This article was originally written for STACK.
Loaded carries are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitors, MMA fighters and grapplers of any kind. They strengthen the core and build an iron-clad grip. They improve posture and correct underlying imbalances. Most of all, they challenge mental toughness.
When it comes to strengthening the core, adding resistance is critical. Most athletes settle for endless bodyweight exercises and stationary Planks to get six-pack abs, but once you graduate past a beginner level of fitness, those things do almost nothing for you.
Loaded Carries are optimal for building the core, because they allow you to load heavy—and they simulate scenarios that you would actually encounter on the mat or in the real world. In order to maintain an upright posture when performing a heavy carry, your abs, obliques and lower back must all be engaged to stabilize your body.
The ability to hold, control and pull opponents is obviously extremely important in grappling.
It doesn't matter how strong your legs are or how polished your technique is if you can't get a solid grasp on your foe. Your hands are the first point of contact in a match, so training them is vital. A strong grip also enables you to lift heavier on other key exercises such as Deadlifts.
The prescription is simple: Grab something heavy and walk with it.
Many fighters suffer from a head-forward, shoulders-rounded posture due to the positions they frequently take while training and competing. Many of these athletes also sit at school or work for a significant portion of the day. On top of all that, common daily activities such as driving and texting put a strain on the neck and shoulders.
So what's the solution? Carry heavy stuff.
The proper position for a loaded carry is head up, eyes forward and shoulders back. A great cue is to "put your shoulder blades in your back pockets."
Loaded carries using correct posture stack muscle on your traps and upper back, and they work wonders in pulling your shoulders back into alignment.
It's very common for grapplers to have strength imbalances, many of which go unaddressed for some time.
Think about it: How often do you explode off your left leg for a takedown versus your right? Throw over your left hip versus your right? Left jab versus right hook?
These differences may seem subtle, but over the course of weeks and years they can add up to a significant disparity. The solution is not to train your "weak" side more often and neglect your "strong" one. Instead, load them equally, but individually. Carry an object in one hand or on one side of your body for a period of time or distance, then switch to the other.
Loaded carries are hard. They work nearly all of your muscles and truly challenge your conditioning. You'll get blisters on your hands, sweat in your eyes, and cramps in your stomach. Your forearms and traps will scream in pain.
The only question is, despite all of that, are you still going to hold on?
In many ways, heavy loaded carries are a test of will more than strength. Of course strength is a factor, but I've witnessed tons of athletes who are physically "weaker" outlast those who are superior simply because they are willing to endure the pain. They just want it more.
How to Perform a Loaded Carry?
Pick up something heavy and walk.
Seriously, it's that simple.
Dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, groceries, or even a wheelbarrow—they all work. Carry for distance or for time, and continue to load heavier, in different positions, or with different objects as you progress. Remember: Head up, eyes forward and shoulders back.
Start implementing loaded carries today to immediately improve your performance on the mat.