Are you looking for an exercise that’s going to tone and strengthen your entire body from head to toe? If so, you should think about incorporating a suitcase carry into your workout routine.

What is a suitcase carry exercise?

A suitcase carry is a unilateral-loaded carry. In other words, you carry a weight in one hand and walk a set distance. It’s a good all-round exercise that targets these muscles:

  • core muscles like the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis
  • spinal erectors
  • quadriceps
  • calves
  • glutes
  • hamstrings
  • hip flexors
  • shoulders
  • triceps
  • forearms
  • hands

Try making “heads, shoulders, knees, and toes” out of that.

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A suitcase carry is a weight-bearing exercise that you can do anywhere. It might be simple, but this style of carrying weights builds strength and endurance in your shoulders, arms, abdomen, and back while improving your core stability.

(Plus, it makes you the super useful one on family vacations.)

You can increase muscle mass, enhance bone density, and work on your balance. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your suitcase or a kettlebell, and get moving!

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The suitcase carry is an exercise that involves lifting and walking with a load. Generally, people choose to lift a kettlebell or dumbbell rather than a suitcase, but the principle’s the same.

This loaded exercise is unilateral, meaning that you only carry the weight on one side of your body. The muscles on the other side of your body then must work harder to balance and stabilize you as you walk. The result is a workout for your core, back, upper body, and lower body that also allows you to build grip strength.

What equipment do you need?

It’s an easy exercise but doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Find yourself a weighted kettlebell or dumbbell that feels comfortable for you to carry. As with all exercises, it’s best to begin with a lower weight, like 10 pounds, and work up to heavier loads as you gain strength.

You don’t even need specialist equipment. You can do a loaded carry with any number of random objects — a gallon of milk, a bag of groceries, a basket of kittens. These are all potential suitcase carry weights. At the end of the day, if it’s going to benefit your daily grind, you might as well use everyday objects to test yourself.

(We sincerely hope your day-to-day existence involves carrying a basket of kittens.)

Suitcase carry vs. farmer’s walk

The suitcase carry involves carrying weight on one side of your body. On the other hand (or rather, both hands, tee-hee), the farmer’s walk involves carrying weight on both sides of your body.

It might seem that carrying two weighty loads would be more difficult than just one. However, when you carry weight with one hand, your body hustles extra hard to keep you upright and moving.

The suitcase carry is an exercise that’s also completely applicable to real-world situations. Picking up stuff and carrying it on one side is much more likely in daily life than carrying two completely balanced objects in both hands.

The suitcase carry might seem too simple to be effective, but this loaded carry targets muscles in your core, arms, hands, shoulders, upper back, and all sorts of muscles in your legs, namely your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves.

Plus, it can help improve your grip strength and your ability to carry suitcases and perform other actions in daily life.

Aside from working various muscle groups, the suitcase carry helps you to focus on your posture. As you carry the weight, you must remain upright, stabilize your shoulders, and engage your core. If proper form goes out the window, you may not perform the suitcase carry correctly and could injure yourself.

Working on your core could help you avoid back pain, improve your balance, and gain improved extension and flexion through your trunk.

When you go about daily life, you tend to favor one side of your body and carry objects with your dominant side. Over time, your opposite side becomes weaker and further encourages you to use your dominant side.

When you perform the suitcase carry, you can concentrate on building strength and endurance in your nondominant side until both sides of your body are matched in ability, making it a great functional exercise

In one small study, unilateral exercise helped people improve mobility in their hands after experiencing a stroke. While the suitcase carry may be a little strenuous if you’ve had a health event that affects mobility to the extent of a stroke, it does demonstrate the power of unilateral workouts in targeting and strengthening a weaker side of your bod.

Although the suitcase carry is a simple exercise, you need to perfect your form to avoid injuries and maximize the benefits. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Choose a kettlebell. Start with your nondominant hand, which will be weaker, and select a weight that’s heavy enough to create some resistance as you hold it but allows you to maintain an upright posture as you walk.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
  3. Engage your core muscles, and make sure your posture is upright.
  4. Grip the kettlebell handle tightly to strengthen your grip.
  5. Begin walking with the kettlebell, and remember to keep your abdominal muscles engaged.
  6. Take small, slow steps, and focus on maintaining an upright posture.
  7. Walk for the specified number of steps or length of time, then set the kettlebell down on the floor.
  8. Use your other hand to pick up the kettlebell and repeat the process.
  9. Increase your steps or total time in line with the progression of your fitness.

You can modify the suitcase carry to suit your fitness level, meaning that it’s an exercise you can add to your routine for the long term. Try some of these variations:

  • Decrease or increase the weight.
  • Decrease or increase the distance.
  • Decrease the weight while increasing the distance, or vice versa.
  • Use a straight line and try to follow it precisely, as if you were on a tight rope.
  • Try a farmer’s carry, which involves carrying weight in each hand.

Remember to focus on form. No matter which variations you try, don’t sacrifice your form in the name of variation.

There are common mistakes that people make with their form when they do this seemingly simple exercise, including:

  • Leaning to one side. Your shoulders should remain level throughout the exercise, and you shouldn’t lean toward your kettlebell-holding side.
  • Choosing a kettlebell that’s too heavy. Even though you’re keen, using a weight that’s too heavy won’t make you progress faster. Instead, it can harm your form and cause nasty aches and sprains. It’s important to consider how hard your oblique muscles on the opposite side need to work to stabilize your upper body. So, choose a weight that’s comfortable for you.
  • Forgetting to engage your core muscles. You should focus on keeping your core muscles engaged so they can support your upper body as you move with the weight. The stability from your core muscles will allow you to move more quickly in the correct form and protect your lower back from injury.
  • Leaning forward. Although it may be tempting to lean forward from your waist, especially if you’re tired, this can cause issues with your lower back pain and injuries. Instead, you should walk completely upright for the duration of the exercise.
  • Shrugging your shoulders. It’s all too easy to raise your shoulders towards your ears as you concentrate on reaching the finish line. Make sure you breathe and lower your shoulders to prevent hunching. Try to think about pushing the kettlebell towards the ground — this might prevent discomfort in your neck and shoulders.

The suitcase carry is generally safe, providing you follow the correct form. Because you can adjust the weight you carry and the distance you walk, it’s an appropriate exercise for people of most fitness levels.

Nevertheless, if you feel any strains or aches in your neck, shoulders, or lower back, have a chat with a healthcare pro to see if this is a suitable exercise for you. Likewise, if you have any other health conditions that make cardio risky, or if you’re pregnant, try and speak to your physician before adding it to your regimen.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop immediately. You can try again after a short rest. But if the pain remains, seek medical advice.

Boasting a flexible and robust core will help you maintain good posture and avoid problems with your back. They’re for any fitness routine — so here are some other core muscle exercises to try:

Suitcase carry crunch

If you feel like having a lie-down and doing some exercise, try this.

  1. Lie on your back on a yoga mat.
  2. Hold a kettlebell with both hands.
  3. Inhale and extend both arms above your head, and focus on extending both legs with your core engaged.
  4. Exhale and raise your legs until they are at a right angle with your hips, and simultaneously raise the kettlebell toward your feet. As you do this, lift your head, shoulder blades, and torso of the mat slightly.
  5. Inhale and lower your limbs to the starting position.
  6. Repeat as many times as you like or can handle.
  • The plank. Although it’s minimal movement, the plank takes maximum effort as you support your body on your forearms and toes.
  • Dead bug. Imitate a dying cockroach by lying on your back and extend your arms towards the ceiling, and raise your legs with your knees bent at a right angle. Next, lower your right arm and left leg until they hover above the floor, return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite limbs.
  • Flutter kicks. It might sound cute, but this simple exercise is a killer. Lie on your back and lift your legs and shoulders slightly off the floor. Feel the tension in your core as you press your lower back into the floor. You then flutter kick your feet up and down while keeping your torso still.

The suitcase carry involves carrying a weight in one hand and walking. It’s deceptively simple, and you can build it into your daily tasks if you don’t fancy a workout at the gym.

It’s a full-body workout that targets your core, back, shoulders, arms, and legs and helps build body and grip strength and balance.

This exercise is safe for most people. But if you’re pregnant or have underlying health conditions, it’s best to speak with your doctor before adding this exercise to your routine.