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When rosters start rucking, they usually put weight in their ruck in one of two ways.
1. They buy the fancy plate at the weight the "other guys" are using. OR
2. They fill a backpack with heavy books they never read, packed/wrapped sandbags, random bricks (if they've heard old-school stories, they'll even tape and wrap them with cabinet liner mesh), cast iron skillets, kettlebells, dumbbells, a Costco-sized bag of rice...whatever they have around that's heavy and fits ok.
There's not really a right or wrong way to weight your ruck when you're starting out. (You'll hear a lot of debate on plates vs random heavy objects, but it comes down to what you have, what you can afford, and what you can comfortably train with.)
How do you know what weight is right for you when you're starting out?
Let's get this out of the way first, because we view these weights as your baseline standard for training and Event prep:
Under 150lbs bodyweight = 20lbs dry weight in your ruck
Over 150lbs bodyweight = 30lbs dry weight in your ruck
*Dry weight does not include your water, snacks, extra clothing, accessories, etc. Always anticipate more in your ruck and train accordingly.
** Always verify your required Event weight while planning your training.
So how should you work up to this?
Take into account your height, weight and fitness level (including if your traps, core and lower back are strong). If you're still working on your core, it really is best to start with less weight than you might want to. If you're tall, heavier and relatively strong, you can start at the higher end of beginner. If you're light, petite or have a smaller frame, the lower end of beginner might be more comfortable.
We have found the sweet spot for a true beginner of any bodyweight to weight their ruck between 9-13 lbs.
It's just enough to notice the weight, but most importantly, it's enough to practice the foundations of good rucking posture without scrambling your brain with concerns about speed, distance, or needing to zone out on what podcast you're listening to ignore the discomfort. (Of course, there's always a beginner who needs 5, or another who jumps to 20 right away with ease, but both of those tend to be outliers.)
The easiest way to start with smaller weights is with either a 10lb ruck plate or with a combination of objects - like a 10lb barbell plate, a 5lb barbell plate or 2.5lb barbell plate, or another various grouping. (For an economical version, you can also get a 2 gallon wrapped ziploc bag filled with sand for small increases.) Ruck with this weight until it feels comfortable and easy. We recommend you train with your beginner weight for 2 weeks before slowly increasing. You can weigh your ruck in one of two ways:
- Stand on your scale, no ruck. Stand on your scale with ruck. Math the difference.
- Get a luggage weight scale that has a digital readout.
How do I increase my ruck weight?
PATHFINDER recommends a 10% increase in ruck weight every two weeks. (Or slightly earlier. If you're training 5x week, you might be ready at the week and a half mark.) If you're currently in Life or Forward, your ruck weight increases would looks similar to this chart:
START: 12 lbs ruck
Week 3: Increase to 13.2 lbs
Week 5: Increase to 14.5 lbs
Week 7: Increase to 15.9 lbs
Week 9: Increase to 17.5 lbs
Week 11: Increase to 19.3 lbs
End of Class: 20 lbs
Obviously, you're not going to be exact here - round to the easiest weight for you. We've kept the decimals in for our rosters who might want to be exacting.
You might also be saying - 'this looks like a really tiny increase over 12 weeks.'
We'd say, yep.
It's supposed to be.
When you're a beginner, improving conditioning and core strength are important to create more stamina over time. This is why Life and Forward (and to some extent, Endure) do not have ruck weight requirements for PATHFINDER Challenges.
I'm planning on doing an Event in 12 weeks. Will I be ready?
Starting Weight Evaluation
You need to wisely determine if you are capable of beginning to train with the starting weight you calculated. An easy way to do this is to complete the 2-mile Baseline Performance ruck with your calculated starting weight at a target pace of 17:30/mile and a Perceived Rate of Exertion from 4 to 6 on a scale of 10. A 4 to 6 should feel like a comfortable but brisk pace, and you should be able to comfortably hold a brief conversation frequently. You should be able to breathe fully and with control, and be without pain or muscle straining. If your perceived rate of exertion is any higher than a 6, it's wise to reconsider your current event plans and make a course correction.
Progression for Events with Weight Standards
If you are training for an event with a specific weight standard that must be carried, like most GORUCK events, you must take into account not only the dry weight requirement for the event but also the additional required gear you will be carrying with you when you are planning your progression.
The best way to plan is to acquire all the gear you expect to carry during your event before you begin training, including food and water, as well as reflective gear, electrolyte tabs, spare socks, first aid, tape, headlamp...literally everything. Then pack your ruck with your dry weight and weigh it all together (you can expect to have an additional 5 to maybe even 10 pounds of weight - 3 liters of water weighs 6.5 pounds on its own).
The weight of your fully packed ruck is the target weight you are training up to. Take that weight and back down the progression ladder as shown above to determine your starting weight. If you want to be precise about it, divide that weight by 1.10 six times to reach your starting weight.
I'm ready to take this to the next level
So let's say that you're not new, but you've been stuck at the same ruck weight for a while. The same principles still apply. If you're at 30 lbs dry ruck weight, you take an Endure class to train for Advanced.
START: 30 lbs
Week 3: 33 lbs
Week 5: 36.3 lbs
Week 7: 39.93 lbs
Week 9: 43.92 lbs
Week 11: 45lbs (or, your 10% increase of 48.3)
END OF CLASS: 48.3 lbs
Regardless of where you are - fitness level or goal, a small, incremental weight addition over time will give you the best overall results. It will feel less noticeable, and that's the indication of any really great training plan - you're doing more and working harder - but with less noticeable effort.
We hope you've now got a greater understanding of how to increase your dry ruck weight over time and how to grow your overall ruck weight capacity. A minimal 10% addition, every two weeks, gives your ligaments, tendons and brain a chance to acclimate to heavier weights without overwhelming your system or creating a greater potential for injury.