Man carrying two heavy kettlebells, one in each hand.

Peter Attia Swears by This Exercise for Functional Strength

This longevity-boosting exercise is killer.

Longevity doctor Peter Attia’s workout regimen is that of legend. While most of us workout to lose weight, build muscle, or simply stay healthy, Attia has a more specific training goal: to be a “kick-ass 100-year-old.” Every exercise on Attia’s to-do list is designed to boost functional fitness in order to improve the way he moves now and 30, 40, or 50 years from now. The latest exercise in his line-up—farmer’s carries (AKA farmer’s walks)—are no exception.

In a recent Instagram post, Attia shared how farmer’s carries—carrying heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, or a trap bar for distance or time—are his go-to exercise for boosting grip strength, core strength, and stability.

Like most compound exercises, the farmer’s carry is notorious for producing high amounts of fatigue in one hit. Attia’s workout maximizes fatigue by cutting down rest time, piling on sets, and increasing load for an efficient, and killer Sunday “fun” day workout. (For the record, we have very different definitions of fun.)

Here’s everything you need to know about the farmer’s carry, and Attia’s twist for turning this simple exercise into a heavy-hitting full body workout.

How to Do a Farmer’s Carry

First, grab a heavy set of dumbbells or kettlebells, or something you can evenly load with heavy weight (like a trap bar or farmer’s carry handles) and walk comfortably with the weight resting at your sides and good posture.

  1. Squat down to pick up the weight (either one dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, or if using a trap bar a handle in each hand).
  2. Pull up on the weight without lifting off the ground, engage your core and roll your shoulders down and back to create tension between you and the weight.
  3. Push the floor away from you to lift the weight, locking into an upright posture with your core engaged, shoulders down and back, chest and head up.
  4. Step forward, being careful to maintain stability and good posture with each step.
  5. Walk for a set amount of distance (i.e. 40 yards) or time (i.e. 30 seconds).

Since you’ll typically do a farmer’s walk for distance or time rather than reps, make sure you have enough space to carry out the lift.

Farmer’s Carry Muscles Worked

The farmer’s carry fires up your entire body to power each loaded step including your (1):

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Trapezius
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Abs
  • Obliques

Attia’s Farmer’s Carry Workout

Attia makes the most of the farmer’s carry workout by loading up the weight, sets, and time under tension to boost gains. Here’s how:

  1. Carry your bodyweight for 30 seconds.
  2. Rest 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat 20 times.

Farmer’s Carry Workout Tips

Here’s how to tweak Attia’s farmer’s carry workout to your fitness level and goals:

Reduce the weight

Yep, you read that right: Attia is carrying his bodyweight. Being able to carry your own body weight—also known as hitting your 1:1 mass-to-weight-ratio—is a great goal. It’s a sign that you have the functional ability to move and control your body well in space. That said, lifting your bodyweight ain’t easy. Which is why in his caption Attia is clear: “If this is new to you, obviously start lighter.” How light? Drop the weight as low as you need to maintain good form. Lifting with bad form is a recipe for injury.

Build up the sets, time, and/or distance progressively

Because the farmer’s carry calls on almost every major muscle group in your body, if programmed effectively it will leave you totally spent. That makes it a good option for a grueling finisher at the end of the workout, or as an add-on to circuit or metabolic workouts where the goal is to send your heart rate through the roof.

Thing is, if you haven’t already been putting in the sets and time, going in on a full farmer’s carry workout is aggressive. Like any exercise, start with two to four sets, and increase your volume as you get stronger over time.


Increase your grip strength

Forearms holding you back? While most of your muscles are involved in a farmer’s carry to some degree, weak grip strength can stop you from making major gains with this move. If that’s the case, focus on building grip strength by sneaking exercises like deadhangs, hammer curls, and heavy compound lifts (like deadlifts and rows) into your other sessions. Using a grip strengthener also won’t hurt.

Tweak your equipment as needed

Dumbbells and kettlebells are standard for farmer’s carries. That said, mixing it up from time to time is a good idea. Dumbbells and kettlebells challenge your strength unilaterally (one side at a time) and distribute the load more closely to how you’ll usually carry heavy things in real life, which is good to practice if you’re looking to boost your functional strength. But farmer’s carry handles or a trap bar are better for loading up with more weight, especially once you’re carrying heavier loads like Attia.

Note: While good for loading with heavy weight, a barbell won’t work for farmer’s carries since you’d have to carry the weight in front of you, which puts additional strain on your lower back.