Loaded carries (aka "farmers carries, suitcase carries, bottoms-up carries, front-racked carries, etc.,"), are often used for conditioning, rehabilitation, and building stability or strength. For twelve variations of loaded carries, I recommend checking out my friend Zach's post on the topic.
While driving to work this past week, I was listening to a recent podcast interview of Gray Cook. In the interview (at 51:02 if you want to skip right to it), Gray mentions his use of the loaded carry as a test for an athlete's postural integrity. His reasoning was that failure of postural integrity is often a bottleneck (aka limiting factor) to strength. Gray states,
"We should be doing way more carrying than lifting, because the bottleneck, or limiting factor, to strength is typically postural integrity and alignment."
It is for this reason we should be interested in testing to figure out someone's work capacity, but only up until failure of postural stabilizers (aka unable to maintain position under load). This is done via carries, not a 1RM squat or deadlift, Gray continues.
Why? Because basically, a deadlift turns into a "bad" deadlift (think rounded spine) when postural muscles are fatigued. BUT, more weight and more repetitions can still be performed, despite the postural fatigue.
On the other hand, with loaded carries, the loss of integrity and failure of the test (dropping the weight) happen so close together, that there really isn't such a thing as a "bad" carry. When you fail to carry with integrity, you dump the load and stop walking.
Testing The Loaded Carry
- Take 75% of your bodyweight, divide by two, and use that as the weight of the kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand ("Farmers Carry")
- Place two cones 20 feet apart
- Set a timer and walk for as long of a duration as possible (there is no finish line, time is being measured)
The point at which the weight is dropped will be extremely close to the point at which your postural integrity failed, Gray mentions.
(*after trying this, I was able to get to 120 seconds, and the first thing to go was my grip. I'm guessing grip will be a limiting factor for most, but then that ruins this whole article, so let's just roll with it for now :) )
90-120 seconds was the mark given in the podcast as the "acceptable" duration to perform the loaded carries without failure. Not sure how they came up with this number, as it seems arbitrary, but it's something to shoot for none-the-less!
Training The Loaded Carry
Comparing performance of your right vs. left bottom's up KB carry is a great idea to determine unilateral deficits. But again, if you're going to use the bottom's up KB carry as a test, it's a good idea to not train by simply practicing the test and only performing the bottom's up carry.
Also, as mentioned above, I highly recommend checking out the twelve loaded carry variations article for ideas to improve your carry ability. Test, train with carry variations for a few weeks, then re-test!