One of the best things you can do for your body is to carry luggage. Really! We’re not talking about grunting your shoulder bag through the airport. Instead you can utilize a suitcase or travel bag for a short super-simple exercise that strengthens the body’s core, improves posture and helps prevent back pain. You can do it in the comfort of your own home—and, of course, any time you travel. You do bring luggage, don’t you?

I often teach this “suitcase carry” to my personal training clients. It trains your side muscles (the obliques), which support the lower back and spine, so that they are less likely to torque (twist) and bend in ways that could injure your back. (One popular exercise that makes me wince is the standing side bend with a dumbbell. Deliberately allowing the muscles that support your spine to bend under a load is a lower-back injury waiting to happen!)

What’s good about the suitcase carry: We often carry lopsided loads, whether it’s shopping bags from the car to the kitchen or a carry-on across an airport. This exercise makes you intently focus on your form while you do it so that your side core muscles—specifically, the ones opposite the load—have to engage to keep your whole body level. In the process, you also strengthen your shoulders and your spinal erector muscles, which keep your posture upright. Plus, you get a few more paces in on your step count for the day!

How to do the suitcase carry…

  • Fill a sturdy bag with handles, a cooler—or, heck, a suitcase—with some books, cans of food, or even a few dumbbells. You can also use a gallon of water, which weighs about eight pounds and is a good starting point. The weight should feel heavy enough that you need to focus on keeping your posture straight but not so heavy that doing so is a struggle.
  • Stand to one side of the bag, and bend your knees to pick it up with one hand.
  • Keeping your shoulders broad and square, without leaning to either side, stride forward with purpose down a hallway…across a basement or garage…down a driveway or across the yard—wherever you can find a long, straight path.
  • At the end of your pass—ideally a minimum of 10 paces—bend your knees to lower the bag to the ground.
  • Switch to stand on the other side of the bag, pick it up with your other hand and return to your starting point.
  • Do up to three round trips, as long as you can keep good form. Increase the weight when three round trips becomes too easy. (Remember to also practice good form whenever you’re carrying other things, such as groceries.)
  • To burn more calories and give your obliques more of a workout, try doing this exercise while walking up and down a hill.
  • Practice the suitcase carry three days a week, and you’ll see your core strength increase in just a few weeks.
  • Stop if you feel pain or discomfort in your shoulders or back or anywhere else in your body. Try again in a few days and see how you feel. Note: It’s best to avoid the suitcase-carry exercise if you have problems with your back, hips or knees.

For additional great exercises for strengthening your core, read the Bottom Line article, “7 Ways to Plank for Strength, Flexibility and Balance.

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