SPECIAL EXERCISES SERIES – No.10 Kettlebell Cross Carry

I love carries for so many reasons! Obviously, they are great for conditioning, but more importantly they specifically target 2 things you really need to be strong: grip strength and core strength. And when I talk about grip, I don’t mean just what’s going on in your hands, but what’s going on all the way up your arm to your scapular chain.

While it won’t work your grip (at the hand) like a brutally heavy farmer’s carry, the kettlebell cross carry is a variation I like to use that solicits scapular chain stability and challenges the core differently.

What is it good for?

  1. The front gripped KB challenges your core, the opposite overhead gripped KB challenges your shoulder/scap stability, and the contrast really drives reactive strength through the core and hips. In fact, just holding that position (if you’re using KBs that are heavy enough) is challenging in itself.
  1. If your grip (or traps) is fatigued from something else you did in your training, you can throw in this carry variation and still reap some great benefits for the core.

How is it done? What do you need to avoid?

  1. Rack one kettlebell at the shoulder, and clear your checkpoints: wrist neutral, thumb touching the collarbone, forearm perpendicular to the floor and kettlebell cradled between the arm and forearm.
  1. Press the opposite kettlebell overhead. You should be active through the shoulder, pressing the KB up and packing the shoulder, keeping the lat engaged.
  1. Be aware of your torso position. If your front racked KB is too heavy you will be rotated towards that side.

What are the best loading parameters? When to use it?

Like any carry, you won’t get an effect if you use a weight that is too light. You’re not carrying in the groceries here…

Typically, you’ll be able to handle a heavier kettlebell at the shoulder than overhead, but you could use the same weight as well. Play around with it and see what works best for you.

I like to use this in core circuits or add it to a conditioning complex, which might look like this:

Use a typical barbell complex such as a barbell squat, press, row, Romanian deadlift complex working through your rounds at 6 reps, 5 reps, 4 reps (and so on) and throw in 20m/each side of the KB cross carry at the end of each round. Doing the carry when you’re winded is even more challenging!

Here’s an even more difficult complex you could use it with:

Hang clean
Military press
Front squat
Cross Carry


Mai-Linh Dovan

Written by Mai-Linh Dovan

Mai-Linh Dovan has been involved in the strength and conditioning field for over 15 years.  She holds a Specialization Bachelor’s in Athletic Therapy and a Masters’ degree in Exercise Science from Concordia University, where she worked in collaborati…