Solutions For When Your Grip Betrays You For Farmer's Walks
April 6th 2020
Whether you are training for a strongman competition, or are simply performing farmers walk for bigger forearms or traps, the farmers walk is a great exercise that works the entire body.
It works the forearms, traps, builds bigger and stronger legs, and it also gives your cardio system a good workout.
However, most people performing the farmer’s walk will feel that they are mostly limited by their grip.
This can be frustrating, especially if the rest of your body isn’t sore and you are trying to move up in weight.
On the bright side, a weak grip is something that the farmer’s walk can solve. But it will take some time before your grip is sufficient enough to be able to handle heavier farmers walk.
But at that point, the rest of your body won’t be getting a sufficient training stimulus while performing farmers walk.
So, what should you do?
In this article, we will discuss why your grip is the first to fail during the farmers walk, some supplemental exercises you can do to increase grip strength, and some exercises you can do in the meantime that can help build your farmers walk and don’t require as strong of a grip.
What is the farmer’s walks?
In case this is your first encounter with the exercise the farmer’s walk is an exercise that is seen primarily in strongman training and is a compound exercise that stresses a wide array of muscles in the body.
The name of the exercise comes from the fact that farmers must carry heavy objects (such as a haystack, cow, pig, etc.) over long distances.
By doing this over time, farmers develop big and strong forearms, back, legs, and musculature around the entire body.
Not only do they develop big muscles, but the muscles become stronger as well.
So if you are looking for an exercise that can help improve your functional strength (meaning strength that can help you in your daily life instead of strength such as lifting a heavy bar one time), then the farmer’s walk might be an exercise you should add to your arsenal.
Why does your grip fail during the farmers walk?
The reason why your grip is the first muscle group to fail is because your grip is the smallest and weakest muscle worked during the farmers walk.
Because of this, it will be the limiting factor for how much you can carry while you perform the farmers walk.
The same phenomenon occurs in all other exercises, usually, the smallest muscle group is what is holding you back.
One way to get around this problem is to perform more isolation exercises that can work the smaller muscle group, which gives it a greater training stimulus to grow.
With this, you can quickly turn your weakness into a strength.
How to improve your grip strength
There are a couple of different ways you can incorporate into your program that can help improve your grip strength.
Here are just a few suggestions you can implement into your training program.
You can use a barbell to perform wrist curls/extensions similar to what you would do for your biceps/triceps.
Although you might not see this used that often in the gym, it is an exercise that can specifically isolate the forearm muscles that are limiting you while you try and perform heavy farmers walks.
Another great exercise you can perform is the wrist roller.
The wrist roller requires specific equipment which is a metal pipe with a weight connected to it by a string.
It involves repeatedly rolling your wrists, working the muscles in your forearms, which can help improve your grip strength.
This exercise also works the eccentric phase (when the muscle lengthens) really well as you are required to slowly lower the weight.
Overall, a really good exercise for your wrists that you will certainly feel after the first rep.
I know what you might be thinking at this point… those don’t work for me! I need something else…
Well, luckily, I used myself as an experiment when I needed to strengthen my grip.
I knew that training grip would not be a short term thing so I have tried various methods that I thought would be most effective.
Doing more farmers walks
This might sound counterintuitive but if you feel like your grip is giving out when you are performing farmer’s walks, then it is a good sign that you are using the right amount of weight.
Even if the rest of your body could handle more weights, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
As a result, simply doing more farmers walks will help train your grip strength. Even though you might not feel it.
What did I try?
I did some sets with lightweight farmer’s walks for distance.
And for me, that would be 115lbs per each hand. I would do 50-60 feet for 4-6 sets.
I also did one or two heavy sets - which would be 185lbs per each hand.
I only do farmer’s walks once a week but I do feel a significant improvement after 4 weeks of implementing this exercise.
Do not rush the process but constantly evaluate your progression.
Whether this is on a pullup bar, thick bars, or even a climbing pole/rock, I have used this technique excessively in the past with moderate success.
Give these a try if you are looking for something new.
Good old fashion deadlifts
Double overhead conventional deadlifts.
As much as I can handle.
Then, I also do fat gripz deadlifts. If you have an axle bar for Strongman training or for grip training, the fat gripz are used as an alternative.
Do these for a few weeks and your grip will improve.
That is a guarantee.
Now that you know some of the primary exercises you can incorporate in order to train your grip.
Here are some other exercises you should consider adding into your program that can work the same muscles the farmers walk work, but doesn’t require as strong of a grip.
Substitutes for farmers walks
I do not want to beat a dead horse but it should be a given to how much carryover there is from the deadlift to the farmers walk.
The deadlift works the same muscle groups the farmers walk works including the upper back, lower back, glutes, quads, and forearms.
Even with a weak grip strength, you can still build a heavy deadlift by using the hook grip, alternating grip, or even straps.
The deadlift will help you continue to make gains in all the muscle groups I mentioned earlier while you try and build your grip up.
Similar to the deadlift, the squat is another exercise that has a lot of carry over to the farmers walk but primarily in the lower body.
As the king of lower body exercises, a strong squat can help your farmers walk by allowing you to carry heavier objects over longer distances.
The squat also has the additional benefit of allowing you to overload it, meaning that if you aren’t getting enough of a training stimulus for your legs during your farmer walks, you certainly can get it from the squat.
The shrug works the trapezius which is one of the key muscles worked during the farmers walk.
The shrug requires a lot less grip strength because you hold onto the weight for a shorter period of time compared to performing a farmers walk.
As a result, you can incorporate a decent training stimulus to grow your upper back while you are working on developing your grip strength.
Hanging leg raises
Another exercise the farmers walk works very well is the core and abdominal musculature.
While performing the farmers walk, you need to keep a tight core as you are maintaining your body’s balance while carrying heavy weight.
The same stimulus can be applied to your abdominals through core exercises such as the hanging leg raise.
These are just a couple of suggested exercises you can add to your program that can directly carryover to a stronger farmers walk without requiring the same amount of grip strength.
Next, we will go over some of the ways you can modify the farmers walk to make it a bit less demanding on your grip.
Alternatives to farmers walks?
Hex bar movements
Most people use dumbbells while performing the farmer’s walk which is a weight pulling you down directly against your arm.
This will require a lot of grip strength from both sides equally in order for you to successfully complete a rep.
If you find yourself with one side weaker than the other, you can use something like the hex bar which helps distribute the weight a bit more evenly between your arms.
That way, you can still perform the farmers walk with a weaker grip but keep in mind, your grip will still eventually fail as you reach higher weights.
Straps… for everything but grip work
Similar to the deadlift, you can incorporate straps into the farmers walk to help compensate for your weak grip.
However, this is not typically recommended because it takes away the purpose of the farmers walk which is to build functional strength in a wide array of muscles.
If your grip is your weak point, you must train it so that it is up to bar with the rest of your body.
Adding straps will take out your grip allowing you to ignore your problem.
Like a chain, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
Can you overtrain your grip and get an injury during farmer’s walks?
Yes, it is possible to overtrain your grip just like any other muscle part of your body.
You will know that you are close to injury when your body has not recovered from your previous workouts and you can no longer do the same weights for the same amount of sets.
You would probably feel beat down, weak or depressed.
You will probably have low energy and just want to sleep all day.
Pay attention to the signs that your body gives you.
It can prevent a lot of future incidents that will stop you from training.
If you are expecting instant solutions to your grip issues, there are none.
You need to take it slow and first, identify the issue.
Only when you realize that there is some sort of problem, you can begin to find solutions and methods in order to conqueror your limitations.
This could take at least a few weeks to see any meaningful results.
However, the more time you allow your body to recover and to get stronger, the more you will be able to handler heavier and heavier weights.
This is not a sprint but a life-long journey to your own personal self-development.