My first experience with rucking was a bit unique. A few years ago, I received a text message that simply had a date (about 2 weeks away from the time I received the message) and the question “Are you in?” Well … it may not have been the smartest decision, but there are certain people in my life I will always show up for.
“Let's do it,” I said. Long story short, those 3 words committed me to an excruciating 26.6 mile ruck with a dry pack weight of 45lbs. However, ever since that experience, I’ve been hooked.
In recent years, rucking has taken the fitness world by storm. That's for good reason, too! Rucking has a low barrier to entry, you can ruck anytime, anywhere, and there are a ton of benefits.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to commit to a marathon to get started! Today, I'll answer all your questions about rucking. You'll learn what rucking is, the benefits of rucking, how you can get started, and much more!
What is Rucking?
So, what exactly is rucking? This may sound like an overly simple question, but rucking is basically weighted walking. You can go for any given distance with weight on your back, in a pack or “rucksack”.
Rucking has been a staple of military training since before the first World War. According to Jason McCarthy, former Green Beret and founder/CEO of GORUCK, “rucking is the foundation of special forces training”. While the general population may not need to carry massive amounts of supplies over long distances ... many of the benefits of rucking can apply to the civilian world too.
So really, rucking is walking with added weight on your body! That's something that nearly anyone can do for exercise.
What Are the Benefits of Rucking?
I could go on and on about the benefits of rucking, but we are going to focus on 5 major benefits. I'll even break down exactly how you can get started rucking right away!
1. Rucking is Easy to Start/Get Into
One of the biggest benefits of rucking is how easy it is to get into. If you can walk, you can ruck! All you need is a backpack, something heavy to put into it, and a good pair of shoes.
This makes rucking one of the most accessible forms of exercise that you will find! However, even though you can use a backpack and a few textbooks ... I always recommend investing in a rucksack or weighted vest. We'll talk more about why later.
2. Rucking Can Help You Burn More Fat
You may be thinking, “This sounds like an activity for military and outdoor enthusiasts." And while it oftentimes is, rucking is a great way to lose weight for the average joe too.
This is because weight loss is dependent on calories in vs calories out. In order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. One study found that increasing daily movement by just 3,000 steps resulted in improvements in BMI (Body Mass Index) and other health markers (1).
When you add weight to your daily walks, you are able to increase the intensity. This can help your body burn quite a few more calories as a result.
When it comes to how many calories an activity can help your body burn ... it can be estimated using the Metabolic Equivalents of Tasks or "METs." The MET value of any given activity can easily be found in the compendium of physical activity. This is an online library you can use for any activity you do.
Once you find the METs, you just plug it into this equation: METs x 3.5 x Body Weight in Kg/200 = Calories Burned Per Minute
Compared to walking alone, rucking can help burn 2-2.5 more calories per minute! For example, if a 220lb person was to walk for 45 minutes, they would burn roughly 235-394 calories. If that same person went for a 45-minute ruck instead, they could burn about 630-788 calories.
Now, I did give a range because there are other variables that also have an impact, such as pace, weight, and terrain ... so keep that in mind when planning your next ruck.
3. Rucking Can Help Improve Cardiovascular Health
Walking alone is an incredible form of cardio. It's also a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. A 2023 study published by the Journal of American Medicine Association found that those who walked 8,000 steps per day decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality (2). Experts at Harvard report that walking at least 20-30 minutes per day can reduce the risk of heart disease by about 30%!
One of the best ways to increase the intensity to these walks as your body adapts is to add weight. This allows you to keep the heart rate up and challenge yourself even more as you get in better shape. That way, you'll continue to reap the rewards of improved cardiovascular health.
4. Rucking Can Help Increase Your Strength and Endurance
Another great thing about rucking is that it can help your body build strength and endurance.
Because you have to control, move, and resist greater force than regular walking, you are going to cause a greater stimulus to the muscle. As the body adapts to this load, you will get stronger and be able to endure that weight for a longer time.
Plus, you can always add or take away weight to your rucksack. This allows you to achieve progressive overload. This basically means increasing the difficulty over time. This is what your body needs to adapt, normally in terms of muscle size, strength, and endurance.
Rucking is a great way to strengthen the lower body, core, and stabilizers in your upper and lower back. One study even found improvements in power and oxygen uptake after a 10-week load carriage program (3).
This can be super exciting news for anybody with a goal to build strength or endurance!
5. Rucking Can Help Improve Posture
Like I said earlier, rucking is a great way to strengthen your upper back, core, glutes, and hamstrings. These muscles all play a key role in proper posture.
On top of that, a proper fitting pack should pull your shoulders back and encourage good posture. This can even happen naturally, since poor posture can make rucking way more difficult.
Bonus Benefit: Rucking Is Fun!
Now, I understand this may not apply to everyone, but another added benefit to rucking is how fun it can be! It's a great excuse to get outside, soak up some sun, and get some movement in with friends or family.
There are even ruck clubs you can join in just about any major city in the U.S. I have a group of friends that I will go ruck with from time to time.
Sometimes, I'll even get my family together to throw on a rucksack and explore the great outdoors. That time is so valuable to me, and I highly recommend it!
How To Get Started With Rucking Now
If you're looking to get started, that's the easy part! Grab a backpack, load it up, and get moving. It's recommended to start with about 10-20% of your bodyweight for 2-4 miles. Over time, you can increase the weight and distance.
Now, let's talk about picking out an actual rucksack. I definitely don't recommend using a backpack forever.
Rucksacks: Why You Need It and Picking the Right One
While you can get started with a backpack, you need to find a solid rucksack or weighted vest as soon as you can. This is especially important as you add more weight, to help carry the load effectively. After all, they are designed specifically for rucking.
They have more padding on the straps and lower back area, and place the weight in the correct position. This can help avoid stress on your lower back, make the ruck more comfortable, and encourage good posture.
You'll also be able to load a rucksack or weighted vest with far more weight than a normal hiking backpack or sack. Picking the right one for you all comes down to the size of your body, and how much weight you're looking to hold. For the most part though, they are relatively universal in sizing.
Loading Your Rucksack
When you get a rucksack or weighted vest, most of them will come without weights. The good news is, the same companies that offer them often sell weight plates too. These plates are designed to sit comfortably inside the vest or rucksack. You can even get all sorts of different weights.
If you don't have plates, you can use virtually anything in the meantime as the weight. A lot of people will use water bottles, textbooks, or even regular weight plates. Some weighted vests can even hold sandbags.
I actually took a trip to Utah with my family once and forgot to take my ruck plates with me. I just found a few large, flat rocks and slid them into the weight compartment of my rucksack!
Get Up and Get Rucking!
Once you’ve got your rucksack loaded, all that’s left to do is lace up some comfortable shoes or boots and go! If you’re just starting out on your rucking journey, go 2-4 miles and ruck 1-2 times per week.
According to GORUCK you should aim for a pace of around 15 minutes per mile on your ruck. If your pace falls closer to 20 minutes per mile, you should consider reducing the weight and increasing your pace.
Just be sure you don't go too hard right out of the gate ... that can put you at risk of injury, overtraining, and an abundance of soreness.
That's all I have for you today though! However, if you have any other questions when it comes to your health or fitness ... that's what we're here for! We all have goals, and we want to make sure you reach yours.
That's why we offer the 1st Phorm App and free support whenever you need it. Download the app or reach out to us anytime! We have a team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches who are happy to help out. Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stphorm.com.
(1) Hornbuckle, Lyndsey M et al. “Effects of a 12-Month Pedometer-Based Walking Intervention in Women of Low Socioeconomic Status.” Clinical medicine insights. Women's health vol. 9,Suppl 1 75-84. 6 Oct. 2016, doi:10.4137/CMWH.S39636
(2) Inoue K, Tsugawa Y, Mayeda ER, Ritz B. Association of Daily Step Patterns With Mortality in US Adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e235174. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.5174
(3) Wills, Jodie A et al. “Load-Carriage Conditioning Elicits Task-Specific Physical and Psychophysical Improvements in Males.” Journal of strength and conditioning researchvol. 33,9 (2019): 2338-2343. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003243
(4) Corliss, Julie. “Revitalize Your Walking Routine.” Harvard Health, Feb. 2023, www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/revitalize-your-walking-routine.