Top 4 Farmers Walk Handles Exercises

Posted by Matt Ellis

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After the release of the first homemade training equipment article and video highlighting the use of sandbags to gain more strength, power, and explosive speed, a lot of emails and questions were sent from readers wondering about my mention of farmers walk handles in the video. After all, aren’t farmers walk handles only good for one thing?

The answer might surprise you. Expensive, welded store bought farmers walk handles are usually good for one or two exercises. There is the suitcase deadlift where weight is loaded on to each handle and deadlifted off the ground (think of lifting 2 heavy suitcases at the airport) and of course, the farmers walk event. The reason for this has to do with the construction of the farmers walk bars.

Typically, store bought farmers walk handles are going to be made out of larger diameter metal tube. This tubing can range anywhere from a 3” diameter all the way up to a 6” diameter. Certain companies will even use old scuba tanks or large helium tanks to construct their farmers walk handles. When you take that bulky design and then add a large welded handle sticking out of the top, it makes the set up very hard to handle and you are extremely limited by what you can do with it.

As you will see in the video below and in the listing of my favorite exercises to do with homemade farmers walk handles, if you make them correctly with a more basic design, each handle can be used for many diverse exercises similar to what you would do in a high school or college weight room. You will also save a lot of money in the process.

Listed below you will find 4 of my favorite exercises and step by step instructions how you can perform these exercises using your homemade farmers walk handles.

1. The Farmers Walk

They don’t call them farmers walk handles for nothing. The farmers walk is simply lifting two extremely heavy loaded bars (one in each hand) and walking as far as possible until they drop or walking a specified distance and trying to do it in the fastest time possible. Here is how you perform the farmers walk.

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Symmetry and balance are very important in the farmers walk. Before starting to lift these handles off the ground, you want to make sure you are set up correctly to lift them without getting off balance or losing control. Begin standing with one handle on each side of the body. Sit back into the hips and bend your legs until you are able to grab the middle of each handle. Make sure you keep your back flat, chest nice and tall, and your feet flat on the ground so you can stand up by driving through your heels.

Start Farmers Walks

Once you stand up, take a second to get your balance and make sure you have full control of the handles. Then, start walking forward.

Farmers Walk Forward

As you walk, you want to make sure to keep your head up, shoulders pinned back, and your core very tight. The handles are going to try to spin and twist right out of your hand so make sure to squeeze tightly and control the handles as you walk.

Farmers Walk Behind

Continue walking forward until you reach a specified distance or until you need to turn around and start heading back in the opposite direction. When working with larger teams, you can load the bar with one weight and have your athletes compete by seeing who can reach a certain distance in the shortest amount of time or split your large team into smaller groups and have a farmers walk relay for time. This is a great way to build team unity and have a lot of fun outside at practice.

2. Fat Bar Clean and Press

 When you hear the exercise “clean and press” you tend to think of the Olympic lifting event where an athlete will have a perfectly balanced bar filled with multi-colored bumper plates adorning each side. You might even have your athletes doing the clean and press as a staple to your in-season or off-season training. So what happens if you don’t have a weight room at your school or if your weight room is small and overcrowded with other teams when you want to get in there?

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Easy! You use your homemade farmers walk handles as fat grip strongman axles and do your cleans and presses out near the track. Here are some coaching tips for you to use with your athletes to make sure their form is correct and they are getting the most from this exercise.

Like the farmers walk exercise described above, you want to make sure you’re balanced and that your hands are evenly spaced on the farmers walk bar. You can measure and use a strip of white athletic tape or a silver marker to outline exactly where your athletes should be grabbing. This exercise is difficult enough to manage because of the thick grip. If the athlete’s hands are off center when they start to clean the bar or press overhead, the difficulty will multiply. To begin the exercise, squat down and deadlift the bar to the standing position.

Start of Clean

From this position, hinge your hips backwards and load up the hamstrings making sure to keep your head up, your shoulders back, and that your lower back has a natural arch to it. If the bar starts to slip out of the hands or your lower back starts to round over in this position, you will want to go a little lighter until proper form is learned.

RDL of Clean

Once you are in this hinged/RDL/hang clean position, explode through the legs making sure to get full extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. One coaching cue that I like to tell my athletes is to “explode and squeeze your butt!” This is a great reminder to them that the glutes are the primary mover of the hips and to get full extension of the hips, they should squeeze their butt hard. Once triple extension is achieved, the athlete will continue to explosively lift the bar to an upright row/high pull position.

Clean High Pull

As the bar is being lifted into the high pull position using a combination of the force generated by explosively extending the ankles, knees, and hips and letting that force transfer through the core musculature and into the upper body, the athlete will quickly snap the elbows under the bar and catch the bar in the racked position.

Racked Position

From here, you have a number of different options for getting the bar overhead. You can do a push press where you generate power with the legs to assist the upper body in moving the weight to an overhead position. You also have the option of doing a jerk where you explosively drive the bar overhead as you drop under the bar in a catch position. Or, as in the picture shown below, you can simple do a strict military press using all upper body brute strength to push the bar to a locked out, overhead position.

Overhead Press

From here you can lower the bar back to the racked position and continue with repetitions overhead, drop back into the RDL/hinged position and continue with more cleans, or even drop the bar back down to the ground and start the movement over again.

3. Fat Grip Barbell Curl

OK. I’ve said it a million times. We’re throwers, not bodybuilders. What we train for in the weight room needs to be about function and not aesthetics and looks. So you might read the term “Barbell Curl” above and think either Coach Matt lost his mind or took a turn toward the “dark side.”

As I have discussed in previous articles and videos, single joint isolation exercises certainly have their place in a well-constructed training program. This is especially true in track and field where so many field events put stress on the musculature of the lower arm. All of your throwers as well as your pole vaulters will improve their throws and decrease injuries to the elbow and hands by utilizing this simple movement.

To begin this exercise, stand up and grab the farmers walk handle evenly so the bar is well balanced and even in your hand. You may notice that when using a fatter grip like that of a farmers walk handle you don’t have to use as heavy of a weight to really fatigue the muscles involved in gripping, namely the wrist, forearms, thumbs, and the fingers.

Start of Curl

From this position, curl the farmers walk handle up until it is under your chin. Make sure when doing any type of curl movement to keep your elbows glued to the rib cage and don’t use a lot of swinging with the hips or low back to curl the weight. This is a delicate part of your body and a slow and steady approach is certainly a great idea. Think of squeezing the bar up and lowering the bar down under control.

Finish of Curl

Notice in the photo above the position of the body when curling. The only effort being exerted should be with the arms. There is no massive overarching of the lower back, the elbows are not shifting in front of the body, and the bar is moving in a full range of motion. What you will notice when performing a fat bar curl is that the upper forearm closest to the elbow will be feeling a lot of the strain from this exercise. Due to the thickness of the farmers walk handles, the emphasis with a movement like this will always be the grip and strengthening the musculature of the lower arm. Your grip will give out before the biceps fatigue, making this a great way for you to disguise a popular bodybuilding exercise with a highly functional grip training movement.

4. Fat Grip Turkish Get Up

With their recent increase in popularity, you may have seen kettlebells and their exercises included in newer track and field training books and videos. High school and college coaches have more than likely attended clinics where kettlebell movements were presented as a great way for athletes to get more explosive without taking up a lot of room or using a lot of equipment. This is all very true and as you can see in the pictures in this article, Primal has a full rack of kettlebells that go all the way from 8kg (17.6 pounds) all the way to 44kg (96.8 pounds). We use kettlebells every day at Primal but their drawback is the price and the cost of shipping. When you factor in the cost of purchasing one 12kg, one 16kg, one 20kg, and one 24kg (the most popular sizes used by high school aged athletes) and the cost of shipping, you can spend your entire budget on just 4 pieces of equipment. Here is how you can perform one of my favorite kettlebell exercises, the Turkish Get Up (of TGU for short) with a loadable fat grip farmers walk handle.

Start by lying flat on the floor with the handle in your right hand pressed over your chest. The left arm will be out in a 45 degree angle from the body and the right knee will be bent.

Start of TGU

From here, you will drive the right foot into the ground as you sit up on to the left elbow. Keep your eyes on the farmers walk handle and concentrate on moving under the weight, not pressing the weight up to the ceiling.

TGU Elbow

Continue pressing the right foot into the ground and work your way up on to the left hand. Remember to concentrate on moving under the bar and keep your eyes on the bar at all times.

TGU Hand

While pressing down on the left hand, right foot, and left heel, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips as high in the air as you can. Please keep in mind that you should always focus on moving under the bar and keep your eyes on the bar at all times.

TGU Hips Up

While holding this position, lift and pull your left foot under your body into a lunge position keeping all of your weight balanced between your left hand and your flat right foot. This is where the idea of moving under the bar will really come into play and you will notice how much core strength and coordination this takes to perform.

TGU Windmill

This step is where a lot of athletes tend to rush this movement and will end up losing their balance. While in this lunge position, you want to lift your left hand off the ground while simultaneously straightening the upper body to an overhead lunge position. A good verbal cue for an athlete is to leave the arm straight and to bring the right ear to the right bicep.

TGU OH Lunge

The final step to finish out the TGU is to stand up in an overhead lunge and finish with both feet together.

TGU Finish

In order to get back down to the ground, you simply reverse the steps and gently lower yourself to the starting position. First, step back with the left leg into the overhead lunge position and put your left knee on the ground. Next, lower your left hand to the ground into the windmill position. Make sure to keep the bar overhead and to focus on moving under the bar. Third, apply pressure to the left hand and the right foot and lift your left leg up and place it under your body until the left heel is on the ground. Fourth, drop your hips and butt down so you are sitting on the floor. Lower yourself to the left elbow. Then lie back into the starting position. This is one full repetition of the Turkish Get Up. From here you can repeat on the right side a few more times or switch the bar into the left hand and do a TGU on the left, alternating every time you get back to the ground.

Believe me, this looks and sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. This is actually a very natural movement and is very similar to how we got up off the floor as toddlers. It can be tricky at first so make sure to reference the video above and try not to rush it or skip any steps. The flexibility and coordination, as well as the core strength you will gain from an exercise like this is worth the time it takes to learn the proper technique.

So there you have it. 4 of my favorite exercises that you can do with your athletes using your homemade farmers walk handles.

As you can see, many standard weight room exercises that you can do with a perfectly balanced Olympic lifting bar can be done with these handles. The extra thick diameter of the bars will provide a much different feel for you and your athletes and will challenge them more than a typical weight bar or dumbbells.

If you don’t have the luxury of a large weight room or a budget big enough to outfit your team with the newest or fanciest training equipment, this is a great way to give your athletes a phenomenal workout with minimal financial investment.

Follow Matt Ellis on Twitter: @PrimalATC


Want to build your own Farmers Walk Handles? Click here to find out how!

Matt Ellis is a strength coach and shot put/discus specialist. He owns and operates Primal Athlete Training Center in Cranston, RI.

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