Today I’m sharing a variation of unilateral carries that targets the shoulder differently and challenges the grip too.
It’s such a functional movement: Carrying heavy weight. It seems almost too simple! Yet there is a reason that Dan John, one of the most influential and respected strength coaches in the industry, says they very well should be the foundation of all strength training.
It makes sense — Little coaching is needed on them. Walk with heavy weight. Your body will self correct.
I personally use this exercise as a “primer” for my day as well as for all of my different training sessions. I feel I can move my limbs in space confidently because it solidifies my core container.
Dr. Stuart McGill — the preeminent spine biomechanist in the world who has worked with numerous combat athletes including Georges St. Pierre — and Dr. Craig Liebenson — a chiropractor in the Los Angeles area who works with a lot of low back disorders — both advocate this exercise as a staple in rehab settings and for activation work before training.
I’ve come back from a low back pinched nerve this summer. Part of my diagnosis was asymmetrical engagement and length of the quadratus lumborum. This is the muscle of your lower back that connects the bottom of your rib cage to your pelvis.
It acts as a core stabilizer and is essential for movements in the frontal plane (like the cossack squat I covered here). It can be isolated by exercises such as this.
How This Exercise Trains Grip Strength
I like to wrap one of the triceps push down devices or a band around a plate or a kettlebell. When I use this grip, it lengthens my wrist on the thumb side. This is similar to the grip that you would have in BJJ and by doing so will help you strengthen your forearms even more.
Below are some simple tips for this exercise:
- Focus on irradiation. Squeezing the fabric as tight as you can for this will create more full body tension and strength throughout the rest of your body.
- Be sure to have elbow locked and allow gravity and the weight to bring the should we down and away from the ear.
- Don’t fight against it because it’s counterintuitive to the gains we seek from this!
Why The Banded Grip?
Rather than the neutral group of gripping the weight directly, by using the band, it challenges your grip by lengthening the thumb (radial) side of your wrist and shortening the pinky (ulnar) side of the wrist. This challenges your grip in a similar fashion to how it is challenged when gripping limbs in a jiu-jitsu setting. The neutral anchored way will build strength, but not as functionally or realistically.
Shoulder Distraction and Strengthening
I also advocate one-sided carries because they help to distract (decompress) the shoulders. By relaxing the joint while walking and allowing the tension to only be in your grip, it creates tension along with gravity to create some length in the joint. And of course the BJJ grip complement IS HUGE, as I’ll cover later!
The hanging of the weight decompresses the shoulder joint while engaging it for strength and stability. Since BJJ, by nature, compresses the shoulders as a matter of the sport, this exercise is a tremendous “catch-all” for mitigating this negative effect and building up the strength of the entire arm and shoulder.
Final Considerations on 1 Sided Suitcase Carries
Adding this into your pre-training or supplementary training routine will help to round out your strength, muscular endurance, and grip strength as well as tying together some “loose ends” with your body.
Notice I always advocate exercises that target the “connections” in our body. This exercise is no different, and you will be able to find benefit throughout your “kinetic chain” and ultimately how you express your body on the mats.
Let me know how this goes and always ask me questions!
I cover more performance training tidbits at mobillitytraining.com that will help you prepare, recover, and perform better on the mats!