconds, then dump it. Rest for 2 minutes 30 seconds for a complete recovery, or 60-90 seconds if you’re trying to improve your lactic capacity.
If you’re trying to target the glycolytic-oxidative (aerobic-glycolysis) system, lift a medium weight (30%-70%) for 1 minute, rest 3 minutes for a complete recovery. To train aerobic power output, rest for 1 minute and repeat for 4-8 rounds.
To target the oxidative (aerobic) system, carry a light weight (20%-35%) for 3 minutes or more, and rest 3 minutes. Long wheelbarrow carries work well for this and will help build general physical preparedness (GPP) which is perfect for off-season work.
It doesn’t get more practical than carrying something. Think of what adaptation you’re after and get creative! There’s so many loaded carry variations out there, I’ve only scratched the surface here. Partner carries open up a whole new world for grapplers and stronger civilians alike, and they’re super fun. Wheelbarrows will test your mettle, sandbags offer a unique deadweight challenge, and strongman-inspired medleys can make finishers a fun ordeal after your max or sub-max strength work. And don’t forget the trusty sled. Carries mixed with sled drags offer a whole new world to explore.
Straight Leg. Stiff Legged. RDL. The Romanian Deadlift is known by many monikers and is an absolutely vital ingredient in any grappler’s training program.
Thought of as one of the main contributors to a succulent posterior chain, here’s five reasons why you need the deadlift’s exotic cousin (with the tempting accent) in your programming as a recreational strangler;
1. Posterior Chain Gainz
The hamstrings, gluteals, and erector spinae muscles make up part of what’s known as the posterior chain, whose main function is to stabilise the spine and hips. A stronger posterior chain lends itself well to lessening the chance of lower back injuries, and knee injuries. Why? Because stronger glutes help stabilise the hips, and stronger hamstrings help balance out imbalances in leg strength, which can contribute to knee injuries. We need healthy backs, stable hips and injury-free knees as grapplers.
2. Less CNS fatiguing than the Conventional Deadlift
The conventional deadlift is regarded as the most fatiguing lift on your central nervous system when you’re lifting heavy (>90% of 1RM) loads. I’m sure you’ve felt it; waking up the next day feeling a decimal-place slower, a little cloudy in the brain, stumbling to the coffee machine like a legless ogre.
Because of this, you have to be smart how you program the conventional deadlift. I think it has its place in the off-season for grapplers, it’s a fun lift and you can build a lot of strength with it, but usually at a cost; a little more recovery is needed after each training session, than say, our friend the RDL.
The RDL has a mechanical disadvantage. Your knees remain at a constant angle whilst lifting the load, so your hamstrings have to do more work, and by definition, you lift less load than you would be able to with a conventional deadlift. This reduction in load means a faster recovery rate due to less stress on your CNS. Which is great from grapplers because it means we can still strengthen our posterior chains, without the risk of being battered about by the accumulating fatigue from hinging in the weight room.
3. The RDL is a Top-Down Lift
When you rack out with your loaded bar, you can begin the RDL from your standing position. It’s a top-down lift. You keep tension in your lats, your brace, and you begin lowering the bar with a sturdy hinge. The nature of the top-down lift is that you’re more likley to keep your form if you start in a good position. The risk with any lift involving a dead-start, is that you lose some tension or decent positioning before you move the load, and then you try to move the load and something goes wrong. Most of us have been there, it’s not the best feeling. But with top-down lifts, especially the RDL, your positioning starts off great, so as long as you maintain the form of pushing your hips back through space to lower the bar, keeping your spine neutral and stable, you’re halfway there. Grapplers are often battling through some kind of fatigue from training hard on the mats regularly. Although we want to be lifting feeling as fresh as possible, sometimes you’re just a little more tired than the average gym bro. The RDL improves your chances of not letting that tiredness get in the way of solid lifting technique.
4. The RDL is a Hip Hinge
The category of hip hinging exists in pretty much every sporting performance strength and conditioning progam under the sun. Why? The hinge involves two phases of movement; hip flexion and hip extension. Athletic movements in the saggital plane very often require degrees of hip flexion and extension to get the job done. Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, vertical jumping, broad jumping, level changing and shooting, all require hip flexion and/or extension. Training the hip hinge builds awareness of moving the hips through space, whilst stabilising the spine with torso tension. Moving the hips with a stable spine? Yes please. You’re going to want to have a hinging element to your S&C program for sport performance (I would add for corporal health, too).
The RDL is a prime candidate for hip hinging exercise selection.
5. Loading versatility
Heavy 5s, moderate 8s, or pumpy 12s, you can choose your load with the RDL easily, depending on what adaptation your after. Looking to improve the strength of your hinging capabilities? Heavy sets of 5-8 reps can get the job done. Want to build the posterior chain in terms of hypertrophy? Sets of 10-12 reps will elicit the pump and also test your grip endurance. Which brings me to using straps. The RDL is strap-friendly – if your grip is gassed from that unexpected hard Gi roll at lunchtime, chuck the straps on and perform the RDL without wondering if your grip is going to peel. Whatever loading scheme you choose, rest assured that you’ll be less fatigued the following day than if you had performed the same session with the conventional deadlift. Pairing your alactic power exercise, in the form of jumping variations or throws, works very well with the RDL. Add fat gripz if you’re trying to fry your forearms into a Popeye-state. Superset with a knee-dominant pattern in the off-season to build some work capacity and stimulate a little hypertophy, or with an upper push exercise in-season for a good weight room time-saver.
If you’re looking to remove the guesswork from your time in the weight room and get some solid programming to complement your mat time, check out my coaching options for online training.
It’s strength and conditioning for grapplers, formulated by a grappler, who knows what it actually takes to train 1-7 days per week on the mats, and 2-4 days per week in the weight room.
When it comes to the weight room, there is an optimal way to combine two different stimuli; strength, and conditioning, into the same training session.
There is also a sub-optimal way to do it, and that’s Crossfit.
Just kidding. They’re not the only losers that make these common pairing mistakes;
Max Strength with Aerobic Steady State
Sub-Max Strength with Aerobic Capacity
– Alactic Capacity with Aerobic Capacity
– Max Strength with Lactic Capacity
How to do it successfully
Instead, if you want to get the most out of your time in the weight room, these are the strength and conditioning sets of pairs you will want to combine;