Rucking, or “ruck marching” is the act of you moving from point A to point B with a certain amount of weight on your back inside a rucksack (backpack). If you ever walked to school with your books in your backpack – that’s rucking. If you’ve gone hiking with a pack filled with food and water, and perhaps a sleeping bag attached…that’s also rucking.
You don’t have to have rugged terrain or some kind of Navy SEAL or SOF environment to ruck.
Rucking can be done anywhere you have ground to cover, a backpack, and something weighted you can put into it. It’s also a great way to build stamina, cardio, and functional fitness.
There are all sorts of things you can use—dumbbells, kettlebells, duct tape-covered gallon bags of sand in various weights, books…even groceries.
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Rucking burns tons of calories and is one of my favorite functional fitness workouts to do. You can mix it up, too. I’ll ruck a certain distance, stop and do plank holds or squats (or both), and then continue. After another certain distance, I’ll repeat it.
One thing I also like to do is ruck near a park where I can add in some kind of workout using the jungle gym — pull-ups, angled push-ups.
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Rucking burns tons of calories and is one of my favorite functional fitness workouts to do. You can mix it up, too. I’ll ruck a certain distance, stop and do plank holds or squats (or both) and then continue on. After another certain distance, I’ll repeat it.
One thing I also like to do is ruck near a park where I can add in some kind of workout using the jungle gym—pull-ups, angled push-ups.
Check out this article: SGPT Ruck March Workout.
If you’re new to rucking, or it’s been awhile, start with about 10lbs in your ruck and gradually add more weight. Starting off with too much too fast too soon can lead to injury.
Rucking Vs Backpacking
Have you ever been on a refreshing walk through a scenic route that stretched for miles? If you carry your supplies in a backpack while walking, then you were rucking.
The distinguishing factor between rucking and backpacking is the goal and the destination.
The purpose of backpacking is to hike to a destination.
On the other hand, when you are rucking, you are deliberately marching. Your goal here is to condition your body to cover long distances on various terrain while carrying weight for physical preparation.
Ruck Marching Tips
Here are a few ruck marching tips that we have come up with over the years of moving things around on our backs.
TIP #1: A Ruck With An Internal Frame Works Great
I like one with a hip strap and shoulder mid-strap to help secure the load and keep it riding close to my body.
If your training for the military or you have a job where you work outside and need to ruck in gear (environmental consultant, park ranger, emergency medic, etc.) you will need to have a good internal frame backpack.
Using an ill fitting backpack will only add to your misery. If you are a professional or training for an event – it is wise to make sure your backpack fits well.
During Navy SEAL training at BUD/S we used the old Alice pack during the land phase (Phase 3).
Later on the Teams we used a pack called the Berghaus that was larger and had hip straps and very durable.
You will need to load up your water and some gear and possibly food to get out down range to do your job.
Here are a few tips to help get you in shape for working outdoors and rucking gear to your next location.
QUESTION: Do you have a particular ruck you could recommend?
ANSWER: Yes—check out the 5.11 Tactical Rush Backpack @ Amazon.com.
QUESTION: What is a good ruck/backpack for military training? Preferably MOLLE with a slimmer design. I had a GORUCK SD20, but it was too small and GORUCK was too pricey to upgrade. Could you please give me a GORUCK alternative that can support a good amount of weight?
ANSWER: An Alice pack is a good alternative that is much cheaper and can be used for training.
QUESTION: What is a good backpack for practice rucking?
ANSWER: Try the Alice pack for starting out and practicing.
QUESTION: What is the ruck sack that was used in BUDS Navy SEAL training? I want to get one to train like that.
ANSWER: In BUD/S they use the G.I. Type Alice Pack.
TIP #2: CENTER YOUR WEIGHT
I learned this fast in the SEALs as I was the radio operator. That meant I had to carry the radio and my additional gear, making it a heavy ruck.
A great way to mimic mass weight like that is to use a sandbag.
Centering your weight takes the stress off your shoulders and lower back. You can center your weight using towels or yoga blocks wrapped in towels, then putting in the weight, then adding another towel or two to make the weight snug.
Check out this video on how to make a sandbag for your ruck.
QUESTION: Do you have any particular socks you recommend?
ANSWER: Yes, we like the Fox River Adult Military Boot Socks.
ANSWER: Yes, we like the Fox River Adult Military Boot Socks. We used to wear the wool/cotton blend dive socks, but now they wear Darn Tough Vermont Merino wool socks at BUDS. I also have a pair of the new Darn Tough socks, and they are very good.
QUESTION: Can I use compression socks on a long ruck march?
ANSWER: Yes; compression socks are good for any long distance endurance event.
TIP #3: Break in Your Boots Ahead of An Event
Do not take them fresh out of the box and wear them on a 5-mile hike. That’s a fast way to get bad blisters fast. Fresh boots will shred your feet on a big hike.
Break them in slowly and be ready for later long distance hiking.
Check out this article—Foot Care for Special Forces Athletes. Even if you’re not wanting an SOF slot, the article still works. It also works for people wearing hiking boots and wanting to keep their feet healthy with running shoes.
Once broken in, your boots and shoes should not hurt your feet.
QUESTION: I am interested in joining the Navy SEALs, where can I find out more info on the Navy?
ANSWER: Check out this website.
QUESTION: Do you have a combat boot you recommend?
ANSWER: Check out the Lowa Men’s Zephyr Mid TF Hiking Boot.
QUESTION: What socks do you wear at buds?
What You Should Know About Rucking Footwear
If you are in the military, the footwear is chosen for you. You will wear combat boots as you ruck because you need to train while you fight.
Make sure the boots are the right fit by pushing your heel to the back of the boot. This should leave some room at the front of the toe, just not too much.
Feet swell when you ruck, this is why there should be room for expansion. Try the boots on with the thickness socks you intend to wear in the field.
For recreational athletes and everyone just beginning to experience rucking, the ideal shoe is the less shoe. The less shoe means that it has a minimal heel-toe drop as well as less support.
However, the barefoot shoe is an exception for individuals who are overweight either with excess muscle or adipose tissue.
If you are either of these two individuals you will require more cushioning than the barefoot shoe can provide.
In the end, the choice of a rucking shoe is an individual decision based on your experience.
Why You Should Wear the Lesser Rucking Shoe
When you wear shoes that keep your feet closer to the ground, you minimize the chances of your ankle rolling. This eliminates the need for the ankle support provided by boots.
As a result, your lower leg gets stronger and accustomed, itself, to providing ankle stability.
Boots offer excess arch and foot support. In the long run, this is detrimental to the legs and feet. The excessive support means that the foot navigates and supports less of the body weight.
TIP #4: Carry Extra Water and Supplies in Case of Problems
Even if you’re rucking near your home, a good way to suffer is to struggle along dehydrated and hungry. You can carry water bottles, but many athletes prefer to carry a water bladder in their ruck.
Carry water even in cool or cold weather. You may not be hot or sweating, but you lose water through your breath. Dehydration may not happen as fast in cold weather as hot, but it still happens.
That means, if you are rucking in heat, be aware of your body in the heat and shield yourself from the sun with a hat and bandanna and sunscreen.
If it is hot, I like to put a t-shirt I’ve soaked in water on my head a to keep me cool.
QUESTION: Have you ever heard of athletes using Pedialyte on a long hike with hot weather?
ANSWER: Yes; you could use Pedialite but you could also just use Gatorade in a 50/50 water mixture or just add a Nuun tablet as they have no sugar and work just as well.
QUESTION: Coach, can I go rucking with my book bag?
ANSWER: You can, but make sure you have a way to get the weight centered in the top of the bag. Be careful as many book bags are not set up to carry lots of weight as the straps will probably break. Good luck.
TIP #5: Try a Weighted Vest
If you don’t have a ruck/backpack then try a weighted vest as they work great as dual purpose at the gym for pull-ups, push-ups, squats, rowing sessions—anything where you’re moving your body around and want to create extra resistance. .
If you’ve got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.
Many come with slots for weights so you can vary the load. This is also a great thing to start out with to build up stamina and endurance, then move to a heavier ruck.
Question: I own a vest and a ruck and was wondering if there were any major differences between doing a bodyweight workout with using one over the other. I did a 1 hr. AMRAP of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats yesterday and used a 20 lb vest but was wondering if the ruck would have made any differences.
Answer: The ruck is purely on your back vs the weight vest is spread out on front and back. So yes, there will be a difference.
QUESTION: I am in the Army. What are some stretches to do prior to a ruck march?
ANSWER: I would do a mobility warmup of slowly kicking legs forward and backwards—10 each leg. Then side to side kicks. Then a light jog then walking lunges.
QUESTION: My ruck pack is digging into my lower back. What can I do?
ANSWER: Add kidney pads or use foam rubber and duck tape to create a cushion.
TIP #6: Mirror the Rangers and SEALS
To train effectively try to mirror what the Rangers and SEALs are using so that when you get to the training you will be ready to go and acclimated to that type of gear.
One thing you can do is find a heavy branch to carry in your arms, or take a piece of PVC piping that’s about 4ft in length, cap it off on one end, fill it with sand, then cap off the other end.
Vary how you carry that—across your chest, in one hand, then the other (upright or parallel with the ground), across your shoulders. The weight is approximately that of a rifle.
QUESTION: Can I add a hip strap for my GoRuck backpack?
ANSWER: Yes; you can add a hip strap to help you hold the load and take extra pressure off your shoulders, helping you ruck further Check out GoRuck’s new ruck add ons.
QUESTION: How to improve your time on the “pack test”?
ANSWER: The Work Capacity Test (WCT), known informally as the pack test, is a U.S. Forest Service physical test for wildland firefighters. The pack test is intentionally stressful as it tests the capacity of muscular strength and aerobic endurance of the firefighter. There are three tests known as arduous, moderate, and light. The pack test may be given as part of the S-130/S-190 basic wildland firefighter course.
The firefighter will need to train a minimum of 4 weeks before the test with the boots and gear needed for the job. It is recommended that the firefighter train for the arduous test by building up their aerobic fitness, first by hiking 3 miles with no pack, then by jogging on a flat course without a pack, then later add the pack and hike hills to build leg strength. Increase weight slowly until the firefighter can hike 3 miles in 45 minutes while carrying 45 pounds.
TIP #7: Slowly Build Distance, Weight, and Resistance
Start out with a short ruck march and slowly build your distance up. Add hills over time. Keep a training log of your distance, terrain and time.
For Kokoro an athlete should have rucked 20 miles in hills continuously. For 20X you should hike 8 miles in hills in your training before the event.
What are some tips for tips for ruck marching in the rain? If you have a pair of waterproof boots that is a good start. I also throw on a poncho or rain jacket to keep the water out. You can also get a cover for your backpack to keep the water out.
QUESTION: Hey brad, just got done reading the 3 tips from a special forces operator article. I wanted to ask you what is a good starting weight for rucking. I haven’t ever done it before but need to start doing and and want your advice on how to start and how to build up distance and weight. Very respectfully,
ANSWER: Good question, Cordell. I would start out with 15 to 20 lbs (water, gear, small sand bag or food).
QUESTION: How far would Navy SEALs hike?
ANSWER: In BUD/S, you end up hiking a dozen miles or so but it was through harsh terrain like a boulder choked ravine. Practice now with a ruck on longer hikes as that is one less thing you will have to worry about later.
QUESTION: How much does Special Forces back pack weigh?
ANSWER: Depending on the mission and terrain, it can weigh as much as 100 lbs or more.
QUESTION: What are good Navy SEAL training methods for ruck marching?
ANSWER: Put on your ruck with 30 lbs plus and go hiking in the mountains. Start slow and work your way up.
BONUS TIP #1: Use Moleskin for Blisters
A good way to fix a blister during a ruck march is to put a piece of moleskin (with a hole cut out of center) on the blister. Then put duct tape on top of that.
A recent Kokoro graduate used that method for four days at the Turning Steel course in Montana.
Another tip we’ve heard is to wear nylon stockings — yes, the kind women wear. The nylon creates a smooth barrier that prevents any chafing directly on the skin.
Check out this article for more tips on getting help with preventing blisters: How to Prevent Blisters with Double Socks
QUESTION: Coach, do hikes help train for the Navy SEALs?.
ANSWER: Yes, you can use ruck marching to help train for any Special Forces.
QUESTION: Coach, what are tips for ruck marching faster?
ANSWER: Answer: First off — don’t run. To ruck march faster you need to get your body used to rucking. This will enable you to ruck longer and harder without taking breaks. With a heavier pack you are more apt to stopping which will eat up time if you are on a timed ruck and need to get to a destination.
QUESTION: Will squats help you ruck march?
ANSWER: Yes. Air squats and weighted squats are good. Also add in walking lunges. You can also do them with your pack on.
BONUS TIP #2: Show Up to Your Event Prepared
Your boots should be broken in, you should be familiar with rucking. You should work up to training with a heavier weight than you might at your event.
Also, do not go into the event thinking it’s all about the mental. While that’s a huge part, if you’re not physically prepared for the event, your body will break down.
So don’t show up at SEALFIT Kokoro Camp or a GoRuck Challenge having never worn a ruck and with boots that are not broken in. You will pay severely for that mistake.
QUESTION: Should I train for ruck marches in boots?
ANSWER: Yes; train how you will fight.
QUESTION: Do you use a hip strap on ruck marches?
ANSWER: Yes; we like to use one if your carrying a heavier load. Check out the Us Army Molle Desert Camo Molded Waist Belt.
QUESTION: I keep getting chafed when I go out on ruck marches – what do you do to prevent this?
ANSWER: I use Bodyglide anti-chafe balm in my crotch area, feet and nipples. We also recommend wearing compression shorts when hiking or on long endurance events.
When there is minimal leg and foot support during hiking, you develop more strength and balance on those parts. This prevents or reverses muscle tissue atrophy.
Some cases of foot and lower leg pain comes from weakened muscles not providing enough support to the foot arch.
Therefore, for your rucking training, the less support and stabilization that comes from the shoe is beneficial. However, do not ditch your over-supportive boots overnight to a minimal shoe. This will cause some serious pain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness. After passing Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp at BUD/S, he failed a math test and was kicked out of training. A year later, he returned, graduated, and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams.
Check out SEALgrinderPT Coaching to help you step up and take hold of your dreams and realize your goals.
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