This past weekend I decided, spur-of-the-moment, to take a backpacking trip with a couple good friends of mine. It was incredible, to put it mildly. We loaded up our packs and took them for a 2-day journey along the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah. As evening approached, we found a great place near an overlook to pitch our tents. The picture at the top is a photo I snapped of our view of the sunset. As I was hiking along, I was quickly made aware that walking for two days - over uneven terrain with a 40lb pack on your back - makes for a pretty awesome workout. My traps, glutes, hamstrings, and cardiovascular system were all telling me that, just because I was away from the gym for a weekend, didn't mean I was going to get away with time off. To left is a picture snapped just before the start of the journey.
However, the point of this blog post isn't to tell you about my hike, the bears I slayed with my bare hands (they made the first move and attacked first, ok), or the damsels in distress I rescued along the trail. The point of this post is to give you a phenomenal exercise you can do in just about any gym. It isn't anything new, but my hike over the weekend reminded me just how much I love carry variations (due to the pack I carried throughout the trip), and how great they are for you.
Enter the Suitcase Carry. This will hammer your core (emphasis on the obliques and quadratus lumborum), along with your traps, deltoids, forearms, and ankles. Yes, the ankles.
It's tough to truly appreciate this exercise until you try it. See the video below of Ron performing the exercise:
How to Do It
You won't reap or feel the benefits of this exercise unless you walk with as perfect posture as you can. The key is to stand TALL. Your hips are going to naturally drift toward the weight, so do as best as you can to keep the hips from shifting. Shoulders "back and down," and stick your chest out as if your flaunting your stuff at the beach.
Why I Like It
One of the reasons I like this exercise so much is that most of you can do it in nearly any gym, and it kills multiple birds with one stone (see the benefits listed above the video). Just grab a heavy dumbbell, stand straight, and walk for 50-100 yards. Then switch sides. Even if you only have ten yards of space to work with, you can walk back and forth until you reach your target distance. You can use a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell for this. Yes, in the video, Ron has two kettlebells tied together with a towel because we're cool like that.
How much weight or how far should you go? As Dan John put it: You can either carry light weight for long distances, or heavy weight for short distances. I prefer heavy weight for long distances.
We've been doing this exercise for a few years but primarily using a "towel grip," during which you hold a towel looped through the kettlebell. While this is a perfectly good variation, I like tossing in the towel-free version as it takes a bit of stress off the grip (thus your grip will no longer be the limiting factor) and places more of the tension throughout the other areas of the body.
You know when you see people in the airport nearly toppling over to the side because their suitcase is so heavy? It's primarily because their core can't effectively buttress the weaker joints throughout the body. Don't be that guy.