People train for ruck marches mainly for the military, but people like myself typically do it recreationally and for ruck competitions like the Tough Ruck or the GORUCK challenge. Whichever event you’re preparing for, It’s not going to be easy. Nevertheless, you are here because you are preparing for an upcoming event and there is a lot to consider. From packing your rucksack, equipment, speed, posture, and more.
While rucking for the military is certainly different than a ruck challenge, the preparation for both is relatively the same. and the tips in here will help you ruck better. This guide will help you from start to finish.
1. Foot Protection
Feet are typically neglected as part of the preparation. People carry a heavy rucksack and are understandably more focused on their back, shoulders, and legs but the feet are overlooked. Your feet are generally less ventilated than other body parts, and typically sweat more than any other body part.
Moist skin causes friction and increases the chances of a blister. This is because the sweat clogs the pores in your feet. A blister can look tiny, but are painful to deal with during your ruck. Your foot can endure pain in many other ways, not just with blisters.
So, how do you protect your feet for a ruck march?
- Wear Socks Made from Merino Wool – great for both cold & hot environments.
- Change socks during ruck
- Use Feet Insoles
- Reduce the weight in your rucksack (if possible)
- Keep your nails short
- Massage your feet – during the ruck to help with inflammation and improve blood circulation
- Always keep your feet dry
We’ve written a post about the best boot insoles for ruck marching as a quick guide on what you should consider when getting insoles.
2. Choose the Right Boots
Whatever happens, do not wear your brand new boots on a ruck event or a typical military ruck march. Wearing your new boots on a long ruck march is bound to end up with nasty blisters. However, if you do have a new pair of boots that your dying to wear, be sure to bring your older boots and alternate between both pairs throughout the event. Before buying new boots though, consider what weather conditions you’ll be rucking in. Dry or wet? hot or cold weather? etc. Make sure your boots have the following qualities:
- Made from durable material (synthetic suede, Cordura etc)
- Waterproof or Water Resistance
- Properly Fit Boots
Properly fit boots is hard to get right. The United States Army Headquarters released a guide that includes the correct way of ensuring your Boots fit you correctly. This is important because if your boots are too loose, it can cause blisters, abrasions, and calluses. If they are too small, it can cause a lot of pressure and I do not wish that pain on anyone, especially on a long and painful ruck march.
If you’re unsure as to which boot to get, we reviewed the best rucking boots as well as the pros and cons of each to help narrow down your choices.
3. Ruck March Training
If you’re new to rucking, consider following a beginners rucking workout program to get a feel for it. That way, you’ll know your strengths and weaknesses and be able to adapt and better strategize for the big day.
To all you military folks, if you’re looking to train for all the ruck marches ahead of you, consider starting with a fighting load. Fighting load is the minimum amount of equipment you will carry that soldiers must carry during combat. Typically, you’ll be required to carry 30% of your bodyweight. Here’s the latest guide according to the US Army.
Bodyweight of individual (lbs)
|Weight (30% of Bodyweight)|
Here’s our list of things to put in a rucksack for weight to help with your training
4. Which Workouts help you Ruck Better?
As you can tell the weight is no joke, 30% of your body weight is a lot. Especially if you’re a beginner. Remember that when rucking in the proper form (more on that below), you are using your legs to carry the weights. So if you do not work out legs (I too suffered from a bad case of the chicken legs) be sure to consider hypertrophy work outs for your legs. Good preparation
- Squats (Good for quadriceps & hamstrings)
- Deadlifts (Good for your back, hamstrings, and glutes)
- Leg press machine
- Leg curl (great for isolating muscle groups like your quads and hamstrings)
Here’s a more in depth post on the best exercises for rucking.
5. How to Pack A Rucksack
Packing a rucksack can be such a pain. When I started preparing and training, I just put whatever I could find around me and pack it in my rucksack. This led me to some serious back pain and is clearly not right away to do it.
Whether you’re prepping for a competition or for the military. Always pack the heaviest items closer to your back and higher up in the rucksack. This is because placing the heavier items closer to your back is closer to your centre of gravity and allows the load to be distributed more evenly across your body. This prevents strain on your shoulders, back, and neck.
According to the US Army, packing heavier items higher up in the rucksack and closer to your body reduces energy consumption by 25% as opposed to carrying heavier items lower in the rucksack and away from your body.
6. Packing Tips – The little things matter the most
It’s the small things that matter, when packing the small hacks will save you time and help preserve your belongings. Here are some tips to follow when packing:
- Use plastic or Ziploc bags to store your clothes. This will come in use when separating your dirty clothes/shoes from the rest of your things. Squeeze out the extra space from the bag to help maximize storage space.
- Use your compartments – The side compartments in your rucksack are there for a reason. Use them to store for their intended purpose. Try to balance both compartments if possible, this will help balance the entire load.
- Place frequently used items on top – Keep in mind that it is best to place heavier items on top of the rucksack.
Posture is extremely important when rucking. You’re typically rucking for miles on miles and having poor posture can just make the pain ten times worse.
The forward lean, also known as the Trunk Lean, happens when the weight is too heavy for the individual and the lean is an attempt to counterbalance the weight. The problem with this approach is it puts a tremendous amount of stress and pain on your lower back and abdominals.
To avoid this make sure your:
- Back is straight with your shoulders rolled back
- Keep the backpack close to your back
- If possible, reduce the weight.
8. Hip Belts
Hip Belts are a true blessing. The purpose of a Hip Belt is to help distribute the weight load evenly across the body. This means that the force and pressure is not solely focused on the shoulders and trapezius muscles.
They also help bring the rucksack closer to your body assisting you with your posture. It transfers the weight solely from your shoulders and traps to your entire body, especially your legs. Hip Belts are great for women as they typically have stronger leg muscles (compared to their upper bodies) and therefore allowing them to carry the weight easier.
Here’s our top recommended rucksacks for rucking which most include a hip belt with the rucksack.
Its a no brainer that you’re going to be sweating a lot when rucking. This is not solely a muscle building workout, but it’s a cardio workout as well. Rucking consumes a lot of energy and as a result of this you will lost a lot of water and electrolytes .
Drinking water will:
- replenish your electrolytes
- regulate your body temperature
- aid in transporting glucose and oxygen to muscles.
Nutrition is of utmost importance in Rucking, as with any other workout. Focusing on macro nutrients is all you really need.
You need Carbohydrates (slow and fast releasing carbs) they provide the body with glucose which is gives you energy. Whole foods are always the best way to go. From fruits and veggies to pasta and rice.
Protein is as important as Carbs. Protein is responsible for recovery and building up your muscle. Those bodybuilders chug down protein for a reason. Through the process of protein synthesis, the protein helps repair damaged tissue sustained during a workout.
Fats come in mainly 4 forms. Trans fat, saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated. Try eating more foods that are from the latter 2 forms, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are fats derived from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. These types of fats are good because they give your body energy and promote the absorption of nutrients and hormones.
Use our rucking calculator to see how many calories you could burn when rucking given your daily caloric intake.
11. Don’t Stop
This is definitely easier said than done. When you’re close to the finish line and have been carrying this heavy rucksack for hours and miles, it can be tempting to just throw it down and stop for a few minutes before getting back to it with a bit more energy.
However, this can actually be counterproductive. If you’re doing a timed competition, as this will add more time to your score. Stopping mid way during your ruck can hinder your overall performance as you will lose momentum.
If need be, slow down and drink water, catch your breath and keep going. Do not sit down! unless necessary of course. It’s going to be a real pain having to put on the heavy rucksack on and strap yourself once you’ve actually sat down and were fully relaxed.
12. It’s Not Always About Speed (Military)
Remember that in the military, speed is not the only thing focused on. March discipline involves paying attention, following instructions, sticking to the formation assigned to you, spacing & distances between elements, and using cover & concealment.
These skills foster teamwork between soldiers of the unit.
13. Don’t Run
Rucking and running are certainly not a good combination. What may end up happening when you run is having the extremely heavy weight load just smack your back. This is going to hurt and consume much more of your energy than you had anticipated. Remember that it’s more about longevity.
If you’re in a competition and time is essential, consider taking longer strides instead. If you’re going uphill, walk in a zigzag motion to save yourself energy and avoid tiring your legs so quickly. On the other hand, if you’re going down hill bend your knees to absorb the shock.
14. Take Care of Blisters
These annoying little bubbles occur as a result of constant friction caused by body parts rubbing together or clothes rubbing against you. You can take steps to prevent them, but sometimes they may still pop up. So here’s what to do before and after a ruck to take care of blisters.
- Apply Bandage or Band air to sensitive areas
- Wear moisture-wicking socks (i.e Merino Wool)
- Apply Powder or petroleum Jelly (like vaseline)
- Cover the blister loosely with a band aid
- Padding – if the blister is on the bottom of your foot or on your heel, cut the padding into a donut shape with a whole in the middle and place that around the affected area.
- Keep area clean & covered
- Avoid popping it.
When your body is under stress, it naturally produces lactic acid which results in soreness and fatigue. Stretching eliminates the lactic acid build up and relaxes the muscle.
Stretching also improves blood circulation and range of motion, and prevents pain after a workout (i.e DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness)).