What Is Rucking: A Comprehensive Guide To Getting Started

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Rucking, a simple yet effective full-body workout, combines walking with the added resistance of a weighted backpack.

This activity, suitable for a wide range of fitness levels, builds endurance, strength, and cardiovascular health. By adjusting the weight carried and the distance covered, rucking can be scaled to meet individual fitness goals, making it an accessible exercise for both beginners and seasoned athletes.

Beyond physical fitness, rucking also offers mental health benefits. The straightforward nature of the exercise, requiring minimal equipment, allows participants to clear their minds, enjoy outdoor environments, and connect with others if done in groups.

Rucking promotes not just physical strength but also encourages good posture, and can be a foundation for building a supportive community around a shared fitness practice.

Key Takeaways

  • Rucking is an effective and accessible form of exercise that enhances full-body conditioning and strength.
  • It is low impact on the joints, making it a suitable alternative to running, and offers various progression methods.
  • Starting rucking requires minimal equipment, with a focus on even weight distribution and supportive footwear.

What Is Rucking?

Rucking, also known as a ruck march, is a form of exercise that involves walking or hiking while carrying a weighted backpack. Originating from military training, where soldiers carry a “rucksack” loaded with gear, rucking has evolved into a popular fitness activity for civilians.

The backpack, often loaded according to the individual’s fitness level, adds resistance to the exercise, enhancing the benefits over regular walking.

Key Components of Rucking:

  • Weight: A rucksack is loaded typically ranging from 10% to 20% of a person’s body weight.
  • Distance: Varies based on fitness level; can be a few miles for beginners to much longer treks for experienced ruckers.
  • Pace: Generally at a brisk walk, with speed adjusted according to load and individual capability.

Physical Benefits:

  • Increases cardiovascular endurance
  • Strengthens muscles, particularly in the lower body and core
  • Improves posture and stability


  • A quality backpack with the ability to evenly distribute weight
  • Hydration system or water bottle
  • Comfortable clothing and supportive footwear

Rucking requires little to no specialization in technique, making it accessible for wide-ranging fitness levels. It is a practical exercise as it combines strength training with cardiovascular work.

Enthusiasts often cite the mental grit and resilience built through rucking as additional benefits, likening it to the challenges faced during military endurance exercises.

Why Rucking?

  • Conditioning: It demands greater muscle effort to carry additional weight, which increases calorie burn. Thus, a shorter ruck can be as beneficial as a longer walk, or one could extend the ruck for added benefit.
  • Customizable Challenge: As proficiency increases, adjustments can be made to the weight, distance, or speed to continuously raise the bar without extending the training duration unduly.
  • Joint-Friendly: Rucking is a low-impact alternative to running. It’s gentle on the knees while still offering a comprehensive workout.

Physical Benefits Of Rucking

Rucking is more than just a walk with a backpack; it provides a dynamic, full-body workout that targets improvement in cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and aids in the effective management of weight.

Enhanced Cardiovascular Fitness

Rucking is a form of cardio exercise that also counts as resistance training due to the added weight carried. Engaging in regular rucking can help improve cardiovascular system performance and increase aerobic fitness. By stressing the heart and lungs, it promotes heart health and can lead to better cardio endurance over time.

Strength And Endurance Building

The resistance aspect of rucking comes from the added weight, making it a significant strength training exercise. It targets key muscle groups:

  • Leg Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, and calves
  • Core Muscles: Abs and lower back
  • Upper Body: Shoulders and upper back

Regular rucking can lead to improvements in overall body strength and posture, while also building endurance as the body adapts to sustained activity under load.

Weight Management

With rucking, the calorie burn is higher than walking and comparable to running:

ActivityCalories Burned per Hour*

*this can vary based on individual weight, backpack weight, and intensity of the activity

As a result, rucking assists with weight control and can be a robust tool for individuals looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight while enhancing their overall fitness.

Health Advantages

  • Bone Health: Long-duration weight-bearing activity is known to fortify bones.
  • Outdoor Benefits: Time spent outdoors contributes to better mental health by functioning as a moving meditation.

How To Ruck

Getting Started with Rucking

Beginning rucking is uncomplicated:

  • Start with a standard backpack and simple weights like water bottles.
  • Place the heaviest items close to the back for an even, comfortable load.
  • For a more advanced setup, opt for a backpack with hip belts and chest straps, which better distribute the load, paired with wider straps to diminish skin irritation.
  • Footwear with ankle support is advised initially, but minimalist shoes can enhance the natural movement of the feet, potentially reducing the risk of injuries like twisted ankles.

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Rucking Technique And Safety

Proper technique and safety measures are crucial when engaging in rucking to ensure an effective workout while minimizing the risk of injuries. Attention should be paid to maintaining correct form, using the right gear, and employing strategies to prevent and manage common injuries.

Proper Form And Posture

When rucking, one should focus on maintaining a neutral spine and engaging the core muscles to support the back. The shoulders should be rolled back, and the chest kept open to facilitate good posture.

It is recommended to keep the head up, looking forward, and the chin parallel to the ground to avoid neck strain. The hips, knees, and feet should align with each step, and the feet should roll from heel to toe. This alignment reduces the stress on the body, especially the lower back, knees, and hips.

Maintaining Proper Form:

  • Neutral spine: Keep a straight back without overarching
  • Shoulders: Roll back and don’t slump
  • Head: Look ahead with chin parallel to the ground
  • Hips/Knees/Feet alignment: Step such that hips, knees, and feet are in a straight line
  • Foot strike: Heel to toe motion

Appropriate Gear Selection

Choosing the correct gear is essential for a safe and comfortable ruck. The choice of a rucksack or a weighted backpack should be based on comfort and fit, ensuring that it does not sway excessively, which can lead to imbalance and unnecessary strain.

Adjustable straps are preferable to secure the backpack close to the body, preventing it from pulling the rucker backward. Padded straps can also reduce the strain on the shoulders.

For footwear, one must opt for shoes that offer support and traction. Cushioned, supportive shoes can reduce the impact on the feet and joints, while proper hydration and nutrition are important to prevent fatigue and overuse injuries.

Gear Checklist:

  • Rucksack/Backpack: Comfortable, snug fit with adjustable straps
  • Shoes: Supportive, cushioned, and appropriate for terrain
  • Hydration: Easy access to water to maintain hydration levels

Rucking Workouts

Rucking combines walking with resistance training by carrying a weighted rucksack, offering benefits of strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness.

Basic Rucking Exercises

The foundation of rucking workouts involves steady marches with a weighted pack to build up endurance and strength. New ruckers often start with a lightweight of around 10 pounds and gradually increase as they adapt. Basic exercises include:

  • Structured walks: A planned route with a rucksack, typically starting at 1-3 miles.
  • Ruck marches: Longer distance walking at a brisk pace to simulate military marches.

Advanced Rucking Challenges

For more experienced individuals, advanced rucking challenges incorporate increased weights and distances, requiring greater physical and mental resilience. Exercises for seasoned ruckers include:

  • Hilly terrain rucks: Incorporating varied elevation to intensify the workout.
  • Timed challenges: Completing a certain distance within a limited time frame to push speed and endurance.

Comparing Rucking To Other Activities

This section provides insight into how rucking stands alongside running, its benefits for cross-training, and its significance in military training.

Rucking vs Running

Rucking involves walking with a weighted backpack, effectively blending cardiovascular exercise with strength training. Unlike running, which is a high-impact activity that can be tough on the joints, rucking offers a lower-impact alternative.

While running emphasizes cardio endurance and leg strength, rucking engages the lower body, core, and upper body due to the added weight. It’s a versatile workout that can help prevent overuse injuries associated with repetitive motion.

Rucking For Cross-Training

As a cross-training activity, rucking enhances overall fitness by building strength and endurance. It creates a unique exercise experience that can improve performance in a variety of sports.

Incorporating rucking into a cross-training regimen benefits areas such as core stability, balance, and the endurance of lower body muscles, complementing other exercises like yoga, cycling, or martial arts.

Rucking In The Military

In a military context, rucking, commonly referred to as a ruck march, is integral to military training. The Army uses rucking to prepare soldiers for the physical demands of carrying heavy gear over varied terrain.

As a staple of military fitness, rucking builds both mental and physical resilience, preparing service members for the rigors of active duty. Military training emphasizes the multifaceted nature of rucking, combining strength, endurance, and low-impact conditioning essential for combat readiness.

Community And Motivation

Joining ruck clubs and sharing experiences are pivotal for sustaining motivation and enhancing the mental health benefits of rucking. Rucking has evolved to include a strong community aspect, where individuals with varying fitness levels come together.

Joining Ruck Clubs

Ruck clubs are local or online groups that bring together enthusiasts to participate in rucking activities. These clubs are essential for:

  • Building camaraderie: They foster a sense of community among members, which can be motivating for maintaining fitness routines.
  • Diversity in fitness: Clubs welcome individuals regardless of their fitness levels, aiding beginners and challenging the experienced.
  • Skill enhancement: Members can learn from each other, whether it’s choosing the right rucking boots or improving their technique.

Sharing Rucking Experiences

Sharing experiences through rucking can have significant benefits:

  • Mental health support: Conversations within the community can provide emotional support and promote mental well-being.
  • Knowledge exchange: Members often share insights from publications like the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to inform their practice.
  • Tracking progress: Individuals often use club platforms to log their experiences, which can be motivational and help to track their fitness evolution.

Nutrition And Hydration For Ruckers

Proper nutrition and hydration are fundamental for ruckers to maintain energy levels and performance. Strategies for fueling and fluid intake can significantly impact endurance and recovery.

Optimal Nutritional Strategies

For ruckers, meeting caloric needs is essential due to the high energy expenditure of the activity. A balanced intake of macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—is vital:

  • Carbohydrates: They should consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and starchy vegetables to provide a stable energy release.
  • Proteins: Lean proteins like chicken, fish, and legumes are crucial for muscle repair.
  • Fats: Healthy fats from sources like avocados and nuts support sustained energy.

Pre-ruck meals and snacks should focus on carbohydrates with moderate protein and low fat to facilitate digestion and energy usage. Post-ruck, they should prioritize protein intake alongside carbohydrates to aid muscle recovery.

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Hydration And Performance

Hydration is not simply about drinking water; it’s about maintaining fluid balance before, during, and after rucking. Ruckers should drink water consistently throughout the day and adjust intake based on the duration and intensity of their ruck:

  • Pre-Ruck: Drink 17–20 ounces of water 2–3 hours before starting.
  • During Ruck: Sip small amounts regularly. Carrying water bottles or a hydration bladder can ensure water is readily accessible.
  • Post-Ruck: Rehydrate with 16–24 ounces of water for every pound lost.

Electrolytes play a role in preventing hyponatremia (low blood sodium), and they may choose to use an electrolyte replacement solution during long rucks. Monitoring urine color is a practical way for ruckers to assess their hydration level, aiming for a light straw hue.


Psychological Aspects Of Rucking

Rucking is more than just a physical challenge; it imparts significant mental health benefits, promoting mental resilience and stress relief through a unique blend of physical exertion and psychological conditioning.

Mental Resilience And Rucking

Rucking – the act of walking with a weighted backpack – is a practice that fosters mental toughness. Participants face the physical challenge voluntarily, which translates into a mental exercise, enhancing their ability to persevere through difficult situations.

This form of exercise promotes a sense of accomplishment and improved self-esteem, as individuals learn to push past perceived limits. The challenge inherent in rucking, therefore, contributes to mental resilience, fortifying one’s mental fortitude and capacity to handle life’s stressors.

Benefits Of Mental Resilience Developed Through Rucking:

  • Increases in self-confidence
  • Enhanced ability to cope with challenging situations
  • A strong sense of personal accomplishment

Stress Relief And Rucking

Rucking operates as a stress-relief tool, offering a meditative experience that diverges from typical high-intensity workouts. The rhythmic nature of walking coupled with the added weight provides a steady, focused physical activity that requires mindfulness, which can be a form of active relaxation.

The release of endorphins during this low-impact exercise helps in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, the simplicity and predictability of the task allow one’s mind to take a break from the complexity of daily life, fostering a sense of inner peace and relaxation.

Ways Rucking Alleviates Stress:

  • Triggers the release of endorphins, reducing feelings of stress
  • Encourages mindfulness and present-moment focus
  • Provides a break from daily life complexity, aiding relaxation

Long-Term Health And Rucking

Rucking, as a fitness practice, intertwines the benefits of cardiovascular health and resistance training with the nuances of longevity and the aging process.

Rucking For Lifelong Fitness

Rucking is an excellent example of low-impact exercise that promotes lifelong physical fitness. It is essentially walking with a weighted backpack, which amplifies the exercise intensity compared to a regular walk.

This activity engages multiple muscle groups – including the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and core – thus strengthening the body’s muscular system. Longevity in physical fitness is not solely about muscle strength; it also encompasses cardiovascular endurance.

By elevating the heart rate, rucking enhances cardiovascular health without the high impact of activities like running. The combination of aerobic and resistance training is instrumental for maintaining fitness levels as one ages.

  • Cardiovascular Health: Rucking increases heart rate for improved heart health.
  • Muscle Strength: Engages lower body and core muscles, reinforcing muscle conditioning.
  • Bone Density: The added weight during rucking can aid in maintaining bone density.

Rucking And Aging

As individuals age, the importance of low-impact, yet effective, forms of exercise becomes more pronounced. Rucking offers a sustainable fitness routine that can lower the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

The resistance element of rucking is pivotal in supporting bone health, which is crucial to counteract the age-related decline in bone density. Additionally, the activity can help enhance joint mobility, which often deteriorates with age.

By incorporating this practice into their exercise regimen, older adults can work towards better weight management, another vital component of healthy aging.

  • Joint Mobility: Regular rucking can contribute to improved joint function.
  • Weight Management: Acts as a caloric burner while being manageable for various fitness levels.
  • Bone and Joint Health: The activity supports bone strength and joint resilience, which can lessen age-related vulnerabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses some of the most common inquiries about rucking, providing valuable insights for both beginners and experienced ruckers.

What Type Of Backpack Is Best For Rucking?

For rucking, a durable backpack designed for weight distribution, such as the GORUCK Rucker or the 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 Military Backpack, is recommended. They are built to withstand the added stress of weighted contents.

How Does Rucking Compare To Running In Terms Of Physical Benefits?

Rucking offers a lower-impact alternative to running, reducing the risk of joint injuries. It combines strength training and cardio, leading to improvements in endurance, posture, and core strength.

What Physical Changes Can One Expect From Rucking Regularly?

Regular rucking can lead to increased muscle tone, especially in the legs, core, and back, improved cardiovascular health, and enhanced endurance. One may also see a reduction in body fat due to the caloric burn from the activity.

Is There An Age At Which Rucking Is Not Advisable?

There is no specific age limit for rucking, but individuals should consider their physical fitness, existing health conditions, and consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if they are elderly or have pre-existing conditions.

Can Rucking Lead To Any Long-Term Injuries?

When done with proper technique and appropriate weight, the risk of long-term injuries is minimal. However, carrying too much weight or rucking without regard for proper form can lead to stress injuries, particularly in the knees and back.

How Much Weight Should One Carry When Starting To Ruck?

Beginners should start with a weight that is approximately 10% of their body weight. They can gradually increase the weight as they build strength and endurance to prevent overexertion and injury.

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