The Definitive Guide to Loaded Carries: Training Principles and Progressions, Efficient Carry Positions, the Strongest Grips, and More!

By Stefano Tripney, MovNat Team Instructor and Master Trainer

I’m often reminded of a line I heard from a well known personality which, loosely stated, went something like, “If we cannot even control our own bodies in space, what right do we have moving things outside of ourselves.”

At the time I found it amusing and harmless. I understood the point, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate just how inaccurate and limiting that approach would have on us as a species that depends so heavily on our ability to manipulate the world around us. Lifting and carrying is an activity we rely on in every facet of our lives; an ability that humanity certainly cannot afford to eschew. 

Historically speaking, our propensity towards carrying is as natural as breathing. In our distant past, our collective trajectory would have been severely hampered had we not harnessed the ability to manipulate our environment. It’s not hard to conjure images of prehistoric hunters carrying a recent kill or generations of parents traversing the land with their helpless young nested securely against them. No shelters erected, no water harvested for those off-site, and no personal gear, tools, or mobility impaired kin would have participated in the countless nomadic journeys that eventually spread our species throughout the globe.

In our modern lifestyle, we lift and carry objects all the time. Managing a light and predictable load may not require much skill or thought. However, as an object’s mass increases and overall ease of manageability decreases it becomes clearly evident that some options aren’t so applicable anymore. There is certainly skill involved with carrying, so learning and practicing various techniques while using and applying sound principles will set you up for continued progress.

VIC Principles and Contextual Demands

With any movement skill practiced, there are simple variables we use to outline our training progressions. These are Volume, Intensity, and Complexity. In relation to carrying, volume refers to the time or distance that object is carried. Intensity involves the mass or weight of the object, and complexity pertains to the qualities of the object itself.

Not every load is the same. For example shape, size, and where the most mass is concentrated are just a few of the situations that impact the scenario. These represent only a handful of variables that you may come across and each may require a different approach as to how to maintain contact with it in the safest and most efficient way. The way you carry an object and the grip you choose for a brief moment will surely differ if carried over a greater distance or more complex terrain.

Here at MovNat, we recognize context to be an important and overarching theme to consider. The situation and environment dictate not only what skills are necessary for a given task, but also the variation of a skill which will make the most impact. 

Embrace the Tension

Loaded carries, although conceptually simple, are a tremendously valuable asset for the list of benefits they provide. Aside from being extremely practical, what they deliver in terms of physiological adaptations is simply awesome. Performing loaded carries in a safe manner once or twice per week can vastly increase strength in your legs, hips, back, arms, hands, and feet. Yes, all of you.

As loads increase in intensity due to mass, so too do the demands for the kind of tension required to maintain its position. The cool thing is that these adaptations not only bring about physical changes, but elicit a host of invisible adaptations as well. This constant squeeze and contraction is intensified throughout the entire body and, along with strengthened tissues can bring about a heightened sense of proprioception or “body feel” leading to improvements in both balance and posture. Loaded carries are hard work and at appropriate intensities and volume can get your heart pumping faster and will greatly increase one’s overall strength, endurance, and conditioning; plus, contribute to changes in body composition. 

Loaded carries call upon the entire body to perform and because of this have a huge metabolic demand. Aside from being a high calorie burning movement, they strengthen the upper and lower body as well as being extremely effective at strengthening the core. To manage a heavy load safely, you are forced to stabilize and maintain rigidity of your trunk while performing more dynamic movements with your lower body and maybe even your arms. 

Picking up and carrying a heavy object in random ways is perhaps one of the simplest and lowest impact avenues to robust strength and general physical preparedness. As elite strength and conditioning coach Dan John says, “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and athlete. And I do not say that lightly.”

Really, what we’re discussing here is viewing carrying as a means of stimulating physiological adaptations. The SAID principle which describes specific adaptations to imposed demands would predict very accurately that if you spent more time carrying something heavy, it would make you more athletically “fit”. 

MovNat is both a tool for practical movement competence AND conditioning, which leads to overall capability, which is what makes it so unique. It’s quite obvious now that carrying as an exercise for fitness seems like a surefire and legitimate means of using Natural Movement as a discipline in your strategy for improved health. In addition, through mindful practice, you’re harnessing a skill with which to use in your everyday life tasks, during play with others, on the job, or in an emergency, and this is where we shift perspective from being effective to becoming efficient.

Stones or Bones

You have a center of gravity (COG) and any object you manipulate by lifting, carrying, or throwing has its own COG as well. It’s the interplay between the two which highlight the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. It’s well known that holding an object close to your body feels lighter than if it were extended away at arms length. Therefore, one strategy for efficiency would be to “combine” the two centers of gravity as close as possible given the situation.

Perhaps the goal then is to establish reference points on the body that facilitate an efficient method for displacing an object in space. A simple path may be to visualize a means of stacking objects on your skeleton. As MovNat founder, Erwan Le Corre, says, “Stones or bones, gravity always wins.” Therefore, using your skeletal system as a structure as opposed to solely muscular tension provides an excellent reprieve from the gravitational forces which bear down on you and your cargo. It is this very important yet overlooked concept which leads us to loftier goals of using our own structure to our advantage. 

Carry Positions

With this in mind, we can explore options that relieve us of some part of the burden and put into practice the concept of holding near or stacking on your skeleton. Some may be more familiar while others perhaps have eluded your radar due to lack of modeling or absence of instruction. So, let’s discuss some variations of carrying as we move forward together along our path to unconscious competence.

Hand Carry

Perhaps the simplest means of transporting a relatively small, light, and manageable load is by holding it by your hand and allowing it to hang by your side. Access to kettlebells and dumbbells is great, but anything with a handle or grip-able  surface is suitable for this option. Think bag, suitcase, or small bundles. This simple method can have a dramatic effect on increasing hand grip strength and endurance. It’s great for everyday tasks, but also adds a carry over option for anyone who wishes to advance in their climbing acumen. 

Hip Carry

As the load increases in size or becomes unmanageable with merely your hand, hoisting it up on your hip allows more stability and offers a sort of shelf with which to support it by utilizing the structure provided by your pelvis and legs. We may immediately imagine any multitasking parent cradling their squirming or sleeping child in this way. While this is a solid option, you can imagine how mobility is slightly hampered and a long duration carry may be difficult. While you may employ both hands, this carry often relieves one limb of the responsibility, thus allowing other tasks.

Waist Carry

Perhaps the most ubiquitous and common carry, this option allows the load to hang in your front at arm’s length. It is the top position after performing a deadlift. Like the hip carry though, it hampers the ability of the legs to move freely. It’s great for heavy objects that need to be carried a short distance.

Front Carry

Shifting a load upwards to the chest frees the lower limbs to engage in a multitude of actions, but requires one or both arms to maintain a secure grip. You can manipulate a heavy object to the chest by utilizing a clean or lapping technique which is taught in our Level 2 Certification. Depending on the load carried, you’ll have several options available with the hands or by wrapping your arms around it. Again, the size and shape of the load dictates the style of hold and/or grip. Practicing various carrying options with and without a hand grip is crucial as Injury or the need to hold other objects simultaneously may even prevent the use of the hands alone. As an aside, the need to squeeze an object between your arms and chest may also affect breathing so this is yet another consideration to position, but should also inform you on better ways to breathe. 

Shoulder Carry

This is great for longer distance carries as it does not affect the movement range of your lower limbs. You can shift the load from chest to shoulder as it transitions easily from the front carry and can be a viable option to use as a resting position. This brilliant option both stacks the load on the skeleton and may require only one arm/hand to secure it. As your skill and awareness grow, you’ll perhaps discover ways of balancing the load on the shoulder which will then relieve BOTH arms to engage in whatever calls them into play.

Lumbar Carry

Perhaps the odd one out here is the lumbar carry simply because it is a less known option, yet it offers an incredibly robust set of outcomes. The setup may feel a bit clumsy at first, but this strategy may be just the thing required in a number of situations. Also, it is a close cousin of the hip carry and the two can act interchangeably with just a bit of practice. Again, the load is stacked on your strong pelvis and leg bones. The downside may be that it often requires both arms to secure it safely.

Get a Grip

So aside from knowing WHERE the load is best carried, let’s examine HOW to carry it. When discussing this detail, it is imperative to think about how to manage the load so as to prevent it from falling, sliding, or shifting out of place. We’re talking about grip and how to effectively shape the hands and arms in a way which offers the most viable means of transporting our precious cargo. 

We’ve identified four different grips that offer the most applicability in a variety of contexts. 

Gable grip: palms of the hands together, like a clap but with the thumbs pressed against the side of the hand. Very strong, easy to secure and release, and perhaps allows the tightest squeeze due to the nature of the relative arm position.

Finger Interlocking grip: just how it sounds, the palms face the same direction and the fingers are splayed apart. Slide the fingers together, interlocking each digit between the next. May be more difficult to apply, but it is very secure especially when the hands are then opened to expose the palms since the knuckles of the fingers tend to add increased traction due to them getting “locked” into place.

Wrist grip: Right hand grabs the left wrist and vice versa. Very secure and ideal for an object with a small surface area. Very quick and easy to apply and release.

“S” grip: Curling the fingers of each hand and hooking them in opposition. Quick to both secure and release, but not as strong as the others. Great for an object with a large surface area.

With continued practice, each of these grips will become more familiar, and through experience, you’ll understand when each variation will be the most appropriate choice for efficiency, security, and ease of use. Other major deciding factors are indeed the shape and size of the object you’re carrying, for how long you’ll need to carry it, and what you intend to do with it once the carry portion has been completed. For example, are you throwing it, dropping it, lifting it higher, placing it down with precision or passing it to another person? Each of these aforementioned variables dictate our actions from the moment we pick it up until the moment it is released.

Mixed Skills

Another feature which sets MovNat aside from most other modalities is the emphasis of mixing skills. This becomes more apparent in higher levels, but is readily evident when carrying under different contexts is explored in more depth. Carrying an object can be combined with many of the other movements and skill sets such as walking, running, getting up and down from the ground, climbing, jumping, and even while performing in a completely different medium such as swimming. In this article, we’ll examine the uses within a narrower scope, namely balance and while overcoming relatively low obstacles.

Balanced Carries

Carrying loads while balancing is a surefire way to experience the importance of keeping the object as close to your center of gravity as possible. The further from the body the object drifts, the more tension is required and therefore the more energy is exerted in the process. This belies our mission to achieve maximum efficiency and the tax on our energy stores becomes readily apparent.

Furthermore, the necessity of counterbalancing increases and this may lead to a cascade of inefficiencies that rob us of even more energy and can also cause a release of foot from the surface of support when the leg becomes a crucial player in maintaining counterbalance. All in all, these factors may combine to create a task that is not only overly strenuous but unsafe as well.

Low Obstacles

Walking while carrying is a great starting point, but as you advance in competence and conditioning you’ll want to deviate solely from this and further into your practice by adding obstacles to step onto, off of, and over.

Skills such as stepping up and the tripod vault provide excellent avenues of exploration and teach you the concept of dynamic carrying, or managing a load with nuanced changes in position relative to the surface or obstacle you encounter. Subtle shifting and replacement of the load is critical as the body position itself may need to change due to the contextual demands. Gravity being what it is does not care about your position and will continue its tug of war regardless. So, an understanding of load manipulation in real time becomes ever apparent.

Gym vs Nature

Inside a gym or training space it is common to find a variety of standardized tools which are purposely designed to be lifted and/or carried. A variety of bars, bags, balls, and other contraptions that while challenging due to mass slide quite low on the scale of complexity. The positive side of this is that it can provide a fantastic means of developing skill and conditioning since the demands can be placed more squarely on intensity and volume while maintaining a high degree of safety. By controlling the degree of complexity, you can increase or decrease other variables such as reps, duration, distance, and weight. This will allow a more precise measure on output as well as develop and hone the movement skills themselves. However, as any MovNat practitioner knows well, complexity is itself a megalithic pillar that often gets ignored.

Natural objects such as rocks and logs offer variations of weight, size, shape, texture, and center of gravity. You are then inclined to reestablish a relationship with these forms, often having to adjust both grip and position to accommodate them. Log carrying, especially long ones, besides the rounded shape introduce an element of balance where you must locate the center of gravity of the object to avoid it tilting in one direction or the other.  Surface textures of rocks vary and identifying rough, sharp, or otherwise dangerous features play a significant role. Human carries, which are taught in the MovNat Level 2 Certification, suddenly cast a light on what true capability means. After all, carrying a human, especially an unconscious or non-compliant one, is perhaps one of if not THE most challenging of all!

Opportunistic Training

Engaging in your environment is perhaps the greatest gift MovNat training can offer. We are provided with many chances to train and move throughout our waking life and these opportunities should be claimed whenever possible. Movement “snacks” can be dished out in the most unexpected places if you know what to look for. 

I use the term “obstacle optics” when describing one’s ability to see movement opportunities in the everyday. This can be as simple as NOT wearing or rolling but carrying your backpack, purse, or luggage. Carry common items up and down stairs using different positions and grips or balance with your items on curbs or other narrow surfaces when safe to do so. Have kids? Leave the stroller or carriage at home during short trips and opt instead to carry your precious ones. Feeling experimental? Attempt to find ways you can get up and down using various carrying positions. You will find some options require the use of hands while others may not. 

It is this very process of discovery that provides the fuel for the fire that burns inside each of us. The call to engage with the world around us, to explore our potential, and to play with ideas and outcomes may very well be the simple antidote to an idle mind and body. So, stay calm and carry on!

Stefano Tripney
MovNat Master Trainer
MovNat Online Coaching Program Director
Instagram: @captainstefano

Sample Program

MovNat Adaptive Practice Sessions: Carrying Emphases

Session 1

Warm Up: 2-3 Rounds : Hold Position for 1-2 Breaths


Perform the following sequence of skills starting on one side, brief rest, then repeat on the other side. You may use a rock, sandbag, log, or any other challenging object.

3-5 Sets : Reps as indicated : Rest 2-3min

Lapping to Shoulder Carry or Log Shouldering : 1x

Shoulder Carry : 20 sec (try this Hands Free Shoulder Carry for more challenge)

Shoulder Carry Switch : 4x : should return to original shoulder

Shoulder Carry Squat : 3-5x

Combo: 3-5 Rounds

Session 2

Warm Up: 2-3 Rounds : Hold Position for 1-2 Breaths


3-5 Sets/Skill : Rest 1-2min

Step Up : 6-8x/side : loaded using Front Carry, Single Hand Carry, or Shoulder Carry

Extended Step Up : 5-8x/side : bodyweight or loaded same as above

Combo: 3-5 Rounds 

Session 3

Warm Up: 2-3 Rounds : Hold Position for 1-2 Breaths


Perform the following sequence of skills in order. Complete one side, switch sides, then repeat on the other side.

3-5 Sets : Reps as indicated : Rest 2-3min between sets : add balanced context for more challenge

Lapping to Shoulder Carry or Clean and reposition on shoulder : 1x

Shoulder Carry : 2min : right side

Shoulder Carry Switch : 1x

Shoulder Carry : 2min : left side

Combo: 3-5 Rounds

Session 4

Warm Up: 2-3 Rounds : Hold Position for 1-2 Breaths


Perform the get ups and follow immediately with the carry. Do the get ups on one side plus the carry, rest, then repeat on the other side. Both sides equals 1 set.

3 Sets : Rest 1-2min

Strength Get Up : 3-5x

Front Carry : 1-2min : option to add balance context 

Combo: 3-5 Rounds

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