Fitness enthusiasts looking for a new way to do cardio and burn more calories, need to look no further than "rucking".
Rucking has gained popularity in recent years with the rise of GORUCK, a company that designs, manufactures and sells durable rucksacks. They also host military-inspired endurance challenges led by decorated Special Forces officers.
Army and Marine combat veteran Billy Richards, an endurance athlete, powerlifter and personal trainer, has worn a 45lb or heavier rucksack during hundreds of endurance events. Richards holds dozens of fitness certifications including NASM-CPT, CES, PES, ACE-CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Level 1 CrossFit Coach, and Spartan SGX Coach. And he's offering rucking tips and advice!
Benefits of rucking
How does rucking help build strength?
“Your shoulders, traps, core, back, hips, glutes, legs and stabilizer muscles get stronger from rucking,” says Richards. “Rucking will primarily target type 1 muscle fibers, which require oxygen and high repetitions, versus a set of heavy squats which will target your type II muscle fibers."
And how about cardio?
From a weight loss perspective, you’re burning more calories rucking than walking, because moving the extra mass requires more energy to be expended.
Richards also says that for the most part, rucking is safer on your joints compared to running because it’s slightly lower impact, provided that you’re not running with the ruck itself, which Richards does during marathons. He does Goruck and ruck marching for the challenge and feeling of accomplishment when finishing!
How to start rucking
What gear do I need?
To get started with rucking, you’ll need a sturdy backpack and either weight plates or bricks to fill it. For a backpack, Richards suggests Frost River or any backpack off Amazon.com with an internal frame.
Goruck sells ruck plates, but you can also use round weight plates or bricks wrapped in duct tape. Bricks are generally 4-6 pounds and you’ll want to start with a backpack that has 5-10 pounds of dry weight and increase by 5-10 pounds over time until you reach 45 pounds.
To duct tape the bricks, you can tape them individually then stack them next to each other in a square of four or six. Or, stack the bricks together into a square first, then, duct them all at once.
Is there a special way to pack your ruck?
“When you’re packing your ruck, you want all the heavy stuff as tight to your body as possible or at the top of the bag,” says Richards. “The further away the weight is from your body, the more of an impact it will have on your joints which can lead to injury, so avoid a sagging rucksack. If you can get a backpack with an internal compartment like a laptop sleeve that holds the weight right to your back that would be ideal.”
What shoes are the best for rucking?
Once you’ve got your ruck all set, be sure to wear hiking boots that can absorb a lot of impact. Minimalist running shoes are not ideal for rucking as you will need a lot of cushion and a mid to high ankle support to carry the weight safely.
How to set rucking goals
What is a good starting goal?
Next, set a time goal for walking while wearing the 10-pound (dry) rucksack.
Twenty minutes is a good starting point, but that may be less depending on your fitness level. Keep a straight back and good posture; avoid rounding your back or hunch/lean over.
“In the beginning, you always want to increase your duration before you increase intensity,” Richards explains. “Once you get to the point where you can ruck for an hour, then gradually increase the amount of weight in the pack.”
Are there other ways to utilize a rucksack?
The cool thing about rucking is that the backpack itself can be used for a variety of strength training exercises, whether they’re performed during a walk, at home, or even in the gym. Overhead squats, front squats, lunges, overhead presses, front variations, rotational chops, curls, triceps extensions and thrusters are examples of functional moves to try with a ruck. Essentially anything that can be done with a medicine ball, minus a slam, can be done with a ruck.
“Get creative with your workouts, so you can either break up your ruck walks by doing a couple of sets of a strength exercise after every 5-10 minutes of rucking, or do a whole strength training circuit with a ruck then put it on and walk for 10 minutes straight,” Richards adds. “For me, the benefits have been moving faster and more efficiently when I’m NOT wearing the ruck because I feel lighter without it.”
Any other tips for first time rucking experience?
Safety first! Be sure to pack snacks such as meat jerky, nuts, energy gels, electrolytes, and protein bars in your rucksack in addition to at least 1 liter of water, if going on a 3-5 mile ruck. Pack the ruck so these things are easily accessible and the same goes for warming layers.
Once you’ve got the footwear, clothing, backpack, and weights figured out, throw the ruck on your back and go explore the outdoors!
Mark Barroso is an NSCA-CPT, Spartan SGX Coach, editor/writer for Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Fitness Magazine and Men's Fitness.