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  • Writer's pictureKen Schafer

How to Get Started with Rucking

Updated: Jan 7


Introduction

Rucking is like any fitness activity. You want to start easy and progressively increase the difficulty as you work toward your goals. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Some people want to prepare for competitions, and others may just want to feel comfortable during their day hikes. Your training should accommodate all those factors. In fitness, there are no “one-size-fits-all” training programs. Well, not if they are any good.



A man rucking with pack in the wilderness
Rucking on Trails



Variables

Four main variables determine the difficulty level in rucking load, speed, technique, and terrain.


Load


The most obvious variable is the load or weight you carry. Most civilians will train and compete with 20 to 45 lbs. People training for military applications will often train with 60 or more pounds.  However, it’s not just about the actual weight in your pack but also how it is distributed. The most efficient way to distribute the weight is close to your body and up near your shoulders. If you center the weight at the bottom of your pack and let it shift away from your body, you will have to work harder to walk/hike/run/ruck due to very well-understood laws of physics. 


Assuming the weight is distributed properly, you can consider your pack's actual weight. I encourage you to consider the weight as a percentage of your body weight. With some training, most people will quickly become comfortable with about 25 percent of their body weight. After that point, improvements will be more incremental. Again, everyone is different, and your experiences may vary. 


Speed


How fast you walk is just as important as the weight you carry. Speed will be the most challenging aspect of your training if you are interested in competitions. For competitions and military training, 4 miles/hr is considered the standard for speed. That doesn’t mean four mph has to be your goal. Your goals are entirely up to you.


Unfortunately, walking at 4 to 5 miles/hr requires practice because it is not a natural pace for a walking gait. At that speed, it’s a toss-up whether it’s more efficient to walk or jog. Fast walking will generally be easier for taller people than it is for shorter people. 


If your goal is to ruck at 4 to 5 miles/hr, start with light loads and develop your speed-walking technique first. After achieving your desired pace, go up in weight. Again, your goals are to you. In fact, if your goal is to prepare for backpacking, you may want to focus on heavier loads at a slower pace.


Running with a ruck should be considered advanced training and not for beginners. If you are going to do this, it is vitally important that you start out with good running technique. If you have any problems with pain when you run, absolutely do not run with a ruck until you get the problems sorted out. Ultimately, most of the pain associated with running is due to poor running technique.


Technique


Just like with running, the biggest problem I see with rucking technique is overstriding. Many people mistakenly think that increasing your stride length will make you walk or run faster. Unfortunately, they have it backward. The faster you walk and run, the longer your stride will be. Stride length is a function of speed. Speed is not a function of stride length.  You should always put your foot down as close to your center of gravity as possible.


Here is a link to a video on basic rucking technique by the people who wrote the article I linked above - Rucking Technique Video.


Terrain


Terrain will significantly affect your speed. As a short, late middle-aged man with a 60 lbs pack, I can usually train at four mph or faster on flat ground with good footing. The area in which I live is quite hilly, though. As soon as I hit the hills, my speed is reduced to usually around 3.0 to 3.5 mph. Of course, it depends on the slope and length of the hills.  Adjust your expectations accordingly. 

Helpful Rules of Thumb 


Here are some helpful rules of thumb about how these variables will affect your rucking. In my personal experience, these are pretty much correct. (See link to the article below)


  1. Every one percent of your body weight makes you six seconds slower per mile.

  2. Ten percent grade incline cuts your speed in half.

  3. Going up slows you down twice as much as going down speeds you up.


How To Get Started 


For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you are generally healthy and can walk briskly without issues. If that’s not the case, you are probably not ready to start rucking. Please contact me for a more suitable training plan. 


Pick a Course


As a beginner, it is better to pick a flat course. Generally, you want a course that you can finish within 60 minutes. For most people, three (3) to five (5) Km (2 to 3 miles) is a good distance to start with. Also, make sure the course has good footing and is safe.


Get a Good Rucking Pack


You will need a decent pack, especially as you increase your weight. I wrote an article on how to build an inexpensive rucking pack.


Start Rucking

Start with a very light pack. I suggest no more than 10 percent of your body weight. It’s okay to start with less. Focus on walking briskly with proper technique and achieving your desired speed.


Incremental Improvement


Each week, or when you feel ready, add no more than 5 to 10 percent of your body weight to your pack. Less weight is fine. After adding the weight, focus again on waking briskly with good form. Don’t add weight if you cannot maintain your desired speed and distance. Keep doing this until you reach your goal weight or 25 percent of your body weight, whichever comes first.


Time to Think about More Advanced Training.


Once you are rucking with 25 percent of your body weight, then it’s time to consider a more advanced program where the weight, speed, distance, and terrain vary from workout to workout. Of course, some people just want to keep things simple, which is absolutely fine. 


How Far and How Much Time 


For beginners, start with distances you can cover in 30 to 60 mins. As you get fitter and faster, you can increase the distance.


How Often


I recommend 2 to 4 times a week for beginners. You need more recovery time if you feel burnt out, tired, or sore during most of your workouts. Cut back on the number of workouts for more recovery time. If you feel fresh during most of your workouts, consider doing them more often.


How Fast


This will vary a lot from person to person. Start with light weights at a comfortable pace. When you are ready, focus on increasing the speed. The faster you go, the more technique matters. You will probably have to experiment with your technique if you want to achieve a sustained walking speed of 4 mph or faster. As always, start easy and incrementally increase the difficulty.


Supplemental Training for Rucking


Weight Training


Depending on your goals, you should supplement your rucking with other forms of training. Rucking, especially with heavier loads, will require leg and “core” strength. I recommend adopting a weight training program if you struggle to increase your pack load. The specifics of the program will vary from person to person. 


Running and Biking


Running and biking are also excellent ways to supplement your rucking. Personally, I’m not much of a biker, but it’s an excellent form of training. I do know a lot about running. Unfortunately, many people take up rucking because they hate to run. Usually, they hate running because they run with terrible technique. Like or hate it, running will push your aerobic and “cardio” fitness much more than rucking. So, a little running will go a long way to help your endurance for rucking. 


Other Forms of Training


There are many forms of strength and endurance training. I can’t possibly address them all here. Weights, biking, and running are among the most common and accessible. These are only examples, so don’t let them limit you.





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