The Fundamentals of Rucking

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Airman participates in ruck march.
South Carolina Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Eric Hiximer, with the 169th Security Forces Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., embark on a nine-mile ruck march on base, April 11, 2015. (2nd Lt. Stephen D. Hudson/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

If you're preparing for a career in special ops, training for a challenging tactical school or even just getting ready for events such as Bataan or GoRuck, you need to prepare for rucking.

What is a ruck? Great question tackled some of the training/pacing strategies that you should consider as you progress into rucking. There are many paths to take when preparing to ruck, but start by understanding the rules.

The Rules of Rucking

  1. 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. See beginner running program.
  2. Start with a vest. If you do not have a ruck, consider starting out with a weight vest, then advance to military-issue rucking gear (if joining the military).
  3. Work on progression. No matter what your starting point, progress by adding 5-10 pounds to your ruck or weight vest every few weeks.
  4. If you are not running yet, do not ruck. You really should have a running foundation prior to rucking, especially within the military, as your rucks will be long and some will be a fast shuffle pace that resembles jogging (with shorter/higher strides per minute stride cadence).
  5. 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 tactical strength foundation needed when progressing into rucking.
  6. 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. In fact, our training groups preparing for Army/USMC/spec-ops programs will ruck on leg days each week.
  7. Consider the marathon model. When preparing for longer rucks (12+ miles in the military) 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 to you when tasked with treading drills in Navy, Air Force and recon-type selection programs. 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 (typical military) 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 military training programs.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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