What is Rucking?
A fortifying physical activity with tons of health benefits that are mental, social, and physical has entered the civilian world from its origins in the United States Army Special Forces, which you’ve probably heard called the Green Berets. Basic training graduates remember (not without some vitriol) the hated ruck march or, as the U.S. Marines call it, the hump. For the uninitiated, a ruck march is a relatively fast-paced march over long distances with a sizeable amount of weight in a rucksack. Ruck marching has come to the civilian world as a toned-down variant of the Green Beret version and on this side of the dividing line, it’s called rucking. The health benefits of rucking are numerous and varied. In addition to providing excellent cardio, rucking can build upper body strength about as effectively as push-ups and work out your glutes as well as lunges ever could.
Because of all these health benefits, rucking is excellent preparation for hiking long distances in the backcountry on a camping trip or backpacking adventure. The improved posture most ruckers gain from rucking for even a short time usually relieves some of the stiffness and lower back pain familiar to many outdoor enthusiasts who are likely puzzling over the source of such pain. This foundation of Special Forces Training is also a great way to get yourself outside on your training program rather than being stuck inside all the time with treadmills, barbells, and dumbbells. The weighted pack used in rucking can be filled with weight plates or sandbags to match the weight of the pack you actually carry with you when you strike out on a camping trip or hiking excursion.
One of the most appealing benefits of rucking is that the strain required to attain the physical health benefits in your posture, glutes, and upper body is not so strenuous that you won’t be able to carry on a conversation while you’re rucking. In the majority of cases, enthusiasts join together to form small crews or simply go rucking with their friends. Everyone gets to know one another better and improve their fitness level with some spirited physical activity. Additionally, rucking can be done virtually anywhere. If there’s no time to trek out to a proper trailhead, you can treat rucking like urban hiking. Many don their weighted backpack and head out rucking right from their own front door. Read on to discover everything a civilian needs to know to start their rucking training program.
GORUCK and other rucking equipment
One of the most central companies to rucking as physical activity is GORUCK, one of the originators of rucking which was founded by a former Green Beret. If you take a look at their product line you’ll get a good idea of what kind of gear is important on short rucks, longer rucks, and everything in between. The three things you absolutely cannot be without if you plan to go rucking for any distance at all are the right shoes, plenty of water, and, as the name would imply, a rucksack. Many readers may know all about how to select the right hiking shoes or hiking boots and what kind of rucksack they need for backpacking, but rucking has different requirements that are unique to this particular pastime.
Let’s start off with the rucksack. Perhaps up to now, you’ve been imagining carrying the same rucksack you have for hiking and backpacking excursions along with you when you go rucking. Technically, that is one option, and one of the benefits of rucking is that it can get you acclimated to carrying your normal pack out on a hiking trail, but if you just want to go out on a quick rucking jaunt without having to bother with all your actual gear or carrying around a possibly gangly and awkward full-on camping and hiking rucksack, consider one of the more streamlined rucking rucks from a company like GORUCK.
The GORUCK rucksack is smaller and more streamlined, so it’s much easier to match the weight and balance distribution of your real pack with sandbags, barbells, dumbbells, or ruck plates with the smaller GORUCK bag than it is to deal with the hassle of all your real camping equipment and packing it all into a full-size rucksack just to go out on a simple 4-mile ruck.
Next, let’s talk about the shoes you need for proper rucking. Just like with the rucksack, you may be thinking of your actual hiking boots, and once again that does make some sense, but one thing to consider is that rucking is meant to be a training program, so why not develop the muscles on your feet and ankles while you’re reaping the benefits of rucking on a comparatively easier training program?
If you switch to lightweight, low-cut shoes, then your ankles will have to engage to support your body weight in the way that hiking boots normally do. If you rely too much on your hiking boots you may face some trouble in the event that they aren’t around once when you need them. To keep your whole body at an at least usable fitness level, it’s smart to work out every part of it during controlled physical activity like a rucking training program.
Finally, every rucker will find out after they try rucking for the first time that rucking really makes you thirsty. There are plenty of water bottles available on the market and for this third critical piece of gear, we’ll go off-book and say that yes, you should bring the same water equipment with you rucking that you would take with you hiking or out to a backcountry campsite.
Whether it’s a Nalgene water bottle or a Camelbak, make sure you bring enough with you to get through the whole planned rucking track. This is one of the nicest things about rucking if you are going out for a quick workout with more of an urban hiking vibe: it’s really easy to replenish drinking water if you’re urban hiking, as cafes and shops are either obliging when it comes to refilling water bottles or else sell water refills for fairly cheap.
How much weight can I take rucking?
This is a central question with rucking since the amount of weight you have in the rucking rucksack is what makes rucking such a challenging physical activity with so many health benefits. Logically, you can probably see that it’s most beneficial to work up to the weight of your actual pack if you are using rucking as a training program for real hikes. If you’re using rucking as a training program to raise your overall fitness level, then you may even want to go beyond that and build toward longer rucks. The most important thing to note when you are considering how heavy a weighted backpack should be for you when you go rucking for the first time is your personal fitness level, the amount of physical activity you’re used to, and what particular health benefits you’re trying to gain.
If you aren’t boasting a high fitness level and aren’t that experienced with carrying a loaded rucksack in general and it’s your first time rucking, then it’s probably advisable that you start rucking without even carrying a rucksack at all, much less a weighted backpack. It may sound odd, given its name, to go rucking without a rucksack, but one of the most powerful health benefits of rucking is how it can strengthen and correct your posture, which will save you lower back pain and help you carry a heavier rucksack after some time developing your lower back and upper body strength. Since posture is so critical and developing bad posture can really hold you back out on the trail, every rucker should make sure they’re walking with the correct form before they even start rucking. The process is simple but it will take some getting used to; don’t expect to get it immediately the first time you try rucking.
Correct posture while rucking
When you’re rucking, just like when you’re long-distance hiking and running, you generally want a slight forward lean with your whole body. Don’t imagine you’ll be bending much, the forward lean is very, very slight. It will increase slightly depending on elevation and speed, but it’s not like taking a bow at a theater and shouldn’t be such a severe lean that you can’t keep your eyes straight ahead at a spot about 10 feet ahead of you. Bear in mind that most of the work of walking is done in the glutes and hamstrings and when you lean too far forward with a bend at the hips you are putting your glutes and hamstrings at a disadvantageous position. Your hips should be pushed forward slightly so that your abdomen is ever so slightly concave.
Many people naturally tend to bend forward at the hip when they carry a heavy rucksack, especially when going uphill, but this puts your body in the wrong alignment and risks injury and overuse to the most critical parts of your body for walking. As you go downhill you may feel more of a leaning forward because of gravity’s pull on you, but that’s perfectly natural. The best way to reap the benefits of rucking on your posture development is to make sure that you are not leaning forward too far when you are out rucking, and this is something you can concentrate on perfecting while rucking without a rucksack. When you have the right form, you can get the rucksack and start to steadily increase the amount of weight inside. If you find it extremely difficult to go rucking with a straight posture, you need to work out your core muscles more before you’ll be able to continue.
How to add weight to a rucking training program
If you’ve sufficiently worked out your core muscles and have found it getting increasingly easier and easier to walk with immaculate posture while you’re out rucking, then you’re ready to add the eponymous rucksack to your rucking training program. Just like you started out slow on your first time rucking, you should also take it slow once you start rucking with a weighted backpack for the first time. Don’t immediately add fifty pounds into the rucksack or you’ll possibly injure yourself and not only get behind on your training program but also wreck any progress you’ve made posture-wise if you’re sufficiently laid-out to keep you away from even urban hiking for a long enough period of time. The right amount of weight when you start carrying a weighted backpack for the first time should be enough that you don’t notice it too much and can continue to make sure your posture is correct.
As you increase the amount of weight you’re carrying, you should do it by small increments so you can continue to work on your posture and make sure you’re walking in the right form to continue supporting a heavy rucksack. Don’t add any amount of weight at all to your rucksack until you can reach your own personal top walking speed without any rucksack at all. Don’t increase the amount of weight you’re carrying with you in your rucksack until you’re completely comfortable carrying the previous amount of weight at your own personal top speed. This will ensure that you continue getting the most cardio you can out of your rucking training program. Every now and again, consider going on longer rucks or adding one or two rucks of long distances before you increase the amount of weight you’re carrying. That way, you can add endurance to the cardio, heart rate, and general fitness level improvements you gain from rucking.
Weights to use when rucking
Rucking is so versatile because it can be done as urban hiking or out on a backcountry trail. Similarly, what you use to make your weighted backpack can be absolutely anything. Some ruckers use pavers they find on the street while others use old schoolbooks that have taught all the lessons they can. Professional rucking gear is available from manufacturers like GORUCK, including ruck plates, which allow for precise weight to be added to the rucksack. You can also use sandbags, dumbbells, or barbells to increase the amount of weight you have in your rucksack. If everything is going well posture and cardio-wise and you want to increase the amount of weight you’re carrying on your next rucking excursion, you can mix the source of your weighted backpack’s weight. Heavy rucks may be too large an increment, so consider adding a small sandbag or a textbook alongside the ruck plates.
To avoid a complete mess in your rucksack when you get back from your rucking outing and prevent any damage to the rucksack itself, you’ll want to properly wrap your weight plate alternatives if you aren’t using ruck plates specifically constructed for rucking. If you’re using pavers or some other material you found while urban hiking to add extra weight to your rucksack, consider wrapping them up in bubble wrap to prevent them from causing damage to the inside of the weighted backpack. If you’re using sandbags, especially DIY sandbags, wrap them up really tightly in multiple layers of high-grade duct-tape to make sure you don’t have a loose sand disaster in the rucksack when you finish rucking. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can use your favorite beverages to add extra weight to your rucksack. Of course, by the time you get finished rucking you may not have a weighted backpack anymore.
How far should I go on a rucking excursion?
Don’t kill yourself trying to carry the same amount of weight that the Green Berets do, especially if you’re reading this guide in preparation for your first time out rucking. You also don’t have to go the same distance every time you go rucking. Just remain fairly consistent with your rucking training program so you can really reap all the fitness level increases and other health benefits from rucking. For a fine rule of thumb, try to ruck a 15-minute mile. That’s slightly quicker than a normal walking speed, more or less, and if it’s difficult for you you can definitely aim for that time without overly stressing yourself.
Rucking over long distances is certainly the way the Special Forces do it, but if you’re looking for a quick-start physical activity to increase your fitness level without having to dedicate an entire afternoon to it or even something you can easily do on a treadmill in half an hour of free time, then rucking is your best bet. If you have an hour, try rucking 2 miles and then turning around. If you’re going along making 15-minute miles, then that’s a fine pace. Like the other aspects of rucking, the distance you ruck is ultimately up to you and your personal goals, but it’s not something that can be rushed. Rucking is a slow burn but an invigorating one.
Rucking comes to us civilians from the Green Berets and it is one of the foundations of Special Forces training, but it’s not only for those who want to get to that extremely high fitness level. Anyone who carries a weighted backpack for school, camping, hiking, or backpacking will enjoy the many health benefits of rucking that begin to appear fairly quickly after you go rucking for the first time. If you keep up a vigorous rucking training program, you’ll find you have a stronger upper body, less lower back pain, and more developed hamstrings and glutes that will help you next time you’re out with a weight to carry.
Best of all, the posture benefits of rucking will train you to walk with your head held high no matter where you are or where you’re going. It’s not only the cardio and increased fitness level that should draw you into rucking, but also the mental clarity it gives to each individual rucker. Furthermore, you can go rucking with just about anybody. Everyone can add whatever amount of weight they desire to their own rucksack. Some may even tag along without any rucksack at all just because it’s pleasant to take a walk and have a chat. There are many health benefits to be had from rucking but what keeps people rucking is more likely to be the overwhelmingly positive experiences and the growing sense of a personal community that builds up as you go rucking more and more. Now that you’ve been briefed on its various aspects, get out there and go rucking for yourself to reap all of its various health benefits and social appeal.
Bonus tip: Watch this video from GoRuck to find out what essentials you need to start rucking!