The trash can gets really heavy before I take it out
If you lift weights and are over the age of 24, don’t work manual jobs, don’t participate in any sports, and don’t work as a volunteer firefighter, how many opportunities do you routinely have to show off your hard work? could in a practical setting? Maybe from time to time your cousin’s nine-year-old son will challenge you to an impromptu arm-wrestling contest. But most of your displays of power are probably reserved for times when someone asks you without irony to pick things up and put them down.
If your life matches this description, then it seems like all that strength training you engage in is mostly to fill out a suit or look yoked on the beach. Despite the optical benefits involved, the only practical use for all that muscle is to carry heavy objects during the few occasions when such strength becomes a real necessity.
Which begs the question: How strong can you get just by carrying heavy objects? After all, it’s the only practical use for the strength you’ve developed, so why not cut right to the chase and limit your training to carrying Frigidaire coolers and Monster Energy 24-packs from one place to another?
Can you become so strong carrying things of life?
Even without investigating the matter further, I would guess the answer is yes. Organized weight training is a relatively new phenomenon that has matured over the last 140 years. While some of the ancient Greeks did regular strength training while using dumbbells in much the same way we might use modern dumbbells and barbells, dumbbells typically maxed out at 20 pounds each, meaning any movement with training implements customized would have reached a low level. 40 pound ceiling. However, when you see the impressively muscular forms of Greek sculpture, we have to assume that the sculptors had real-world models to draw from.
So with this in mind, it stands to reason that much of the muscle-building activity in the time of the ancient Greeks was the result of everyday jobs, much of which involved lifting and carrying.
No more guesswork! Do you have modern data or observations to back this up?
Well, I’ve done enough farmer carries to know I hate them, so it’s a solid anecdotal start in my mind.
The farmer’s carry consists of lifting a weight, or weights, in the same way that one would carry a bucket of water or a suitcase. In this case, dumbbells and kettlebells are ideal devices for this exercise. By lifting a pair of heavy dumbbells, letting them dangle at your sides, and walking with them while maintaining an upright posture, you’re strengthening all of your leg muscles, along with your back, abs, biceps, and triceps. It’s also extremely functional, as it replicates one of the most common methods of transporting heavy objects in real life settings.
Of course, most of your daily load moves can be trained with front loads. For these, you would take a heavy object, lift it off the ground, and carry it for a set distance. Varying the position of your hands and arms and the way you hold the object will help determine the extent to which your chest and shoulders are involved as well. Either way, your legs, glutes, back, abs, and shoulders will be fired up tremendously, you’ll increase the amount of time your body spends under tension, and you’ll train stabilizer muscles that are often ignored during strength training exercises. in which the weight travels along a given path.
Also, if you want to extend the Greek theme further and train in a way that would make Sisyphus stop his boulder roll long enough to shoot you an approving nod, you could try working out with an Atlas stone. Shaped like rocks, these orbs are extremely heavy and difficult to transport. The mere repetitive act of picking one up and dropping one would be incredibly taxing on his body, and would certainly check many of the functional training boxes, even if he never graduated to walking with the stone in his arms.
Could I theoretically get stronger if this was all I did?
Yes, it certainly could, but as with all things, there are reasons why innovators have struggled to develop exercise and training devices that allow for muscle isolation or prescribed compound movements. It’s much easier to deadlift a 400-pound barbell or squat after removing it from a raised rack than it is to rip a similar-sized rock out of the ground. The same goes for pressing a weight to your chest while your hands are in optimal position, or taking virtually any muscle through its full range of motion. Such moves are far less safe, practical, and beneficial with a rock in hand than with a barbell.
so yes you can get very strong enough to carry objects as long as they are challenging enough to elicit the appropriate metabolic response. Will it give her the full physical development of even an average high school athlete with a coach who regularly tests her limits with a focused regimen of strength training movements? Probably not, but it will make you very popular on moving day.