Keeping It Simple the Farmers Walk

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.


This is something I have started doing last year and I can't believe it has taken me this long to actually do it. Well, I do know why it has taken me a while to figure it out because what I do is so simple yet so hard .... the Farmers Walk.

Note: not a picture of me; gloves are not needed

While I am certainly not the first person to praise the farmers walk, I am sure I will not be the last.

It's just so simple and sinister.


Traditionally, the Farmer's Walk is an event you would see in a strongman contest.Take a heavy weight in each hand and go for a walk. For me, I do this at home with the two heaviest weights I have which are a 32kg and 24kg Kettlebell. I take one in each hand and walk BUT I have a secret method. I live on the top floor in my building, it's 80 steps down. I take the Kettlebells, walk down the stairs, out the door and do one lap around the block which is ~300m, then back up the stairs. Once I start there is no wimping out, no elevator to take and no short cuts. The whole thing takes me around 9-10 minutes to complete. Every time I need to put the weights down I switch around the Kettlebells.

Farmers Walk Video


Hold the weight in different positions for variation.


McGill, SM, McDermott, A, and Fenwick, CMJ. Comparison of different strongman events: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res 23(4): 1148–1161, 2009


Strongman events are attracting more interest as training exercises because of their unique demands. Further, strongman competitors sustain specific injuries, particularly to the back. Muscle electromyographic data from various torso and hip muscles, together with kinematic measures, were input to an anatomically detailed model of the torso to estimate back load, low-back stiffness, and hip torque. Events included the farmer’s walk, super yoke, Atlas stone lift, suitcase carry, keg walk, tire flip, and log lift. The results document the unique demands of these whole-body events and, in particular, the demands on the back and torso. For example, the very large moments required at the hip for abduction when performing a yoke walk exceed the strength capability of the hip. Here, muscles such as quadratus lumborum made up for the strength deficit by generating frontal plane torque to support the torso/ pelvis. In this way, the stiffened torso acts as a source of strength to allow joints with insufficient strength to be buttressed, resulting in successful performance. Timing of muscle activation patterns in events such as the Atlas stone lift demonstrated the need to integrate the hip extensors before the back extensors. Even so, because of the awkward shape of the stone, the protective neutral spine posture was impossible to achieve, resulting in substantial loading on the back that is placed in a weakened posture. Unexpectedly, the super yoke carry resulted in the highest loads on the spine. This was attributed to the weight of the yoke coupled with the massive torso muscle co-contraction, which produced torso stiffness to ensure spine stability together with buttressing the abduction strength insufficiency of the hips. Strongman events clearly challenge the strength of the body linkage, together with the stabilizing system, in a different way than traditional approaches. The carrying events challenged different abilities than the lifting events, suggesting that loaded carrying would enhance traditional lifting-based strength programs. This analysis also documented the technique components of successful, joint sparing, strongman event strategies.

Basically, the research shows that with the Farmer's Walk, as well as other traditional strongman events, greatly challenges the trunk musculature. It also demonstrates that a stiffer trunk can enhance the strength output of the hips. I think this would also be the case for the shoulder joint complex and all the way down the upper and lower appendages.

I also look at this as more reason to do full body lifting exercises. For example, with the Farmer's Walk, the load is in the hands but the legs are the prime movers, everything in between the hands and the feet are being worked. If they weren't, your would not be able to maintain an upright posture.

I also learned a new term from reading this research article. Do you know the meaning of "buttressed"?

I didn't till I looked it up, this research article was actually the first time I have seen this word. I found out it is usually used in the context of buildings and other similar structures.


  1. A structure, usually brick or stone, built against a wall for support or reinforcement.

  2. Something resembling a buttress, as:

    1. The flared base of certain tree trunks.
    2. A horny growth on the heel of a horse's hoof.

  3. Something that serves to support, prop, or reinforce: "The law is by its very nature a buttress of the status quo" (J. William Fulbright).

01   02

tr.v. but·tressed, but·tress·ing, but·tress·es?

  1. To support or reinforce with a buttress.

  2. To sustain, prop, or bolster: "The author buttresses her analysis with lengthy dissections of several of Moore's poems" (Warren Woessner).



The farmers walk can safely and easily be used at all the levels of LTAD. The difference will be in the load used and how it is programmed for athletes of different ages and development.

As an older or master athlete, I like doing these first thing in the morning. I am usually not a morning exercise person. My body is just to stiff for any serious movement but not stiff enough for the farmers walk. It is a great way to start the day and if I just do this I get a little blast to my metabolism with still enough reserves left to continue training either right after the walk or later in the day. To be honest the first time I did this I was totally fried the whole day!

For the younger athlete (under 12 years old) in the FUNdamentals and Learning to Train phase, the farmers walk could be used as one of many different movements used in low stress, fun relays. Loads around 10lbs could be used very safely with this population. These two phases are focused on developing physical literacy, so to limit strength training activities to just one movement would not be wise. Depending on the child's physical development, heavy loads may be suitable but are not necessary (there is no rush at this age to be lifting really heavy weights). If you have any doubt what this age group can handle in term of loads, then just take a look at how heavy their school bags are.

When you get up to the Training to Win (National Team or professional level), the farmers walk can become a way for the athletes to still build strength in key areas with out greatly affecting the large amount of time needed to train in the pool.


The Farmers Walk is one of many exercises that you could use as a stand alone strength exercise. Of course there are other exercises out there that work the entire body and are at the same time very suitable for Water Polo players but few if any offer the pure simplicity of the Farmers Walk.

If you have questions you want answered please leave them in the message board category “Physical Training with Mike Reid"

I can also be contacted through my website:


  1. Mandalidis D, O’Brien M. Relationship between hand-grip isometric strength and isokinetic moment data of the shoulder stabilisers. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2010) 14, 19-26

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]