Suitcase Carry – How To, Benefits, And Why Make It Part Of Your Training

This simple but effective unilateral exercise can help build strength and correct muscle imbalances, helping you build a more symmetrical physique

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Suitcase Carry – A simple but potent exercise that can help build and strengthen your muscles

What is the suitcase carry?

The suitcase carry is a unilateral strength training and functional fitness workout. It involves carrying a heavy weight with one hand like you do with a suitcase. Hence the name “Suitcase Carry”

It is one of the best exercises for improving core stability, grip strength, and overall functional strength.

suitcase carry exercise

Suitcase Carry vs. Farmer’s Carry

The Farmer’s Carry and the Suitcase Carry have similarities. But they are not the same exercise.

  • Farmer’s Carry
    You hold a weight in each hand, usually one in each hand in a farmer’s carry.
    The movement involves holding the weights by your sides with your arms fully extended.
    The focus is on walking with an upright posture and engaging the muscles of the upper body, core, and lower body.
    The farmer’s carry primarily targets the grip strength, upper back, shoulders, core, and lower body muscles.
  • Suitcase Carry
    The suitcase carry involves holding a weight in one hand, similar to carrying a suitcase with a single hand.
    You hold or carry the weight on one side of the body, and the other hand remains free.
    The focus is on walking while maintaining balance and stability on one side of the body.
    The suitcase carry primarily targets the grip strength, obliques, lateral core muscles, and the muscles on the side of the body carrying the weight.

While both exercises involve walking while carrying a weight, the main difference lies in the distribution of the load and the targeted muscles.

The farmer’s carry engages both sides of the body evenly and targets several muscles, including the upper back and shoulders.

In contrast, the suitcase carry emphasizes the obliques and the muscles on the side of the body carrying the weight.

Suited Carry – Target muscles

Incorporating the suitcase carry in your training regimen can help you target the following muscles.

  • Core muscles
    The suitcase carry is an excellent exercise for engaging the core muscles. That includes the rectus abdominis or the “six-pack” muscles, the internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominis.
    The muscles work to stabilize and support the spine and maintain an upright posture during the exercise.
  • Quadratus Lumborum
    The suitcase carry also activates the quadratus lumborum, a deep muscle on the sides of the lower back.
    The muscle helps stabilize the spine and pelvis during movement. It also engages to prevent leaning or bending to the side while carrying the weight.
  • Hip muscles
    The muscles around the hips, including the glutes, hip abductors, and adductors, help stabilize the pelvis and maintain proper alignment during the exercise.
  • Shoulder muscles
    The deltoids are activated to some extent during the suitcase carry.
    The deltoids help stabilize the shoulder joint and maintain proper alignment as you hold and carry the weight.
  • Forearm and grip muscles
    You need to maintain a secure grip on the weight throughout the exercise. That requires forearm and grip strength.
    The muscles responsible for wrist flexion and extension, the finger and hand gripping, are all engaged to keep the weight stable in your hand.

Suitcase Carry – Proper form

You will need a free weight like a dumbbell or kettlebell for the exercise.

Follow these steps to perform the suitcase carry with proper form.

Steps to follow

  • Grasp the dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip, palms facing your thighs.
  • Stand tall with feet at hip-width apart and extend the arm with the weight fully by your side.
  • Gently brace your abdominal muscles to engage your core. Maintain this core engagement throughout the exercise.
  • Keep your shoulders level and avoid shrugging or slumping on either side.
  • Do not lean or bend excessively to the side to help maintain a neutral spine.
  • Begin walking forward in a controlled manner, taking small, deliberate steps. Focus on maintaining an upright posture throughout the movement.
  • Make sure you carry the weight solely by the hand holding the weight as you walk. Avoid using your other hand or leaning to the side to compensate.
  • Continue walking for a predetermined distance or time, maintaining proper form and a steady pace.
  • Switch the weight to the other arm when you reach your desired distance or time.
  • Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

Tips and best practices for suitcase carry

  • Start with an appropriate weight.
    Choose a weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain proper form and technique.
    Ideally, start with a lighter weight and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable and confident with the exercise.
  • Maintain proper posture
    Stand tall with an upright posture throughout the exercise.
    Do not slouch, round your back, or lean excessively to one side.
    Keep your shoulders level and your chest lifted.
  • Engage your core
    Prioritize core engagement throughout the exercise.
    Brace your abdominal muscles and imagine pulling your belly button toward your spine.
    That will help stabilize your spine and maintain proper alignment.
  • Walk with control
    Take deliberate and controlled steps while walking. Maintain a steady pace without rushing or jerking the weight.
    Focus on maintaining stability and balance with each step.
  • Avoid excessive swinging
    Minimize any swinging or twisting of the weight. The goal is to maintain stability and control. If you find the weight swinging, it may be too heavy, or you may need to focus on your grip and core stability.
  • Maintain an even grip.
    Keep a firm but relaxed grip on the weight. Do not grip too tightly, as it can lead to unnecessary tension in your forearm and hand.
  • Breathe properly
    Remember to breathe naturally throughout the exercise. Exhale as you lift and carry the weight, and inhale as you set it down or switch hands.
    Proper breathing helps stabilize your core and maintain focus.
  • Switch sides
    Switch the weight to the other hand and repeat the exercise. That will help you to maintain balance and symmetry and ensures equal work on both sides of your body.
  • Gradually increase intensity
    Increase the intensity by using heavier weights, walking for longer distances, or incorporating variations and progressions as you become more comfortable and proficient with the exercise.
  • Listen to your body.
    Pay attention to how your body feels during the exercise. Stop and reassess your form or reduce the weight if you experience pain or discomfort. Prioritize safety and avoid pushing through excessive strain or discomfort.
suitcase carry exercise

Suitcase carry – Common mistakes

The suitcase carry exercise may seem simple, but you need to perform the movement with proper to reap maximum benefits and avoid injury.

Below are some common mistakes to watch out for.

  • Leaning to one side
    One of the most common errors is leaning excessively to the side opposite the weight.
    The imbalance can strain your spine and affect your posture.
    Keep your shoulders level and your torso upright throughout the exercise.
  • Poor core engagement
    Neglecting to engage your core can reduce the effectiveness of the exercise and compromise your stability.
    Ensure you brace your abdominal muscles and maintain a stable core throughout the movement.
  • Rounded or arched back
    Allowing your back to round or arch during the suitcase carry can lead to improper spinal alignment and increase the risk of injury.
    Maintain a neutral spine and do not bend forward or backward.
  • Swinging the weight
    Avoid swinging the weight or using momentum to move it. That can take away from the targeted muscle engagement and decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
    Focus on controlled, deliberate movements with the weight.
  • Gripping too tightly
    A secure grip on the weight is necessary, but gripping it too tightly can create unnecessary tension in your forearm and hand.
    Maintain a firm but relaxed grip throughout the exercise.
  • Walking too fast
    Maintaining a steady, controlled pace is essential during the suitcase carry.
    Walking too fast can compromise your form and stability.
    Slow down and focus on maintaining proper technique.
  • Neglecting the opposite side
    You should perform the suitcase carry exercise on both sides of your body to maintain balance and symmetry.
    Neglecting the opposite side can lead to muscle imbalances over time.
suitcase carry with a kettlebell

Suitcase carry limitations

The suitcase carry is a beneficial exercise, but it has some limitations.

  • Unilateral focus
    The suitcase carry targets one side of your body at a time. That can help address strength imbalances but may not provide a fully symmetrical workout.
    Incorporate exercises that target both sides of the body into your training to maintain overall balance.
  • Reduced cardiovascular benefits
    The suitcase carry can help improve your fitness levels. But it may not provide significant cardiovascular benefits on its own. It is primarily a strength and stability exercise.
    Incorporate aerobic exercises, like running, cycling, or swimming, into your training regimen to help improve your cardiovascular fitness.
  • Limited muscle activation
    Although the suitcase carry engages several muscles, such as the core, shoulders, and hips, it primarily emphasizes the muscles responsible for core stabilization and maintaining an upright posture.
    It may not provide the same muscle activation and development as exercises that target larger muscles.
  • Weight limitations
    Your grip strength can limit the weight you can use for the suitcase carry exercise.
    Exercisers with weaker grip strength may not be able to challenge their core and other muscles to their full potential.
    Using lifting straps or grip aids can help overcome this limitation.
  • Exercise variety
    The suitcase carry is a potent exercise, but relying solely on it for core and stability training may lead to boredom or plateauing.
    Incorporate several exercises and training modalities into your fitness regimen to continually challenge your muscles and avoid stagnation.

Suitcase carry variations

suitcase carry - man carrying a dumbbell

There are several variations and progressions of the suitcase carry that you can incorporate into your workout routine to add variety and challenge.

Uneven Load Carry

Instead of carrying the weight in just one hand, try using different weights in each arm.
That creates an asymmetrical load and challenges your core and stability even more.

Offset Load Carry

Hold the weight in one hand as you would in a regular suitcase carry, but add an additional weight (such as a dumbbell or kettlebell) in the opposite hand, positioned at your shoulder or in a racked position.
That creates an offset load and increases the demand on your core and stability muscles.

Farmer’s Walk

Like the suitcase carry, the farmer’s walk involves holding a weight in each hand and walking.
Instead of holding the weight by your side, hold the weights with a neutral grip and walk upright.
The variation targets your grip strength, upper back, and general stability.

Overhead Carry

Instead of carrying the weight by your side, extend your arm overhead and hold the weight.
The variation challenges your shoulder stability, core, and upper body strength.
You can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a barbell for the exercise.

Suitcase Lunge

Combine the benefits of lunges with the suitcase carry. Hold a weight in one hand by your side, and as you lunge forward with the opposite leg, maintain the weight in the same hand.

The variation adds an additional lower body strengthening element while still engaging your core and stability muscles.

Bottoms-Up Carry

Hold a kettlebell upside down by the handle, with the bell facing upward.
Walk while maintaining control of the kettlebell and preventing it from flipping over.
The variation challenges your grip strength, shoulder stability, and coordination.

farmers carry with dumbbells

Who should do the suitcase carry?

The suitcase carry is a versatile exercise that can benefit several exercisers and athletes.

  • General fitness enthusiasts
    The suitcase carry exercise can be a valuable addition to your fitness regimen. It can help improve your general fitness, core stability, and functional strength.
    It engages multiple muscle groups and promotes stability and balance.
  • Strength training enthusiasts
    The suitcase carry can benefit athletes focused on strength training.
    It challenges the core muscles, grip strength, and overall stability, making it a valuable exercise for building a solid foundation.
  • Athletes
    Athletes from various sports can benefit from the suitcase carry.
    It helps to develop core stability, grip strength, and unilateral strength, which are essential for athletic performance and injury prevention.
    Athletes in sports that require running, jumping, or lateral movements can benefit from the suitcase carry.
  • Individuals with core weakness or instability
    The suitcase carry targets the core muscles.
    That can help strengthen and improve core stability, which is essential for proper movement mechanics and posture.
  • Individuals with asymmetrical strength or imbalances
    The suitcase carry can help address strength imbalances between the left and right sides of the body.
    Carrying the weight on one side requires the core and stabilizing muscles to work harder on that area. That can help promote balance and symmetry.
  • Older adults
    The suitcase carry can help older adults to improve their balance, stability, and functional strength.
    It can help with activities of daily living and reduce the risk of falls.

Final words from LiveLIfe

The suitcase carry is an effective unilateral exercise for strengthening your muscles. Integrating it into your training regimen can help correct imbalances, helping you to build a symmetrical physique.

As with all exercises, you can only reap the full benefits of the suitcase carry if you master the proper form and do the movement correctly. Doing so will also help you to minimize any injury risk.

It is always better to start with lighter weights and gradually increase the load or difficulty level as you become more comfortable and proficient with the exercise.

While the suitcase carry is a potent exercise, it has limitations.

Thus consider integrating the suitcase carry with other exercises that target different muscle groups, such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

That is because a well-rounded fitness program that includes a mix of strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility exercises will provide more comprehensive benefits for your overall fitness and well-being.

  1. International Sports Sciences Association. How to create a loaded carry program that offers max results.

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