Your New HIIT Cardio Workout Routine: The Farmer’s Walk

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Editor’s note: This article by Nick Smoot originally appeared at Machine Muscle.

Alright guys, so I have made it clear before that I cannot stand traditional cardio. It is boring and time consuming. I can think of 10,000 better uses of my time than running on a conveyer belt for an hour.

However, there is no denying that some form of cardio regime is an important component of your overall training program. Being brutally strong or the size of a truck is pretty impressive; sweating bullets and gasping for air after bending down to tie your shoes, not so much.

I am a huge fan of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). It falls in line with my goals of increasing strength and size by stimulating some of the same muscle fiber types and energy pathways. It is also much more effective at burning fat and takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Cardio doesn’t get much better than that.

Now I commonly alternate between sprints (running or on a bike), jump rope intervals, and car pushes, but I recently stumbled upon the farmer’s walk and it will definitely remain a mainstay in my cardio training. The farmer’s walk is one of the simplest yet highly effective forms of interval training you can perform, and I think you will see fantastic results from performing them on a regular basis.

What Exactly is the Farmer’s Walk?

KettlebellsSo to execute a farmer’s walk, pick up two heavy objects, hold them by your sides, and walk as far as you can without dropping them. It’s extremely simple, but one hell of a workout.

The external load in your hand places considerable demand on the muscles of the lower body as they attempt to propel you forward. The abs, upper back, and posterior shoulder girdle are on fire as they attempt to keep you in an upright position, and your forearms begin to scream as the weight starts to rip itself from your fingers. Not only does this make you stronger, it greatly increases your need for oxygen, takes your heart rate through the roof, and blows through calories like a freight train.

The farmer’s walk is arguably the most functional exercise you can perform (everyone picks something up and walks with it every day), has very few technical demands, is easy on the joints, and can be performed anywhere. No matter what your goal, the farmer’s walk will help you get there.

Weight and Distance Goals

Ok so another benefit to performing the farmer’s walk is that they are extremely versatile and can be adjusted based on each individual and their unique goals. Now the weight and distance are inversely related, meaning that as one goes up, the other will simultaneously go down.

Need an example? Grab two 80+ pound dumbells and try to walk more than 50 feet without beginning to resemble Igor from the old Frankenstein movies. For anyone unfamiliar with Igor, he was a servant at Castle Frankenstein that expressed every faulty movement pattern.

It is NOT ok when performing this exercise to have hunched upper back, flexed lower back, feet turned out like a duck, forward head position and shuffled feet. Not cool. That being said, the weight and distance chosen should be specific to your goals and respective sport.

A powerlifter focused on increasing maximum strength is going to generally opt for more weight (bodyweight and above) and a shorter distance of around 50 feet. Someone focused on improving their cardiovascular endurance is going to use a lighter weight (below bodyweight) that they can carry for a greater distance (75-200+ feet).

In my opinion, working on both ends of the spectrum has its benefits. Periodically alternate between sessions with greater loads and greater distances for the best results.

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Programming and Progression

So now that you know how to perform the exercise and adjust the variables based on your athletic needs, when exactly do you program it in to an already busy training schedule? A good rule of thumb with HIIT is to not exceed 2-3 sessions per week. This will prevent CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue and maintain optimal recovery.

Perform farmer’s walks on off days away from the gym, as a separate session on training days, or throw in a few sets at the end of your workout. Personally, I like to do them on off days as I find it allows me to maintain a higher intensity and/or duration without hindering recovery from my training sessions.

Now farmer’s walks place a stress on the body that it will eventually adapt to, so you must progressively alter the stimulus in order to continue seeing results. There is no cookie cutter progression scheme that I can provide since everyone has different goals, training histories, rates of recovery, etc.

Start by choosing a specific weight, distance, and number of sets, and then increase one of the variables slightly on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. Where you start and how quickly you progress is not that important. Try to beat YOUR old record every time you step in the gym and stay consistent. Do that and you have nowhere to go but up!

Summing it Up

If you have not included the farmer’s walk in to your program, you are doing yourself a major injustice. Very few exercises can positively impact strength, hypertrophy, cardiovascular endurance, and fat loss simultaneously, while also being unbelievably simple.

Anything can be used to load this exercise, from two milk jugs filled with sand to strongman farmer’s handles. So close the laptop, grab something heavy, and get to steppin’.

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