13 Ways to Build Strength and Endurance by Carrying Heavy Load

13 Ways to Build Strength and Endurance by Carrying Heavy Load

The weight room is a cornerstone of the fitness industry. Weightlifters love talking about their deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. Lifting heavy weight is a rite of passage in many gyms and fitness circles. What's harder than just lifting heavy things? Carrying heavy things. It’s one of the reasons rucking is the best way to torch calories and get strong. Carrying a heavy load works your core and back together. Your core stabilizes the load while your back keeps it off the ground. If you want a healthy back, strong core, and durable legs, you'll practice carrying heavy things. Kettlebells and Sand Jerry Cans can be carried at your side (go light for time and distance, or heavy for a heart-pounding strength session). Overhead or held out front, training sandbags and Sand Medicine Balls will smoke your shoulders, back, core, and legs. Carrying a heavy load makes you strong. Period.

Why You Should Be Carrying Heavy Loads

Have you ever moved a couch or mattress up a flight of stairs? It sucks. It's not always the weight of the furniture that makes it so challenging, but the distance you've got to move while holding it. Carrying a heavy load requires many muscles to work together in ways they usually don't. When you deadlift, squat, or perform an overhead press, your muscles follow a repeating pattern. When you carry heavy things, though, each step is a new movement. You move, the weight falls off center, your body stabilizes it, and you move again. And again. With the heavy carry, your muscles are constantly adjusting to new movements. Carrying a heavy load is harder work than lifting weights. When you push or pull a barbell, there is a moment of rest at the top and bottom of the movement. You might step away from the deadlift bar, let the dumbbells rest at your side, or catch your breath before the next bench press. Heavy carries offer no such relief. They require constant tension in your muscles. They elevate your heart rate for as long as your hold the weight. Your muscles, heart, and lungs will feel a constant surge in difficulty, in tension. Heavy carries build your functional resume. It makes moving furniture, carrying groceries, and hauling kids around easier. We call that your functional resume. When a friend needs help or you come across something that needs picking up, there's no question of your qualifications to get the job done. There're few things as rewarding as being the go-to strong guy or gal in your circle. Don't just lift heavy things, carry heavy things. Carrying heavy loads fixes muscular imbalances. Everything gets tired when you're carrying heavy things. Your grip strength will improve (catching up to those biceps you've paid more attention to). The muscles in your back and core will become one strong, stable unit. Most of us have a stronger and weaker side, but carrying heavy loads asks your weaker side to hold its tension and keep up with the stronger side.

Pro Tip: Want a strong core and healthy back? Stop doing situps and start carrying heavy things.

Heavy carries build muscle and strength while improving cardio and endurance. We call that Active Resistance Training™. Bringing both types of exercises together provides a fuller range of benefits to improve your health and wellness. Torch calories, improve conditioning, get strong. That's what loaded carries are all about.
carry heavy load bear hug

How to Carry Heavy Loads

Firstly, carrying heavy things is a great complement to any workout program. But don't just do heavy carries. Rucking, bodyweight calisthenics, sandbag workouts, and daily workouts from Tribe 'n Training are our bread and butter at GORUCK HQ in Florida, but you can bet each of our workouts has a heavy carry in it.

Pro Tip: Carrying heavy things makes your strong and improves conditioning. This is a great combination for Hero WODs like the “Murph” challenge.

Secondly, mix up the objects you're carrying. Traditional dumbbells and kettlebells are great, but their solid structure is less challenging than something irregular (like a log) or something made of sand (like our great sand training gear). Training heavy carries with Sand Medicine Balls, Sand Jerry Cans, and Sandbags allows you to safely lift, haul, toss and drop your gear. Sand is also a great, irregular weight that challenges the stability of your core, back, legs, and shoulders. The last thing to know about carrying a heavy load is to practice. That's right. There isn't any secret. Using sand will keep you safe, and practicing often will make you stronger. Heavy carries are meant to feel uncomfortable and awkward at times: that means you're doing it right. Just grab something heavy and pick it up. Keep your back straight (like you're doing a plank) and point your ribs at your hips to turn your core on (don't flare them out into extension). Just like everything else, the more you practice heavy carries, the more results you'll see.

Proper Lifting Technique

Always bend your knees and hinge at the hips to pick up heavy objects. Never lift with your back. Once you've grabbed the object, drive through your heels to get it off the ground, engage your core to protect your back, and don't twist or turn your body. Keep the weight close to your body as you lift and move it.

13 Exercises: Carrying a Heavy Load

Introduce heavy carries into your workouts gradually, if you're not doing them yet. We recommend training sandbags when getting started: they can't be broken and their weights can be adjusted to meet your fitness level. Here are 13 loaded carrying exercises to include in your workouts, or while rucking with friends at a GORUCK Club...

Carrying weight on one side

Carrying weight on one side of your body has massive benefits for your core strength. The side opposite the weight works overtime to stabilize your body as you walk, engaging every muscle in your midsection. This is a great way to build power for runners and ruckers, and promotes back health.
  • Walking with weight in one hand: focus on upright posture and core engagement. Take a walk with a Sand Jerry Can. How far can you go before you need to switch hands?
  • Walking with a sandbag over one shoulder: take a walk with a sandbag, switching shoulders as needed. Think about your core stabilizing the weight.
  • Walking with a Sand Medicine Ball on one shoulder: take a walk with a Sand Med Ball resting on one shoulder. Your core and shoulder will stabilize the weight while your hands help with balancing.
  • Walking with a dumbbell in the racked position (up close to your chest with your elbow beneath the weight, bent): the racked position is the starting point for many great kettlebell and sandbag exercises. The position should feel rock-solid and stable. Now go for a walk, letting your core support the weight.

Carrying weight at both sides

Carrying heavy objects at both sides is perhaps the best exercise for building functional strength. Did you know people with stronger grip strength live longer? Here's where you'll build it, along with every other muscle in your body.
  • Farmers Carry: hold two Jerry Cans or Sand Kettlebells at your side and go for a walk. The heavier the better. We love carrying weight in each hand because you can really load it up.
  • Front rack carry: lift two Sand Kettlebells off the ground at bring them to your chest. Your elbow should be under the weight, bent. Your core should support the weight, your back should keep you upright. Go for a walk.

Carrying weight overhead

Build durable shoulders and (of course) a strong core by carrying heavy loads overhead. Definitely use sand anytime you're holding weight overhead. Training sandbags and Sand Medicine Balls are perfect to get the job done.
  • Overhead carry: hold a training sandbag or Sand Medicine Ball overhead and go for a walk. Protect and strengthen your shoulders by loading your lats, pulling your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Waiter walk: like an overhead walk, but with weight only in one hand. You won't be able to go as heavy, but you'll get more core work.

Carrying weight in front of you

Carrying a heavy load out front works your biceps and all the muscles behind you. Your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves will each feel the tension of the following exercises. Always keep your core engaged to protect your back.
  • Bear hug carry: hug your sandbag and go for a walk. Squeeze tight to intensify the exercise and get the most out of it. Wearing a Training Weight Vest while doing bear hug walks is a great full body workout.
  • Zercher carry: stand upright with a sandbag in the nook of your elbow. Your forearms and biceps support the weight. Go for a walk, keeping your core and glutes engaged.

Carrying weight between your legs

Carrying a heavy object between your legs mimics the strength and power needed to push or pull anything heavy. You'll learn to brace your upper body and get tons of power from your legs.
  • Sandbag or rucksack duck walk: stand over your rucksack or sandbag and lift it between your legs. Stabilize your upper body and walk forward, driving with your legs. This movement feels awkward (bent over and walking with a sandbag between your legs), but it's a great full body exercise.

Carrying weight on your back (aka "Rucking")

Rucking improves strength, endurance, heart health, and mental health. It's a full body workout that torches calories, gets you outside, and builds community (here's how to get started). If you've got a sandbag, toss it across your shoulders and start walking.
  • Rucking: get the most out of rucking by following these tips. While rucking, mix in pushups, lunges, and bar hangs at the local playground (the Rucker® is like having the gym on your back). Bring a friend and make it fun.
  • Carry a sandbag across your shoulders: a favorite GORUCK HQ workout is carrying a sandbag one or two miles at a time, moving the weight into different positions as needed. Start with it across your shoulders, move it to your right shoulder, then left. When that gets tiring, bear hug it. Then carry it like a suitcase on your right and left sides.

Put it all Together: Carry Heavy Things Often

Getting good at carrying heavy things gives us great opportunity to make daily life a little more challenging. And that's a good thing. That's what reminds us we're not complacent, mediocre zombies. Every small decision you make to be less comfortable adds up into making you a badass human being. And we love badass human beings. So ditch the cart and use a basket for small grocery trips. Carry that bag of mulch, or dog food. Carry your luggage instead of wheeling it. Lift your child into your arms and go for a walk. Carry heavy loads more often. That's simple health and wellness.