Most guides to military-style rucking focus squarely on physical preparation. They tell ambitious ruckers to lunge and deadlift their way to a successful ruck march. Yet, it doesn’t matter how big your leg muscles are if you’ve got blistered feet, a poor fitting rucksack and clothes that are hot and uncomfortable.
The real preparation for a weighted march starts the night before your trip. If you’re heading out on an extended ruck, you already have a reasonable degree of physical fitness. It’s the little details that could hold you back. Here are some of the actions we advise taking before and after an extensive ruck.
What to Do Before a Ruck?
Get Plenty of Sleep
Physical performance experts say the human body loses a quarter of its performance capabilities after 24 hours of missed sleep. If you want to ensure peak endurance and efficiency on a march, you need to fully replenish your energy reserves. Even a few hours of restless sleep or one late night before your walk can result in accelerated fatigue and slower reaction times. To ruck for longer, sleep for longer. Have an early night before your march.
It’s not enough to drink lots of water during a ruck march, though this is important. For one thing, every water bottle you carry adds extra weight. To be optimally efficient, you need to start a ruck march fully hydrated. That way, you can carry fewer bottles and give yourself the best shot at finishing. For 2-3 days before a ruck, drink a gallon of water daily.
Break Your Boots In
By all means, invest in boots that are designed for intense walking. Just don’t wear them fresh out of the box. New shoes tend to chafe and pinch because their material is untested. You can fix this fast (even the night before a march) by stuffing them with wet paper. Concentrate on problem areas like the toes and heels.
Beat Those Blisters
You think the weight is the hardest part of a military-style ruck march? Wait for the blisters. Though small, blisters on the feet can quickly become debilitating. This is why soldiers spend a lot of time prepping their feet before a march. One popular strategy is to rub the feet with an anti-fungal powder. It soaks up moisture and reduces the friction which causes blisters.
Eliminate the Chafe
Similarly, you might want to consider applying a balm or glycerine based lubricant such as Vaseline before the march. Rub it over your toes and heels. If your feet are well lubricated, they’re less likely to chafe. Carry the lubricant with you, in your rucksack, and reapply it to any areas which feel like they’re becoming sore during the march.
Wear Two Pairs of Socks
It’s common practice within the military to wear two pairs of socks while ruck marching. It’s yet another way to prevent painful blisters from forming on the feet while walking. It’s important to make the inner sock a thin liner type sock. It wicks away moisture but only rubs against the outer sock, a thicker and rougher sock. It’s better than the sock rubbing against your skin.
Invest in High Quality Boots
Take an example from the military and wear walking boots that are at least 8’’ high. This is especially important if your route crosses water. The outsole should, ideally, be made out of tough rubber or polyether polyurethane. The upper should be made out of a leather or non-mesh fabric. Remember, the best boots for the job aren’t always the prettiest. Sometimes, the toughest shoes are the ones with the most battle scars.
What to Do After a Ruck?
Stretch Those Limbs
After a long ruck, take five minutes to dynamically stretch your legs. You will be tired but try not to skip this step. Butt kickers, leg swings, knee highs and side steps are all effective options. Any movement that requires you to perform a full range of motion with the hips is recommended. Gentle swimming is a great way to take a load off after a march while also preventing your legs from stiffening up.
Tend to Your Sore Feet
Even if you had no trouble with your feet during the ruck march, inspect them afterwards. Any blisters need to be cleaned because they may have come into contact with dirt, fibre and bacteria. Spray popped blisters with an antibacterial spray. Cover the wound with a band-aid but don’t pull it too tight across the skin. Unpopped blisters should be left untouched unless they are making it difficult to walk. In this case, use only a sterilized needle (soak in boiling water) to pop and drain the fluid.
Nurture Your Body
Water is essential for every metabolic function in the body. The more water you replace, the faster you’ll recover. While it’s important to rehydrate, take it gradually. Chug water steadily (little and often) throughout the twenty-four hours following an intense ruck. Feed your tired muscles with high-quality carbohydrates and fats. Nuts, crackers, cheese, oats, grilled poultry, avocado and oily fish like salmon and tuna are some of the best recovery foods.