As strength coaches, we are always seeking out training equipment that can maximize training efficiency. One of the best Jack-of-all-trades tools to accomplish multiple fitness goals simultaneously is the farmer’s walk bar.
The farmer’s walk bar will efficiently:
- Increase grip and upper trapezius strength
- Increase core strength (particularly the quadratus lumborum and the internal oblique)
- Strengthen the muscles of locomotion (the entire lower body)
- Strengthen the gluteal complex (particularly the hip abductors)
- Train the deadlift start and finish
- Improve your overall conditioning
- Rehabilitate the knee and the hip
Which athletes need to take up farming?
Any athlete that needs a strong: grip, core, and neck needs to train with farmer’s walk bars. Football, hockey, and grappling sports are prime candidates for this. Sports where an implement is used such as a bat, stick, or racquet also benefit as grip strength is highly correlated with your ability to swing the implement at high speed. The farmer’s walk bar is also an excellent vehicle for rehabilitation.
Many knee conditions will exhibit decreased range of motion in knee extension patterns (squatting, lunging, stepping) whether in chronic pain or in post-rehab. It is still necessary to strengthen the quads, but since range of motion is limited, you need an exercise that strengthens the legs with minimal knee bend, like the farmer’s walk.
Since walking is well tolerated, farmer’s walk bars are particularly useful to train the locomotion pattern, which works the entire lower body. While walking, the knee is bending only 20 degrees or so, strengthening the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) which is most active in this range. Many knee conditions are remedied by increasing VMO strength as this is usually one of the weak links in the kinetic chain.
In addition, research shows that potential knee injury is linked to hamstring to quad strength ratios, vastus medialis strength to vastus lateralis (this is linked to patella stability and patellar pain), and that hip instability also affects knee stability. Not only does evidence show a high activation of the vastus medialis, but also a high activation of the gluteus medius.
Many hip conditions cause pain with increased abduction range of motion. In these conditions, the farmer’s walk is an excellent exercise to strengthen the hip abductor complex with minimal to no pain while performing.
Implementing the Farmer’s Walk
The farmer’s walk works best when combined with other exercises. I combine it with sled work, lateral core work, or lateral hip work. You can use the core work and hip work as a form of active recovery. Since farmers walk bars supercharge your grip while ramping up your conditioning, they should be placed near the end of your workout.
Choose optimal loads based on the client you are working with and the distance you are traveling. Chet Morjaria gives great advice on how to quantify training loads and distances in this blog post.
- Heavy loads: 10-15 yards
- Medium loads: 20-30 yards
- Light loads: 40-60 yards
Morjaria also gives load guidelines for athletic populations:
- Beginner lifters: 75% bodyweight in each hand
- Advanced lifters: 125% bodyweight in each hand
- Elite lifters: 150% bodyweight in each hand
For beginners and non-athletes, I recommend starting at:
- Women: 30-45% bodyweight in each hand
- Men: 50-65% bodyweight in each hand
Higher Power Training’s favorite complexes
Finally, here are HPT’s top complexes:
A1: Sled Push March (low handles or high handles) 20-30 yards.
A2: Farmers walk (20-40 yards)
A1: Sled Sprint (50% bodyweight for 10 yards)
A2: Reactive Farmer’s walk (have a partner command when to start, stop, and change direction between forwards and backwards). This exercise should be done for time. 15-30 seconds is recommended.
A1: Single-Arm Farmer’s Walk (Right side only). 30-40 yards
A2: Side-Lying Hip Lift (Left side only). 5 second isometric holds per rep. 8-12 reps.
A3: Farmer’s Walk Bar- standing side bend (use a lighter bar- Right side only). 8-15 reps.
A4: Repeat A1, A2, A3 for the other side
A5: Squat Jumps (15, 20, or 25 reps)
A1: Farmer’s Walk figure 8 carries (set 2 pairs of cones 5 yards between cones laterally and 15 yards apart)
A2: Sled Pull (30 yards)
Gopher Performance Farmer’s Walk Bars
One of the drawbacks to Farmer’s walk exercises is loading and unloading weight. Tipping up one end of the bar, and then the other to load and unload is such a pain, that often the Farmer’s Walk gets neglected.
Gopher Performance solves this problem by integrating a triangular base that allows you to easily slide Olympic sized plates on and off without having to tip the bar. Simply slide on the plates, secure them with a collar, grip, and go. It’s that easy. I would recommend purchasing more than one set, as once you have these, they will become the most popular equipment in the gym!
Jason Ivesdal is the founder and CEO of Higher Power Training. He started Higher Power Training in 2004 and launched the current facility in 2008. Prior to founding HPT, Jason Ivesdal was the director of training at Flagship Athletic Club where he oversaw 20 trainers.
Higher Power Training is a 15,000 square foot facility in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. HPT offers sports performance training, personal training, nutrition coaching, group exercise classes and relaxation services.
Jason’s currently trains clients and athletes, coaches nutrition and detox, and is directs day-to-day operations and the training of HPT’s staff of personal trainers. Jason consults with other coaches and trainers on HPT’s Metabolic Detoxification and Accelerated Performance Nutrition program, and shares his knowledge of strength and nutrition, through local lectures and classes.
B.S Corporate Community Fitness, Minor Nutrition
NSCA-CSCS, USAW L1 Sports Performance Coach