There is a real nostalgia around agriculture. The hard day’s work where honest toil doubles for natural conditioning. For many exercisers, it embodies the hard-to-replicate au natural workout where exercise equipment is everyday work implements.
Farming, even with the advent of mechanization and technological advancements, is still a physically demanding job. Most of the “workouts” in farming, apart from being an all day affair, are functional and mechanically-sound (movement specific), too. It is tough to replicate the farm life in one-hour increments in the gym when someone spends years perfecting it.
The real reason that a farm style workout doesn’t bear the same dividends (or relate to “farm strong”) is that one hour of doing 25 reps or 50 yds of farmer carries doesn’t translate to an exercise that constitutes a livelihood. Baling or tossing hay isn’t the same as 3 sets of 10 cable twists.
Varied Workouts and Medium Intensity
This isn’t Conan the Barbarian, where pushing a mill wheel for 10 years results in bulk (which is debatable considering how much he was probably given to eat and the lack of variety in his workout plan).
There is a lot of different stuff to be done around a farm. Baling, hauling, digging, hammering, throwing. The different activities require different movements and different muscle groups. They also require a pace that allows for long-term endurance. As well as knowing upper limits. This is based on the necessity to get the job done and not burn out before the task is accomplished.
It is not to say that farmers aren’t capable of Herculean feats, but that is usually as a result of building strength over time as a result of incremental increases.
It is also a question of endurance. A farmer’s job, and by extension the farm workout, is based on medium loads over a long period. Hypertrophic workouts would not benefit them in the long term. Testing and seeking upper limits could result in injury—the last thing a farmer needs.
However, the endurance workout will build the type of strength that is needed for repetitive actions in the fields and barns.
Farm Strong Alternatives
Short of packing in the day job and buying a working farm, chances are you’ll have to find a group of exercises or a workout that mimics those activities farmers would perform on a daily basis as part of keeping food on their tables.
Equally, unless you are maintaining a massive and overgrown backyard, you will need to find exercise equipment that is designed in a similar fashion.
The idea is to keep it as functional as possible so that more joints and/or muscle groups are involved. Working muscles in isolation doesn’t mimic everyday activity wherein multiple muscles are used in synergy.
Farm-style Exercise Equipment
These have been around since time immemorial. They have had a bit of a resurgence in recent times and have had a face lift of late. They are now available in a variety of materials and colors. They also come in a variety of sizes and styles. They can be slammed and tossed (which gives them an advantage over heavy weights).
If you’re into whole body medicine ball exercises, here are 25 for you.
This is a new take on the old classic. To increase the instability, these water-filled medicine balls introduce “hydro-inertia.” The more water, the heavier and more stable the ball becomes. Less water means more sloshing around, and more stabilizing muscles are called into action. These multipurpose balls come with grip handles for use in exercises from press to toss. As well as the bale toss, they can double as buckets in the farmer’s carry.
These old-now-new-again pieces of exercise equipment have shoehorned their way into mainstream exercise use. The shifting center of mass in sandbags calls for a more rounded type of strength as your muscles have to continually adjust to maintain control. As they move and shift, sandbag training calls stabilizers into play as well as different muscle groups around the body. They have the added benefit of creating a more “authentic” farm-style workout feel as they mimic feed bags or actual bags of sand.
These are definitely one of the more “agricultural” pieces of exercise equipment in the shop. But they are as effective as they are old. And kettlebells have had a recent renaissance with people looking to mimic more functional movement.
Taking the farm into the gym is not necessarily a 1:1 ratio. There are, however, some exercises that do translate into those at your favorite fitness facility.
Woodchopper & Haybaler
It’s kind of in the name. All self-respecting farmstyle workouts should include one or both of those exercises. The exercise equipment is up to you. Most would probably opt for medicine balls, but this workout can be performed with kettlebells, weight plates or a sandbag. (They are essentially the same workout done in opposite directions.)
Here is a video that demonstrates both of the exercises using a medicine ball (with a very pastoral soundtrack no less!).
Cable Oblique Twists
Twisting is an essential part of any farmer’s day. Onto a truck, off a truck. From the floor onto a stack. This strengthens the obliques and helps with the daily twisting routines. It is similar to the woodchopper exercise. You can substitute Russian Twists and Barbell Swings for this one.
Primarily used to strengthen the hamstrings for heavy lifting at the waist, this is also good for developing lower back muscles—which any farmer will tell you are essential for lifting heavy objects off the floor.
Another power staple to help the glutes and hamstrings for everyday lifting of heavy objects. However, with Good Mornings, instead of pulling the weight up, you will push it.
Carrying unbalanced and heavy weights over long distances is a staple for farmers. And Farmer Carries can be replicated fairly easily and accurately in a gym setting.