BY JERRY FRAWLEY
You might be wondering if rucking is a good workout or even if you can get stronger just by walking with a weighted backpack, but ruck training has turned humans into endurance athletes since the beginning of time.
Ruck training is a full-body, functional fitness workout that uses cardio and strength training to build muscle, burn fat, and keeps your back healthy and strong. Rucking can improve your performance in running, hiking, and other sports requiring steady-state endurance over long distances by building your aerobic and muscular endurance.
Rucking is a foundation for good functional fitness.
Modern ruck training gear, the rucksack, was born out of necessity in the 19th century. Soldiers needed to move, and they had to move all encampments and their essentials on their backs. Before that time, rucksacks were more rudimentary tools, but people still used them to move things they needed over long distances. (Here’s a great link to the earliest known rucksack carried by Ötzi the Iceman, who lived between 3400 and 3100 B.C.)
Before the industrial revolution, people never thought of going to a gym. They spent the day in the fields, carrying heavy things, and then slept like a baby all night, just to wake up and do it again. Every day was leg day, and exercise wasn’t something that was scheduled on their calendar. Daily exercise was needed for survival, and rucking was a natural part of that activity. People walked and carried heavy things, along with bending, pushing, pulling, and hauling.
In the 21st century, while we try our best to find something new and design the perfect gym to work out in, or take the ideal class, sometimes, we instinctually know what our bodies need. Along with clean air, fresh water, and nourishing food, moving heavy things across distances keeps your body healthy and doing what bodies have always naturally done. So let’s dig a little into how rucking truly is a great workout.
Rucking is like running with none of the drawbacks
Like running, you can control how far and fast you ruck. You choose your pace, distance, and environment. For example, you can ruck on a treadmill at a gym, in the middle of a city, or on a trail. If you only have ten minutes, you can take a fast, short ruck. If you’ve got time, a ruck can last all day. You can start immediately with a backpack, some weight for resistance, and a pair of good shoes.
Before learning about rucking, I used to love running and planned to run a marathon one day. Unfortunately, I had to have knee surgery. After that, running became much harder. But I learned a secret: rucking is a running hack. It gives you all the great cardio and calorie burn without the pounding on your joints. The Army determined that a 180 lb man rucking with 35 lbs on his back burns more calories than the same man running with no weight. (680 calories vs. 518 calories). Even when we compare rucking to just walking, rucking still burns 3x’s more calories!
Rucking can also help improve your run times. Once you get used to rucking a 35 lb plate for 6 miles at a 13-minute mile, running the exact same 6 miles without any weight feels like a breeze. You’ll improve your split times, your legs will be more muscular, and you’ll have more overall endurance. Mixing a week of running and rucking is a great way to cross-train symbiotically.
Adding rucking to other workouts
While rucking gives you a cardio and strength workout all at once, you may want to up the game a little. Adding intensity to your ruck with bodyweight or ruck exercises is easy. Step over to the side of the trail throughout your ruck, and add push-ups, burpees, squats, ruck swings, and flutter kicks to your miles to break up the ruck and add some extra muscle. In addition, your ruck can step in for the weight resistance of dumbbells for hundreds of different exercises. PATHFINDER has tons of workouts to choose from, and you’ll learn how to do these exercises safely and effectively.
A sample ruck & exercise plan:
Ruck half mile
12 x push-ups
Ruck half mile
12 x squats
Ruck half mile
12 x alternating forward lunges
Ruck half mile
12 x ruck-front sit-ups
Rinse and repeat two to four more times!
How I know rucking is a good workout
I was 43 years old. I had Type II Diabetes for three years, and it seemed to be getting worse each month. My blood sugar was 150 fasting, and my A1C was closing in on 10 ( the average is 5.6). It wasn’t improving, even while taking 1500mg of a standard diabetes medicine, Metformin.
I was dying.
One day after a disappointing doctor’s visit, I decided to take control of my health. I didn’t know what to do, so I started a program that insisted on a daily outdoor workout. I used to run, but my knee didn’t like that idea, so I began to walk. After a couple of weeks, I was frustrated with the lack of challenge. Then, I found the book “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. The author told of his adventures hunting in Alaska for the first time. While the story was captivating, his description of rucking changed my life. I put the book down, grabbed a cheap Amazon ruck and a ten-pound bag of potatoes, and headed out on my first ruck. I was hooked instantly.
After that experience, I wanted to know more. I wanted to get better. Was there a way to train for this, I wondered? One day, I told my wife that all I wanted was to find a program to help me learn to ruck and to give me a plan of action. She made it a mission to find an answer, and that answer was the PATHFINDER program. I signed up for Endure, and I never let up. As I write this, I have a fasting blood sugar of 90 or less and an A1C of 5.6. My body is 45lbs lighter, and I take zero meds. I have no gym memberships. I play no sports. All I do is ruck is train for rucking events.
Rucking saved my life.
How do I begin rucking?
Start small. All you need is a decent backpack and some weight. PATHFINDER recommends starting with ten pounds, but you can start with less if you need to. Make sure the bag fits squarely on your shoulders and back, and if it doesn’t, or it pulls you in any direction, adjust it until it’s perfect.
As far as training goes, head on over to PATHFINDER. There’s a program for every fitness level. All the programs come with 12 weeks' worth of exercises, challenges, and access to log all your hard work, plus access to a Course Advisor for any questions or concerns. I’ve completed four programs, and they’ve all been game changers.
Rucking isn’t a trend. It’s the O.G. of exercising. Rucking uses your natural movement to create a perfect workout that works your cardiovascular system and muscular system at the same time. But there’s also something else that makes rucking a great workout. Rucking is a community. What seems like a solitary sport is very much a social activity. Rucking groups, clubs, and teams are popping up everywhere. There’s no better way to make a lifelong friend than to share a 20-mile ruck. Rucking brings people together from all walks of life, ages, shapes, and sizes. As long as you can walk, you can ruck.
So are you ready to get started? Rucking is waiting. Will you take on the challenge? Get training today and reach your biggest goals.
Check out PATHFINDER's program options:
Learning what rucking is all about? PATHFINDER Life
Training for a GORUCK Basic? PATHFINDER Forward
Training for a GORUCK Challenge? PATHFINDER Endure
Training for a GORUCK Heavy? PATHFINDER Advanced
Training for a GORUCK Star Course? PATHFINDER Horizon
Training for a GBF OPERATION STIRLING or mountain backpacking? PATHFINDER Stirling
Looking for personalized training for your unique goals? PATHFINDER XP
Need help with your fueling or some weight loss to hit your goals? PATHFINDER Personalized Nutrition Coaching