We do not imitate, but are a model to others. - Pericles
Remember when Anchorman came out and jogging was all the rage? All kidding aside, rucking is like walking, but with a weights on your shoulders and back. Sounds simple right? That’s because it is. Now, slap some weight on your back and get after it because rucking is one of the best and easiest things one can do to improve cardiovascular health and overall fitness.
Rucking is a new take on an old form of exercise. It involves walking, hiking or running with a weighted vest or backpack. Some even wear the ruck while doing everyday activities. You haven’t lived until you’ve formatted an excel file with a 30 pound ruck on all the while Charlie Parker’s The Bird is on blast…Suburban gangsters are real, but I digress. The extra weight takes one’s normal walk and turns up the intensity.
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Rucking is excellent form of exercise. It's a great way to enjoy nature, get fresh air (or stare at the walls/tv while walking on a treadmill), and improve endurance while burning as much calories as running without the impact on your joints. What’s not to like? The extra weight, that’s what. Nothing worthwhile in life is truly easy, so throw on the ruck and get to work.
What the Ruck
Rucking is a form of exercise and the concept is simple: it’s walking or hiking a set distance while carrying a weight on your back. Rucking (also known as ruck marching) has military origins, and the name comes from the word rucksack — a durable backpack meant for carrying heavy loads.
If you are on a budget you don’t necessarily need a rucksack to give this exercise a try — you just need a backpack. Load it with weight (and grab some hydration) and go for a walk. You can choose the terrain you walk on, the distance, and intensity to match your needs. Truly keep it simple, load up and go.
There is no complexity and very little special equipment. All you need is a backpack, some weight, and a desire to move. There are even special groups that meet up to ruck together. They provide camaraderie and a shared desire to challenge yourself.
Become who you are by learning who you are - Pindar
Rucking evolved out of military training and dates back to the first iron-clad army, in the seventh century B.C. The ability to march a certain distance carrying a load of equipment is central to almost all military units and is still a part of military training today.
In the armed forces, ruck marches involve carrying a load of standard military issue gear over a set distance. In basic training, Army rangers are required to carry a 35-pound rucksack over 12 miles and maintain a pace of, at most, 15 minutes per mile. If this sounds daunting then you need to start loading up and going. 12 miles off the couch is not reasonable, but one can work towards this benchmark with persistence.
In the civilian world, the backpacks used for rucking tend to be lighter with more accommodating straps for comfort. The popularity of this activity has increased in recent years.
Rucking improves strength, endurance, and general fitness. For example, a 2019 study found participants had lower ratings of perceived exertion after a 10-week load carrying program, while their muscular power and oxygen intake also improved.
Another study found that there may be some sex-specific differences in the cardiovascular response to a rucking training program, but for both men and women, this type of training improved muscle power and lowered ratings of perceived exertion.
Rucking has also been shown to improve muscle power in older people. This research implies rucking could offer an effective training program for preventing sarcopenia and other degenerative muscular conditions that lead to falls and injury in senior populations.
Walking with weight also increases the calorie burn of your normal walk. The added weight means you have more mass to move. Consequently, this increases the amount of energy needed to move at the same pace you would without the weight.
Rucking typically involves adding weight to a rucksack or backpack which only adds weight to the back of your body. This un-even load can cause discomfort and back pain. Weight vests on the other hand load weight evenly on the front and back and for those reasons it is a better choice for many than a rucksack or backpack for rucking.
There are many more reasons why weight vests are superior (especially if you choose the right one).
When choosing whether to buy either a weight vest or rucksack for rucking, here are the main things to consider.
Comfort and Form
Rucksack plates typically only go up to 45lbs. This may be a good weight for long distance that are over 5 miles. However for shorter distances it is not enough weight to really garner an intense rucking session.
Weight vests on the other hand can go up to 225lbs. This weight can be very challenging even for short rucking sessions of 1mile.
In addition, it can be great practice for firefighters and military personnel who may want to be prepared to carry a person on their back in emergency situations.
When rucking, you’ll experience less pounding on the knees than when running, making rucking a good choice for low-impact exercise. The weight also requires more force from your muscles, which makes rucking a cardiovascular exercise that will build strength and stamina, too.
If you are new to exercising or haven’t hiked much, then it is best to start slowly. Start with a 2 mile distance. Grab your backpack and load it with 10% of your bodyweight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, then you would load your pack with 15 pounds.
You can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, rocks, or even bottles of water. For the best comfort when carrying, secure the weight as best as you can so that it doesn’t move or bounce around. Keep your straps tight and the weight high on your back.
While the military uses the target pace of 15 minutes per mile, aim for 20 minutes per mile when you begin.
Leave enough room in the pack to carry some form of hydration. You are upping the ante on the amount of energy you’re burning. Thus, you’ll produce more heat and sweat more.
As your fitness increases, you can increase the amount of weight you carry, the speed you’re walking, or the distance you are rucking. However, to avoid overtraining, try to only increase one of these at a time.
If your goal is to increase strength, then focus on increasing the load weight. If your goal is to increase endurance, add to your distance to make the ruck more challenging.
According to the US Army, a 180-pound person rucking at a pace of 15 minutes per mile can expect to burn the following calories:
Let’s compare that to running. A 180-pound person running at a pace of 6 miles per hour (which equates to a 10 minute mile) without weight will burn roughly 840 calories per hour. That equals about 140 calories per mile.
To cover the same ground as listed in the chart above, a 180-pound person running at the pace of 6 miles per hour would burn 518 calories over 3.7 miles, 1120 calories over 8 miles, and 1680 calories over 12 miles.
While your calorie burn is dependent on your pace for both rucking and running, and on the weight carried when rucking, mile for mile, rucking typically burns more calories than running.
If conflict is like bad weather, women try to stay out of it, whereas men buy an umbrella - Franz De Waal
Walk before rucking. You should not be rucking if you have not started walking. First, walk every day for 30 minutes. After a month or so, add weight or distance/speed if walking is getting easier.
Start with a vest. If you do not have a ruck, consider starting out with a weight vest.
Work on progression. No matter what your starting point, progress by adding 5-10 pounds to your ruck or weight vest every few weeks with a goal of up to 20% of bodyweight.
If you are not running yet, do not ruck. You really should have a running foundation prior to rucking.
If you do not lift weights or you skip leg days regularly, do not ruck yet. When carrying extra weight in addition to your own body weight, it will require your legs, hips, lower back and upper body to be strong, especially when rucking 25%-40% of your body weight. Doing exercises such as deadlifts, squats, front squats and lunges with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or sandbags will help you build the strength foundation needed when progressing into rucking.
Do not ruck daily. You can progress into running daily over time, but your rucks should be limited to two a week maximum, similar to heavy-lifting leg days.
Consider the marathon model. When preparing for longer rucks (12+ miles) or difficult events such as Bataan Death March run/ruck or GoRuck heavy, you should consider progressing by using a model similar to half-marathon or marathon training. Replace the long run with a ruck each week.
Take care of your feet. If you are going to ruck for long distances, you need to toughen up your feet. Do more barefoot walking on sand, wear two pairs of socks (one pair of a cotton/wool type and one thin, polyester/rayon blend pair against the skin), place fitted inserts into your boots/shoes and monitor your feet when you can, especially if they get wet.
Have patience and trust in the process. You need time to prepare properly for rucking. Unless you have a great foundation in strength and running already, it could be a long journey before your body can handle rucking without serious injury. Even then, you still should progress with rucking logically and not jump into a 10-mile ruck on Day 1. This process could take a year or more.
Know that rucking sucks. I compare rucking to treading water. Many people can swim, but treading is a challenge for many lean athletes. If you do not realize that treading is difficult, it can be a shock. Same for rucking. Many people can run and think, "How much harder can rucking be?" You will not know until you practice rucking (and treading) and get good at it, just like any other skill in athletics. Once again, it takes time. A regular workout can take hours or fill up an entire afternoon. Be willing to invest that kind of time into your progressions each week, building up your level of rucking skill.
Rucking and running do go hand in hand. Consider rucking a more difficult way to walk and, when you need to pick up the pace, you can adjust your cadence and increase your speed to resemble running.
Building up from the minimum standards of a 15-minute mile pace to competitive programs that require closer to a 10-minute mile pace (or faster with heavier weight and longer distances) takes time, as with any cardio activity.
Rucking is a more difficult way to run/shuffle. Be prepared for that difficulty, or failure to perform or injury could prevent you from advancing in your training programs.
Rucking can burn more calories than running. Variables such as the weight of your pack and the speed you walk vs. the speed you run make a difference in how many calories you will burn. Now go ruck around and find out.
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