Everything You Should Know to Become Better at Rucking

A soldier in training with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade conducts a 12-mile ruck march on Fort Moore, Georgia.
A soldier in training with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade conducts a 12-mile ruck march on Fort Moore, Georgia, Jan. 11, 2024. (Capt. Stephanie Snyder/U.S. Army photo)

Rucking, also known as backpacking, is becoming more popular every year, with more and more exercise enthusiasts outside of the military using backpacks or weight vests as part of their weekly workout programs. Building a solid foundation to handle the load without injuring your back, hips or lower extremities is vital to your ability to exercise throughout your life.

Here is a question from a person working on the foundation of strength and endurance required to be a safe rucker:

Stew, what exercises carry over to rucking the most? I am working on building up to carrying a 40lb. pack through local trails a few times a week as my cardio of choice. Thanks, Sam

Rucking, a conditioning method often hated by military personnel and veterans, is now returning among fitness enthusiasts worldwide. This trend can largely be attributed to organizations such as GORUCK, which have championed rucking's benefits. Here are some ideas before you start carrying a backpack everywhere:

Before you add weight to your walks, ensure you are comfortable walking or running without the extra weight. If you are new to this, start by getting into the habit of regular, unweighted walks. Walking isn't overly strenuous, but adding weight can significantly increase the effort and burn more calories. Slowly add 5-10 pounds every 2-3 weeks until you reach the weight you can handle for 45- to 60-minute walks.

To prepare for rucking, you will need a solid foundation of strength. Incorporating weighted squats and lunges, deadlifts and stair climbing into your routine can strengthen your legs and back. These workouts will prepare you for the added weight, making your rucking experience smoother. Eventually, you can work your legs and top off your leg days with a ruck and the distance you choose.

Regarding the pace of your ruck, there's some flexibility. You could opt for a leisurely pace, perhaps chatting on your phone, achieving an 18-minute mile. A power walk can bring you down to a 13- to 14-minute mile for a more focused session. Interestingly, the Army's minimum rucking standard is a 15-minute mile, a pace easily maintained with a brisk walk. No running is necessary.

For those wishing to go faster, consider the short-stride shuffle. Unlike a typical run, this shuffle reduces your stride by 6-8 inches while maintaining a high cadence. This technique allows you to move quickly, even hitting sub-10-minute miles. It's efficient and places less strain on your body than traditional running.

A word of caution: Running with a heavily weighted pack isn't advisable for extended periods, though I know some special operations groups sometimes run with a ruck. The stress it places on your back, feet and everything in-between can lead to significant pain and potential injury. A short-stride shuffle, on the other hand, offers a safer and still speedy alternative.

From Army Rangers to Marine Corps recon units, military training programs often include rucking -- fast rucking. If you are gearing up for such challenges, start with weight-vest walking or rucking on a stair stepper. This can condition your legs efficiently, even if you don't have access to soft sand workouts typical of some military exercises.

Incorporating rucking into your fitness regimen can significantly boost caloric burn compared to regular walking. Check out our article for a detailed comparison of caloric expenditures between rucking and walking.

Whether you are a fitness rookie or a seasoned athlete looking for a new challenge, incorporating rucking into your routine promises to ramp up your caloric burn and strengthen your legs and back, but make sure you are prepared for the demands it puts on your body. Curious about how your current exercise routine can benefit your rucking? Discover the key exercises that maximize your performance by visiting the Military.com fitness section.

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to Military.com to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues