The Barbell Overhead Carry May be The Most Underrated Full-Body Exercise


Carrying around heavy weights appears at face value to be of no value except for strengthening your grip. But when you perform a movement like the barbell overhead carry exercise and pick up the weights and walk around, you’ll realize there’s so much more to carries than meets the eye.

Your shoulders and lungs burn with every step and any deviations while you walk will be felt twofold. Plus, the voices inside your head will be telling you to quit because of the intense discomfort you’re feeling. Then you’ll realize there’s much more to carries than meets the eye. But with a simple tweak, you can take your carry game to a whole new level. What is it? It’s carrying a barbell overhead.

Here we’ll explain what overhead carries are, the benefits of overhead barbell carry, how to perform an overhead carry, programming suggestions, and overhead carry variations if the barbell overhead carry isn’t for you.

What is the Barbell Overhead Carry

There’s no doubt regular carries (by your side, rack, suitcase, or goblet) are difficult. But walking with a barbell overhead takes this to another level because of the increased leverage. The further away the weight is from your working muscles, in this case, your legs, the harder it is to carry. Carrying a barbell overhead will put your whole body under tension and every step is a test of your single leg balance. This means starting on the lighter side with overhead carries, somewhere between 60-80% of your barbell overhead press 1RM works best.

How To Do A Barbell Overhead Carry

  1. You have two options to get the barbell in the overhead position. First, and the most preferable option is pressing it overhead from the squat rack. The second is a clean and press from the floor. A wider than shoulder-width grip works well here.
  2. Once the barbell is pressed overhead, make sure your wrists are in neutral, elbows are locked out, and your biceps are even or behind your ears.
  3. Take small slow steps forward paying attention to your gait and the position of the barbell. Walk 20 to 40 yards.
  4. Return the barbell to the squat rack or floor carefully.

Muscles Trained

The overhead barbell carry is a total body exercise because of the overhead position and its dynamic nature. Here are the major muscles trained by the overhead barbell carry.

Upper Body

    • Forearms
    • Upper back
    • Rotator cuff
    • Triceps
    • All three deltoids

Lower Body

    • Anterior and posterior core
    • Glutes
    • Hamstrings
    • Calves

Barbell Overhead Carry Benefits

When overhead carries are performed with good form, they’ll improve your

  • Better Posture: Anything less than good posture when performing overhead carries is a sure-fire way to lose balance and get hurt. Carrying weights overhead reinforces good posture and strengthens the muscles needed for better posture.
  • Encourages Proper Breathing Patterns: Chest breathing is great when you need to breathe quickly when being chased by a wild animal. But most of your breathing needs to come from your diaphragm. When doing the overhead carry it’s difficult to be a chest breather when you’re carrying heavy weights overhead and therefore encourages better breathing patterns.
  • Shoulder Stability: Your rotator cuffs are working like crazy to keep your shoulders in your sockets and all three deltoids’ muscles are on fire to maintain the barbell in the overhead position. Carrying weights overhead improves your shoulder stability because of the increased time under tension for the entire shoulder girdle.
  • Better Balance: Every step with the barbell overhead is a single-leg stance. Any loss of balance will be magnified here so be careful. The last thing you want is to end up on a workout fail video.
  • Conditioning and Mental Toughness: All loaded carries and particularly the overhead carry will teach you to deal with discomfort and to walk with a load. This has a fantastic carryover in and out of the gym.

How To Add It To Your Routine

There are a couple of ways to program the overhead barbell carry. The first option is part of your strength programming, or the second option is part of your core routine before hitting the weights. Either one you choose, perform it early because this is a physically taxing exercise that requires your full attention.

Here are a couple of examples.

1A. Bench Press Variation

1B. Barbell Overhead Carry – 40 yards

Core Triset

1A. Barbell Overhead Carry- 40 yards

1B. Stability Ball Plank – 30 seconds

1C. Half Kneeling Pallof Press- 12 reps each side.

Weight, Set, and Rep Suggestions

Below are guidelines on how to program the barbell overhead carry for strength and hypertrophy. These are only guidelines and can be changed to fit your personal goals.

Hypertrophy: Time under tension and volume is the key to gaining muscle with any exercise including the overhead carry. Performing three to four sets, walking 40+ yards using 60-80% of your 1RM overhead press is a good starting point.

Strength: Increasing the weight and reducing your walking distance will increase your strength in the overhead position. 3 sets walking 20 yards using 80-90% of your 1RM overhead press will challenge you.

Barbell Overhead Carry Variations

Barbell overhead carries are an advanced variation and are not for everybody, especially for those who have shoulder mobility issues or suffer from shoulder pain. In these cases, incorporating an overhead carry variation can provide the same types of benefits as a barbell carry. in your routine is key. Here are three overhead variations to add spice to your carry game.

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