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How To Make THIS Popular Core Exercise More Effective

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist & Director of Education (Creator of DVRT Rx Healthy Knees, Restoration Certification, Shoulder & Pelvic Control Courses)

Hopefully if you have been following us for any period of time you know we are BIG on core training. Not because we are trying to get you that elusive six pack (that is all based on body fat levels and not how much you train your abs) but because the core is truly the center of everything our body does in controlling and producing movement.

If you are skeptical or not familiar to the idea that I am referring to let me give you some brief context. The best way to understand the core is that it is a collection of 35 muscles in our body. All working in perfect concert help us resist unwanted movement while helping connect our lower body to our upper body. That is why trying to work any one muscle is an exercise in futility and leads to not teaching the body how to effectively move and produce strength. Which also means that a break in our chain can create dysfunction and make us more prone to injury.


At the same time, good core control makes us much stronger and even more mobile. All good reasons to take a good core exercise and make it even better. What am I referring to? Loaded carries in the last several years have become a very popular example of a smarter core exercise compared to sit-ups and crunches.


When we realize that the core is those 35 muscles working in great coordination and working on producing and resisting force at the same time we have a core exercise that really reflects what we do in life. However, like anything good in training, there is often some serious misunderstanding around how to make carries actually a great core exercise. That is why I am going to share how we make loaded carries the powerhouse core exercise that it should be in your training!

Don’t Let Load Alter Your Quality Of Movement

The above statement may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times people ignore this when it comes to loaded carries. Whether it is how much weight or how they are applying weight to the body, many allow people to alter their walking pattern where they are leaning to one side, in too much lumbar extension, simply shuffling their feet rather than walking, and more! Performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello once simply shared the statement about good versus bad stability training as, “are you controlling the weight or is the weight controlling you?!” Obviously our goal in making carries a good core exercise is to control the weight. So, whether it is looking at how much weight we are using or how we are loading the body, the quality of our walking pattern shouldn’t be altered.

core exercise

We can see all sorts of movement compensation in these two pics. On the left we have an arm unable to lockout that causes lateral flexion (leaning to one side) which can cause issues in the low back and shoulder. On the right we see the right foot caving in on the step causing all sorts of really negative stress going up the chain as well as the right shoulder is much higher than the left showing leaning to one side. 

How do you do that? I’m glad you asked. In reality, it can be challenging for a coach to know if someone is walking well. As Josh likes to joke (not sure if I find it as funny as he does) he once asked me if we could give simple screens to help people to asses if people were walking well or not. I told him in response the great depth and time we spend in physical therapy school analyzing gait so it was hard for me to see how we could accomplish such a goal. He told me I wasn’t terribly helpful.

core exercise

In my defense, you can see by the diagram above walking has 8 phases to its performance. This requires stability and power working in a reflexive manner the entire time. 

I understood his intentions but gait is the most complex of human movements especially compared to anything that we do in the gym. So, how could I make that goal possible so that coaches could have some better means in helping make carries the great core exercise it could be? That is when I pulled out something that I would use with my patients, a low balance beam. Whether it was knee or low back issues, these beams were really helpful in teaching people functional stability. Since a very bit part of what makes carries a good core exercise is the dynamic stability in resisting lateral motion it made sense to use a tool that would emphasize this very quality!

 If you don’t have access to a balance beam you can put tape down and walk in line with that as well, however, the beams give way more feedback and accuracy to the movements. 

What makes carries a good core exercise is the idea that we have accuracy in our movement and that is controlled by reflexive core stability instead of just being tight all the time like we would see in a plank. Higher level core training isn’t loading a million pounds on your sit-up, nor is it holding a plank for 20 minutes. More advanced core training is about having very fast moments of relaxation and tension. If we are tense all the time, we can’t move and of course that would translate very poorly to what we do in life and sport!

As spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill explains, “Consider the golf swing. The initiation of the downswing involves some muscle contraction but too much actually slows the swing. Speed comes from compliance and relaxation. At the instant just before ball contact, the farthest ball hitters in the world then undergo a full-body contraction that creates superstiffness throughout the entire linkage. Then, just as quickly the stiffening contraction is released to allow compliance, speed in the swing follow through. This same cyclic interplay between relaxation for speed and contraction for stiffness is measured in the best sprinters in the world, the best strikers and kickers in mixed martial arts, the best lifters, and so on.”

How can we better prepare people to make carries the great core exercise we want? One is to use some of our marching drills I show below…

Increase The Need Of True Stability

I hear people on the internet throw around the term “stability” without much of an idea of what they really mean. As Josh and I have written about many times, stability isn’t just balancing or shaking violently as you lift or stand on something. Dr. Lee Burton gives us a much better way to think of stability.

stability training

This is important for all the reasons we have already discussed in actually having carries be a good core exercise, but there is one more! Instead of just going heavier in carries, we can change the walking pattern as well. Using this strategy really highlights what can make carries great for stability and an awesome core exercise. We can use figure 8 patterns, we can go laterally, there are a number of strategies like I show below. I would also mention this is where I think the Ultimate Sandbag really stands out because as you move in different directions the dimension, leverage, and instability of the Ultimate Sandbag gives a huge benefit to these movements.

sandbag carries

Carries have great potential to be an amazing core exercise, but it is the intent that we put behind them that actually brings this power to life. Check out the progressions below and see how we get the results we know possible from taking an exercise from being a good core exercise to a truly powerful one!

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