Core Exercise: Single- Arm Overhead Farmers Carry

This is my favorite 360-degree core exercise

By Jesse Kepka
NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist


If you’ve been with us as part of the Priority Fit Community on Meetup for a while, you know that those 6-pack abs are hiding in your kitchen, not the hands of your trainer. In the fridge, in the cabinets and pantries. To take it a step further, they’re in your choices that fill your grocery cart, online or otherwise. But I’m not going to lecture you on that today. Instead, I want to share my favorite 360-degree core exercise. We can most certainly condition them, but the ball is in your court as far as uncovering them. Here’s how.

Nope, it’s not a plank, though I adore every variation under the sun of those bad boys. And it’s not a crunch or sit-up of any kind. I do see value in them, but they won’t condition at 360 degrees. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. We love the 6-pack on the front, but we complain about the back. Curious?

An Efficient Farmer’s Carry Variation

If you’re not finding progress in this area, give the single-arm, overhead farmer’s carry a try. You won’t be disappointed in this core exercise. Not only with it foster trunk stability all the way around, but it will improve your pulling and pressing lifts, as it increases shoulder and chest strength as well as scapular control. Can’t beat that efficiency. Remember my raves of the rowing machine and bear crawls? Same goes for the overhead carry.

Core Exercise That Utilizes the Long Lever

We know that anything we do with a long lever is challenging as it asks for much more tension to create stability from head to toe. Try a regular crunch with bent knees, and then try a spring-up with arms overhead and straight legs. Takes the difficulty level up a notch, right? Or as we pump out lateral raises, our elbows want to try and flex to shorten that lever towards the last few reps to make it easier. In an overhead farmer’s carry, we are essentially in a long lever. As we add the dynamic movement of a walk, our trunk must stabilize to keep the posture dominoes from falling apart. That’s a lot going on for just 20-30 yards! Again, towards those last few steps, your shoulder will fatigue, but you can draw strength from engaging the trunk stabilizers at full tension at 360 degrees. Totally and wonderfully intense. You’ll become addicted in no time.

I love this exercise, too, because the repetition of creating and holding that trunk tension is so good for neuromuscular control in virtually every other lift we do. In curling, pulling, pressing, planking and even squatting, we want those abs (yes, 360-degree engagement) in constant contraction. Even as you move towards more explosive workouts, your brain will know to automatically perform there since we have the dynamic aspect of walking while engaging. We aren’t simply standing still and pressing. If you can create and spit-shine this full body awareness, you will be awed.

In adding these in my own workouts, I never fail to feel that beloved soreness in my abs, and they make me feel powerful in my upper body. Like when you want to walk up to a stranger in the street and say, “Come at me, see what happens!” I mean, you really can’t lose here. Short on time? Add overhead carries into a circuit with a rowing machine sprint and bear crawls. That’s a solid, full body pump!

Don’t forget to be creative in what you use to press. Barbells (this one will change it up with two arms overhead – also so much fun), kettlebells, med balls, plates…if it’s weighted, it works.


Tip shared by Jesse Kepka, NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and owner of Elevate Fitness. Jesse is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

Click for more info on the free Saturday group workout.