What the Ruck?

If you’re looking for a new way to get outside and stay fit this fall, it might be time to take up rucking. It’s a low-impact strength and cardiovascular exercise that can be done almost anywhere, with things you can most likely find around your home. Here’s what you’ll need to know:

What is Rucking?

While it’s fun to use the term for vague innuendos, rucking is when you walk while carrying added weight on your back. Rucking has long been a part of military training, in which soldiers march while carrying a heavy rucksack or backpack. 

In other words, you’ve probably been rucking before and you didn’t even know it. Hiking is just rucking in the woods. If you’ve ever carried a toddler in a backpack, you’ve rucked. If you’ve ever run through an airport with luggage over your shoulder, you’ve speed-rucked. 

What are the Benefits of Rucking?

It may seem silly, but rucking is an excellent and underrated form of low-impact exercise. If you ruck regularly, you can improve your strength, cardiovascular capacity, caloric burn, balance and bone density. Several studies have shown that rucking is a fabulous way of fighting sarcopenia and osteopenia (muscle and bone wasting associated with aging) and osteoporosis. 

Basically, by adding weight to your regular walks, you can up the ante on your exercise routine without having to turn to more rigorous methods of working out.

Additional Perks

The best part about rucking is that it is accessible to everyone. You can ruck just about anywhere, you don’t need to purchase fancy equipment (although you can, if that motivates you), and best of all, you can probably find friends who are willing to do it with you.

How to Start

What You’ll Need: 

At the very least, you’ll need: 

  • a pair of sturdy, comfortable shoes
  • a backpack (any will do, but you’ll be far more comfortable if you have one with wide, padded straps to evenly distribute the weight)
  • weights
  • ample, accessible drinking water

Get Out There

The key to rucking is making sure that you’re comfortable. Most backpacks cause any heavy weight to sink down to the bottom, putting pressure on your shoulders and lower back. It’s important distribute the weight higher on your back, between the shoulder blades — usually by stuffing something light in the bottom of the pack — to make you stand up straighter and work your core. 

As for what to use for weights, the world is your oyster. Some people wrap bricks or books in a towel (to soften those pokey, hard edges), or carry dumbbells or weighted plates. You could raid your pantry for heavy cans, or even fill milk jugs up with water. 

As with any new exercise, it’s a good idea to start small. A weighted two- to four-mile walk a few times a week is adequate. Start out with 10 to 20 pounds and see how you feel for the first mile. You should be able to move at a moderate pace (about a 15- to 20-minute mile) and still be able to carry on a conversation. As this gets easier, you will want to gradually add time, distance and weight. Experts recommend adding about five to 10 pounds of extra weight per week, with the long-term goal being the ability to ruck about a third of your body weight.

If something feels off — you’re experiencing pain in your lower back, extreme fatigue or aching feet — opt for lower weight and a longer walking distance. You’ll still reap ample benefits without the accompanying aches and pains.

Top image: © Nikola Ilic from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com

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