Farmer’s walks involve an effort to hold and move the weight you use. Find out what muscles a farmer’s walk works and where you can expect results.
The list of muscles you work during a farmer’s walk is long.
These include your forearm grip muscles, trapezius (upper back/shoulder), core muscles, deltoids (shoulder), a variety of scapular muscles (upper back), pectoral muscles (chest), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), quadriceps (front thighs), calves, hip flexors, hip abductors (outer thighs), and hip adductors (inner thighs).
The forearm grip muscles, trapezius (upper back/shoulder), and core muscles will have to work the hardest relative to their strength.
If you don’t use equipment to improve grip, your forearm muscles will likely fatigue first and see the most growth and strength progress.
At the same time, you still need to use enough weight and do the farmer’s walk long enough to see these results.
With lighter weights, the farmer’s walk is more of a cardiovascular and/or muscle endurance exercise.
Farmer’s walk muscles worked
Some of the muscles worked with a farmer’s walk are your forearm grip muscles, trapezius (upper back/shoulder), core muscles, deltoids (shoulder), a variety of scapular muscles (upper back), pectoral muscles (chest), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), quadriceps (front thighs), calves, hip flexors, hip abductors (outer thighs), and hip adductors (inner thighs).
That being said, the muscles that will be used the most in the farmer’s walk compared to their relative strengths are the forearm grip muscles, trapezius (upper back/shoulder), and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae.
Especially if you don’t use any equipment for improving your grip, your forearm muscles responsible for grip will likely have the hardest time.
If you do use equipment for improving your grip (straps, workout gloves, etc.), your trapezius and core muscles will generally have the hardest time during the farmer’s walk.
Your choice of farmer’s walk equipment will also influence in what ratio you work your muscles to a small extent.
One-handed options like most farmer’s walk handles, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. will engage your deltoids, scapular muscles (including trapezius), and chest muscles slightly more to keep the weights in position.
On the other hand, something like a trap bar will work these shoulder stabilization muscles slightly less because the steel frame does not bump around that easily.
Does the farmer’s walk build muscle?
People who are more experienced with resistance training will understand that just working your muscles is not necessarily enough to actually build them.
To achieve this goal, you have to put the muscles under enough pressure, do enough repetitions, and implement enough sets.
If you do these things right enough, the farmer’s walk can help you build muscle.
However, something that is worth noting is that farmer’s walks will work the target muscles in an isometric aka static way.
This is important to know because isometric exercises tend to be less effective for muscle growth and strength progress than more dynamic exercises where the muscles move through a bigger range of motion.
That being said, it is fair to say that building muscle is one of the potential benefits of farmer’s walks. You do still need to approach your workouts smart enough.
Farmer’s walk weight and duration guidelines
Since this is an isometric exercise, the farmer’s walk weight guidelines will look different from what you are used to.
The weight and duration recommendations will be from one review of isometric studies (1).
To grow the main muscles worked, you want to do farmer’s walks of 3 to 30 seconds per set (about 3 to 40 steps) and more than 80 to 150 seconds per workout at 70-75% of maximum voluntary contraction.
One downside of this conclusion of the review is that maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) is something you measure with specialized devices.
While this is not perfect, you can likely do farmer’s walks with a weight where the durations above are barely too challenging to see at least some muscle growth results.
Additionally, the review concludes that you want to do farmer’s walks of 1 to 5 seconds per set (about 2 to 7 steps) and more than 30 to 90 seconds per workout at 80-100% of MVC to improve muscle strength.
Again, the next best thing will likely be using weights that are heavy enough to make these ranges very challenging.
As you get stronger, you will have to do heavier farmer’s walks to keep them challenging enough for the ranges above.
Additionally, make sure you give your body enough nutrients and rest in between workouts to recover. Most people want to wait at least 48 hours before doing another farmer’s walk workout.
Muscles worked farmer’s walk vs suitcase carry
Most people are also interested in the comparison between farmer’s walks vs suitcase carries. This second exercise is basically a farmer’s walk where only one hand holds a weight.
From a high-level view, both exercises work the same muscles. However, they work these muscles in a different ratios.
By only holding one weight in a suitcase carry, your core oblique muscles on the other side have to work a lot harder to keep your body upright.
At the same time, your forearm grip muscles will likely still be the ones to fatigue first in a suitcase carry.
Besides that, you want to keep in mind that a workout with the suitcase carry requires more time since you have to work each side separately.
If you don’t mind this, the suitcase carry can be a helpful exercise to work your forearm grip muscles and oblique muscles at the same time.
If you are not interested in combining your grip and oblique training, don’t want to spend the extra time, and/or want to focus on training cardiovascular health, the farmer’s walk is likely the better choice.