Tale of 2 Exercises - Front Squats and Loaded Carries
Part of my whole “bit” is providing options and workarounds for those short on time, short on equipment and short on answers for low-cost, low-tech, high effect training.
A quick scan over the internet will yield a buffet of exercises, reps schemes, programs, this and that. Honestly, I completely understand why people get overwhelmed, sidetracked and quit when the results don’t show in 2 weeks or whatever the promise may have been.
Related - Do Squats Really Work?
I mainly work with fighters, but the principles I spout apply to anyone who is willing to work hard and reap the benefits of the minimal.
In the spirit of simplicity, I’m a fan of pairing two exercises, hammering the hell out of em’ and calling it a day. There are a plethora of these pairings I love to use.
Pull-ups and dips together is one of them. Hit 100 reps of each. If you can do the pull-ups in 10 sets of 10, then add weight. If you can do the dips in 5 sets of 20, then add some weight. It’s a simple vertical push/pull programming that is incredibly effective in return. Plus, talk about upper body pump…
One I’ve used a lot recently is a squat and carry pairing.
The squat I like to use is a front squat.
And I can already hear the moaning now… Yes, front squats.
Front squats are hard, yet have less torque on the knee joint. They can improve mobility, in that they force an upright posture throughout.
The front-loading promotes a deeper squatting pattern. The weight being front-loaded also means more core activation at a lighter weight with little spinal compression. And the final reason I push the front squat is it’s hard to cheat on.
You can’t maintain an upright torso, you drop the bar. We’ve all seen some awful back squats gone wrong right?
For my fighters, it’s a must. For everyone else, it’s something I highly suggest you work into your training week.
When it comes to the carry, anything will do really.
Carries, in general, are sadly overlooked and underused. They’re truly important movements to include in your training week.
They promote full body tension and aid in correcting postural, balance, gait and breathing issues. The core activation is phenomenal across the board of carry variations and honestly, I couldn’t agree with Dan John more when he says:
“The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I've attempted in my career as a coach and athlete. And I do not say that lightly.”
You have a multitude of options available for the carries, I would say stick with HEAVY farmer’s carries, HEAVY suitcase carries or HEAVY sandbag bearhug carries. The principles for each carry will remain the same across the board – head to the sky, shoulders down and back, chest proud, pelvis under your ribcage and moving with grace and complete control of the weight.
When you’re performing the front squat, you want to be very technically sound. It’s not a Crossfit comp, WOD or whatever, so you’re not trying to rush through the reps at breakneck speed.
You want to be controlled and taking your time ensuring you hit a full range of motion with each rep. You want to be controlling the descent and powering solidly out of the bottom.
For this protocol, I’d suggest around 50-60% of your 1rm. The first time you try this, err on the lighter side. It may sound simple, but it gets tough quickly. The carries you want to be hard-hitting. They’re the grind part of the pairing.
You want to create as much full body tension as you can during the carry. The body is a unit, not a collective of smaller parts, so train it as such. Stand tall, walk purposefully and keep tight in the midsection.
If you’re using farmer’s walks, I’d suggest using bodyweight shared across both hands. You want to build up to working with bodyweight in each hand – Dumbbells, kettlebells, farmer’s handles or a trap bar will work well here.
If its suitcase carries you’re using, then a quarter to half of your bodyweight should suffice. Again, a dumbbell, a kettlebell or a single farmers handle or barbell will do.
Finally, if you’re opting for my favorite, the sandbag, use a weight that is anywhere from half to matching your bodyweight.
The Front Squat and Carry Workout
- *Warm-up/Mobility work*
- 1a. Front Squat x 4 – 6 reps
- 1b. Carry Variation x 45 – 60 seconds
- Repeat the pairing anywhere from 5 – 10 times through.
A key point is that there is to be no rest taken between the squat and carry. You finish the last rep, rack the bar and get straight into the carry you’ve chosen.
After the carry is complete, rest for 2–5 minutes.
There is a liberation that comes with the simplistic.
Using just two exercises, you have nowhere to hide. You either get the work done or you don’t. You simply can’t go off like “oh I’ll hit some curls for a bit” as you avoid the hard work of the big lifts. Big biceps are great, but they’re useless with a shitty pair of lungs, weak work capacity and little to no mental toughness.
Sometimes you have to question whether or not you really need 1,001 variations of how to hit this or that – or do you just need to buckle down, focus and put the extra work in on the things that make the most difference?
Your choice, I’ll just be over here hammering the basics.