What is Rucking? – Complete Guide to Rucking in 2021

Rucking group rucking together
Photo Credit: Jon West

Rucking is a Low Intensity Interval training workout that involves walking with a weighted rucksack for a set distance. Rucking has numerous benefits such as building muscle strength, improving your cardio, and more.

Table of Contents:

1. What Is Rucking
2. Benefits of Rucking
3. Is Rucking Good For You
4. How To Start Rucking
5. Can You Ruck Everyday
6. What Rucking Gear Do you Need To Get Started
7. What Is A Rucksack
8. How To Progress
9. What Is a Ruck March In The Army
10. Why Should You Ruck

The next time you hear about a hot new fitness trend, consider its level of accessibility. Often, popular fitness movements sell themselves on being convenient and carefree, the type of hobby you can get stuck into in just a few hours. The problem is, it’s rarely accurate. Now and then though, a fitness trend comes along that delivers on the promise.

Rucking is an increasingly popular form of cardio exercise. Its biggest strength is it makes fitness as easy as one, two, three, walk. It takes the most instinctive form of exercise human beings have – walking – and ups the difficulty.

What Is Rucking?

Rucking is a workout that involves walking while carrying a weighted rucksack/backpack. Sometimes referred to as ‘foot marching‘, Rucking is a workout that improves your cardiovascular system and strengthens your muscles.

‘Ruckers,’ as its proponents are known, place a free weight in a rucksack and carry it as they walk outdoors. You can use almost anything to increase resistance, from gym plates to water bottles, books or any heavy items you might find around the home.

It’s thought that every military in the world uses rucking and ruck marches as part of drills and fitness training. It’s cheap, easy and highly effective. The additional load challenges endurance and forces the biggest muscles to work harder and, thus, grow stronger. It works because it is functional: rucking is just everyday movement with an added twist.

Benefits of Rucking

Group of ruckers rucking together
Photo Credit: Jon West

There is a reason as to why militaries world wide choose rucking and ruck marching as a pillar of physical conditioning. It’s a comprehensive workout that offers tremendous benefits. Here are some of the benefits of rucking:

Improves Muscle StrengthRucking is a compound exercise that requires you to stimulate and use multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Your leg muscles are utilized when using a hip belt to carry the load. Your shoulders (deltoids) are strengthened from constantly carrying the load. Learn more about how each muscle is improved when rucking.
Improves Cardiovascular FitnessRucking is a LISS (Low Intensity Steady-State) workout. Meaning that it typically requires you to exercise for longer periods of time compared to sprints and runs.
Rucking helps you get in shapeRucking is a great way to get in shape, this is because LISS workouts promotes body recomposition.
Aids in Posture ImprovementThe weight of the backpack / rucksack pulls the shoulders back while walking. The longer you ruck, the longer you practice fixing your posture.
AccessibleYou can start rucking as long as you can walk and have a rucksack to get you started.
Socially StimulatingThere are tons of local events that gets everyone together and people ruck together.

Here’s a complete list of rucking benefits!

Is Rucking A Good Workout

Rucking is a good workout because it involves resistance training and cardio endurance. This allows you to get in shape, gain strength, and improve your cardio.

Here are a few other reasons why rucking is a good workout:

1- Rucking Is A Functional Workout

Photo Courtesy: Flyfishtogrophy

Rucking is a functional workout, which makes it a good and effective workout.

But what is a functional workout? and why should you care?

According to Mayo Clinic, A functional workout is an exercise training style that trains your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by mimicking common movements you might do at home, at work, sports, or everyday activities (source).

Functional workouts typically use multiple muscles in the upper body, lower body, and focuses on core stability (source).

With that said, it is safe to say that most people carry a backpack on a regular basis, whether it’s to go to school or walking to work. Since rucking is a workout that involves you carrying a relatively heavy backpack, you’re working out multiple muscle at the same time, here’s a few to start with:

  • Traps (shoulders)
  • Abs (core)
  • Legs (Quadriceps, hamstrings, and calfs)
  • Back

2- Provides Positive Mental Health Benefits

Most exercises and workouts help your mental health, that’s not new. But still very applicable to rucking! Research shows that backpacking (which is very similar to rucking) in nature has been shown to battle negative thoughts and improve cognitive abilities (source).

A big part of that is that backpacking and rucking, in a natural environment, gives you a chance to disconnect from the world and its distraction. At the same time, your body releases endorphins as a result of the exercise (source).

So choose a nice path and ruck in the woods!

3- Rucking is Socially Stimulating

If you find yourself working best on your own then rucking is definitely a good workout choice. Some members in our team find that when they ruck alone, they enter a state of flow better when there are no distractions.

On the flip side, many people prefer to ruck with others and find that they need the push by the people around them to workout for longer. If you find yourself in that category, then rucking sure is for you.

Rucking with others is also great because you can get some rucking tips and tricks from people that are perhaps more experienced than you. That’s how some members of our team stepped up their game.

If your friends don’t ruck, you can join many rucking events and workout with people in your city. This is actually a pretty cool way to get to meet new people, especially if you’re new to the city.

4- If You Can Walk, You Can Ruck

Rucking is a good workout because it can be done by anyone (who can walk), regardless of your fitness levels. All you really need to get started is a backpack, pair of running shoes, and you’re good to go.

Keep in mind though that as you progress in rucking, you may want to consider upgrading your gear collection to include rucking boots and proper rucksacks as you may feel feet, shoulders, back may feel uncomfortable.

This is great because often times the barrier of entry to a healthier lifestyle is accessibility. For example, you might know a friend or two who didn’t feel so great when they first started going to the gym because they were embarrassed about how they looked.

This is definitely not the case with rucking, as you always have the choice to ruck on your own and the community is generally very positive and supportive.

How To Start Rucking?

When you’re first staring out, I would recommend that you just start with what you have around you at home. Just grab any backpack, load it with an appropriate amount of weight, grab your everyday workout shoes and walk out the door!

Here’s a complete beginners rucking guide to get you started.

You should also take it easy when carrying loads on your back as you start out.

Check out our full guide on how much weight you should carry when rucking This will help you figure out how much weight you should carry when starting out.

Can You Ruck Everyday?

Yes you can. Do we recommend it? it depends

Rucking daily is not recommended if you’re a beginner, especially if you’re just starting out. Similar to any other sport, rucking daily as a beginner will put a lot of stress on your muscles. While muscle stress is necessary for growth and conditioning, it does not give your body enough time to rest and recover. Muscle recovery is key for longevity.

On the other hand, some people do choose to ruck daily to reach their goal. Some people’s goal is to keep up with the military’s 12 miles in 3 hours requirement, or have procrastinate prepping for an event and leave it for the last week or two.

Should you find yourself in that situation, consider rucking daily but for shorter distances while increasing the load gradually. We covered this fully in our recent post, rucking everyday – should you do it?.

What Rucking Gear Do you Need To Get Started?

Later on when you’re regularly rucking, it may be difficult and painful to add more resistance with the equipment you’re currently using. I would recommend the following rucking gear by priority:

  1. Rucksack (Here’s our recommended rucksacks to get you started)
  2. Boots (Here’s our recommended boots for rucking)
  3. Anti Chafing Balm (Here’s our favorite one)
  4. Headlight lamp (Here’s our favorite one)
  5. Boot insoles (Here’s our recommended Boot Insoles)

Rucking Gear is endless, and that may thin out your wallet. We’ve compiled a list of more essential rucking gear for people on a budget.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rucking

What Is a Rucksack?

Medium MOLLE rucksack

The name rucking has obvious origins considering it involves a ‘ruck-sack.’ Historically, different countries had different names for it. The Germans called it “hafersack” which roughly translates to “oat sack”. The British called it “bergen”, a military rucksack issued during world war 2. They also called the Alpine-style backpacks “Bergen rucksacks”. It stemmed from the name of its Norwegian creator Ole F. Bergan, who was also from the Norwegian city of Bergen.

It’s worth asking how important the rucksack is to the activity. Is a true rucksack the only viable option or is any similar kind of bag or pack suitable?

The great news is, there’s little difference between a rucksack and a backpack for beginners. The two have similar features and are mostly interchangeable. Backpacks are more commonly used as everyday items for work and school. Rucksack is the preferred term for a bag used for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities. Rucksacks commonly have one main entry point, like a sack or satchel. Backpacks may have a range of zippered compartments.

If you’re just starting out on your rucking journey, don’t worry too much about this distinction. The key thing is to use a bag that feels comfortable and secure. It shouldn’t sag or hang away from the body as this places undue pressure on the joints. The best rucksacks for rucking are those with chest and back straps that pull the load tight against the body.

As you gain experience and add more weight, you may become more sensitive to the differences between rucksacks and backpacks. The more your passion for this activity grows, the more likely you are to want to invest in high quality, tailor made equipment. Then, you can start scrutinizing straps and shopping for a true rucking rucksack. For now, pick a bag that’s comfortable and tough. Here’s our recommended list of the best backpacks and rucksacks for rucking.

How To Progress?

Woman looking out at the water with her rucksack beside her
Photo Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals

It can be tempting to start carrying 50 lbs on your first ruck and flex on the gram, but that strategy definitely wont help you progress and stick to the program.

It’s typically recommended to start carrying 10% – 15% of your bodyweight when you’re first starting out and work your way up. Once you’ve been rucking for a few weeks, search for rucking events in your local area. This will help you mingle with other people and it helps you progress through the sport.

The sense of community you get from rucking events is like no other! Longevity is key, so start with a reasonable weight and work your way up. Try to interact with fellow ruckers to keep yourself motivated. Here’s a list of GoRuck Events, check to see if any rucking events are happening in your areas.

Check out our full rucking workout program to help get you started.

What Is a Ruck March In The Army?

Soldiers on a ruck march
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

Rucking is a staple of military training, both in the United States military and in forces around the world. This is where the activity originates, as a form of intense cardio exercise for soldiers. In the army, soldiers regularly go on ‘ruck marches’ – highly regimented and closely scrutinized weighted walks.

The basic rules are the same. Each soldier travels with a heavily loaded rucksack. The difference is, military personnel are expected to jog (for at least part of the march) and they carry much heftier loads as well. It’s not uncommon for rucking soldiers to carry over fifty pounds of gear, weaponry and accessories.

It sounds like cruel punishment but it’s the best way to prepare for real life scenarios in which they might have to run for their lives while keeping survival equipment intact.

It’s fair to say ruck marching is a lot more intense than rucking for general fitness. Unless you have a highly conditioned body already, you shouldn’t be carrying anywhere near the same amount of weight. While similar to a degree, military rucking has a different purpose. It tests endurance by sending soldiers out walking for miles and miles. This level of intensity is not recommended for most people.

Learn more about the US army ruck march standards

Why Should You Ruck?

Now that you know what rucking is and how different people ruck for different goals, it shouldn’t seem intimidating at all! When you gain more experience you can gradually carry a heavier load.

Anybody can do it, so don’t rule yourself out even if other types of exercise have been too intense in the past. Rucking is meant to be leisurely and gradually progressive for us normal folks. There’s no need to jog with your rucksack. In fact, running with a rucksack is frowned upon by practitioners as it places undue strain on the knees. So, rucking could just be the most accessible fitness activity around.

Grab your rucksack. Put your boots on. Start your favourite playlist. And get out there. Rucking might just be the hobby you’ve been looking for. The extra load accelerates caloric burn, improves posture, builds muscle tissue and boosts cardiovascular fitness.

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