BraceLab Clinical Clues

June 2020 No. 16

Modifications to the Farmer’s Walk Exercise to Target Specific Impairments

Jerry Ditz, DPT, Dip. Osteopractic, Cert. SMT, Cert. DN


Any clinician benefits from knowing how to modify a functional activity so it creates varied challenges for your patient. The farmer’s walk exercise, designed to simulate the functional activity of carrying heavy loads (groceries or luggage), can easily be modified to challenge different impairments.

Customarily, the farmer’s walk exercise consists of lifting a kettlebell or dumbbell from the floor with each hand, carrying them for the desired time or distance, and then returning them to the floor.



Minor modifications to the farmer’s walk exercise can challenge different skills:

Balance Challenge

Complete the farmer’s walk exercise while walking heel to toe on a straight line and holding different weights in each hand.

Balance Challenge

Ankle Challenge

Perform the farmer’s walk exercise while walking only on toes or on heels.

Ankle Challenge

Low Back Challenge

Perform the farmer’s walk exercise carrying a dumbbell/kettlebell only in one hand. The challenge is to maintain a level waistline during the carry.

Low Back Challenge

Shoulder Challenge

Carry the kettlebell in only one hand with the bell side up and the carrying shoulder at 45 degrees of horizontal abduction.

Shoulder Challenge

Hand/Wrist Challenge

Use looped towels instead of the kettlebell/dumbbell handles or wrap towels around to the handles to challenge different grip positions.


If unfamiliar with the farmer’s walk exercise, selecting the appropriate weight for the patient to carry may be tricky. Start first-time patients with 5-pound kettlebells to be carried for 30 seconds. Afterward, use the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) (2) scale of 1 to 10 to choose the next weight choice. The goal is for the RPE score to be at least 7+ (very hard). Most patients will typically score 7+ when carrying from 10 to 40 pounds but do not be surprised if athletes and manual laborers need to carry as much as 60 to 100 pounds.


1. Caravan A, Scheffey JO, Briend SJ, Boddy KJ. Surface electromyographic analysis of differential effects in kettlebell carries for the serratus anterior muscles. Peer J. 2018;6:e5044. Published 2018 Jun 12.

2. Borg, G. 1998. Borg’s perceived exertion and pain scales. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Ill.


Download Clinical Clues No. 16, Modifications to the Farmer’s Walk Exercise to Target Specific Impairments; June 2020

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Disclaimer: BraceLab Clinical Clues are intended to be an informal sharing of practical clinical ideas; not formal evidence-based conclusions of fact.

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