In my observation, there is an epidemic of insufficient core strength and stability throughout the general public and fitness world, alike. Our lives revolve around sitting for prolonged periods, leading to what we'll call the "lazy core."
The good news is there are simple ways to improve this strength and stability. We are big fans of loaded carries at SPSC, which is exactly what I'll prescribe here. These exercises are simple and effective. The benefits of such carries include:
- Relief of chronic back pain
- Improved posture
- Activation of crucial stabilizing muscles ("wait, I have those?!")
- Improved protection of the spine, aka injury prevention!
Before we get into each carry, there is a theme to carries in general: bracing is stability. Bracing refers to your ability to contract your "core" muscles to maintain pressure all the way around your abdomen. When you perform these movements, act as if you have a lifting belt on (don't actually wear it) and think about pushing against that belt through your abs, obliques and low back. Now let's get into it.
1) Farmer's Carry
The farmer's carry (or farmer's walk) can be performed using kettlebells, dumbbells, or handles made specifically for this movement. Start with a load that allows you to hold on for at least 20-50 meters at a time.
Start by deadlifting the weights off the ground, standing tall with good posture and walking at a normal or brisk pace. The focus is on maintaining posture by engaging your upper back and creating pressure in your abdomen. These work grip strength too, so increase your weights over time as you build strength.
2) Suitcase Carry
This is just like the farmer's carry, but only loading one side. Deadlift the weight up on one side and get to walking. Work on firing those obliques to balance you out and avoid excessive leaning. I like to walk 20-30 meters, then switch arms. Each time you switch, set the weight down and deadlift it up on the other side.
3) Single Arm Rack Carry
Using just one kettlebell, get into a rack position by keeping a rigid wrist and touching your thumb to the center of your collarbone. The KB will rest on your bent arm. As you walk, you'll have to work extra hard on one side to keep your torso upright. Keep your posture and don't lean!
4) Bottoms Up Carry
You'll want to start with a lighter weight on this one (15 pounds shown below). A light kettlebell works well because of the balance aspect, but a dumbbell can be used if needed. If you get proficient at this one, you can inch up the weight a little.
Get your arm to about a 90 degree angle and keep the shoulder in its socket. Walk slowly and think about tucking your ribs into your spine, sort of like the hollow body position. If you find yourself overextending your low back with your ribs poking up, re-adjust to maintain your braced position.
Grab some KBs and get to work!
-Taylor Race, co-owner and head coach at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning / SPSC CrossFit