Loaded carries are simple yet highly effective, full body workouts. As the name suggests, loaded carries involve carrying a weight and walking with it.

One of the most popular forms of loaded carries is the suitcase carry, which targets multiple muscle groups, promotes balance, and helps you perform daily tasks better. Given its many benefits, you may wonder how you can incorporate it into your workout routine.

This article explains all you need to know about the suitcase carry, its benefits, and how to safely perform it.

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Javier Diaz/Stocksy United

The suitcase carry, also known as the unilateral farmer’s walk, is a type of loaded exercise that involves lifting a kettlebell or dumbbell and walking with it.

Similarly to carrying a briefcase or suitcase in everyday life, the suitcase carry targets multiple muscle groups and is relatively easy to perform.

It’s a unilateral exercise, meaning weight or resistance is only placed on one side of the body. As a result, the other side of the body must work harder to provide balance and stability. Collectively, this helps increase strength in the core, back, and upper and lower body (1).

To perform it, you’ll need a weighted kettlebell or dumbbell that you feel comfortable carrying safely. If you’re new to exercise, it’s best to start with a lower weight (e.g., 5 pounds or 2.25 kg) and progressively lift heavier loads as you build strength.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to performing the suitcase carry:

  1. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, squat down to safely grab the kettlebell or dumbbell with your non-dominant hand. Then, return to standing position. You should select a weight that provides some challenge but doesn’t compromise your posture.
  2. Standing upright with your shoulders down and back and your core engaged, begin slowly walking forward. Ideally, take at least 10 steps forward, or the length of the room you’re in. You may need to extend your opposite arm outward to maintain balance.
  3. After finishing your steps, turn around and walk back. Be sure to keep your core engaged the entire time.
  4. Once you’ve returned to the starting position, squat down and place the weight on the ground. Switch hands and repeat the process.

When performing this exercise, it’s important to keep your head, neck, and back straight. A good way to remember this is to imagine that a string is attached to the top of your head pulling it upright.

You can use either a weighted dumbbell or kettlebell to perform a suitcase carry. If you don’t have either, you could carry a suitcase and adjust the weight by adding or removing items within it.

Summary

The suitcase carry involves carrying a single weighted dumbbell or kettlebell across the room. With the weight distributed on one side, the opposite side must work harder to stabilize the body, helping you build strength and stability.

The suitcase carry is an excellent exercise if you’re looking to strengthen multiple muscle groups in a single session.

Since the suitcase carry is a unilateral exercise, you’re only carrying weight on one side, while the other side of your body is actively engaged to provide stability and balance (2).

This engages the inner and outer obliques, as well as other core muscles like the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis. To reap the most benefit, be sure to keep your core tight and engaged throughout the workout (2, 3).

Moreover, it targets the spinal erectors, also known as the erector spinae or paraspinal muscles, which are crucial for core and back stability, as well as the upper back, shoulders, arms, and legs (hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calves) (2, 3).

Finally, the suitcase carry helps improve grip strength, a grossly underrated component of strength building and sports performance. Increasing your grip strength can increase your overall strength to help you perform tasks and exercises more efficiently (4, 5, 6).

Summary

The suitcase carry is a full body workout that strengthens the core, back, and upper and lower body, as well as increases grip strength.

It’s important to know how to properly perform the suitcase carry to prevent injury.

The most common causes of injury from the suitcase carry include:

  • carrying a weight that’s too heavy
  • hunching the shoulders and back
  • leaning too far forward, which puts excess strain on the lower back
  • holding your shoulders up toward your ears
  • not squatting when lifting the weight or putting it down
  • leaning too far to one side
  • not engaging your core

To avoid injury, always be sure to try the exercise with a light weight to practice good posture and form before progressing to a heavier weight. Keep your back straight and core engaged to protect your back from injury.

For most people, the suitcase carry is safe. However, if you have any chronic neck or back injuries, are currently healing from an injury, have any chronic conditions, or are pregnant, speak with a healthcare provider before adding a new exercise into your routine.

Finally, be sure to properly warm up before performing the suitcase carry to increase blood flow to working muscles and prevent muscle strain or tear.

Ideally, start with a 5–10-minute warm-up session that includes dynamic stretches (active movement) of all body parts. Once your body is warmed up, you can proceed with the suitcase carry and other strength-training exercises.

Summary

Most injuries from the suitcase carry come from improper form or lifting too heavy of a weight. Though it’s safe for most people, if you have any musculoskeletal issues, are pregnant, or have other chronic conditions, speak with your healthcare provider.

The suitcase carry is an excellent full body workout that’s easy and fun. As its name suggests, this exercise involves carrying a weighted dumbbell or kettlebell with one hand across the room, similarly to when you carry a regular suitcase.

This workout targets your core, upper and lower back, shoulders, arms, and legs to help build strength and stability. It also helps develop your grip strength, which will help support other exercises and daily tasks.

For most people, the suitcase carry is safe and effective. However, those who are pregnant or have musculoskeletal issues or other chronic conditions should speak with their healthcare provider before adding a new exercise to their routine.

If you’re looking to build strength with an easy, convenient, and effective workout, you’ll want to give the suitcase carry a try.