I like to try out new workouts to keep myself motivated and to challenge my mind and body. When I looked for hobbies similar to hiking and walking, I came across rucking and wanted to find out what this entails.
It turns out, it’s easy to start rucking… with the proper knowledge and expectations, that is. Any diligent person should weigh up the pros and cons of rucking before starting such an exercise program.
You definitely don’t want to injure yourself, lose what you’ve gained in fitness, and start building a workout habit from scratch. Trust me, that’s a real challenge!
So, I decided to find out as much as I could about rucking, and here’s everything you need to know so you can make the smartest decision for your exercise needs.
What Is Rucking?
Rucking goes by a few names: ruck march, loaded march, humps, forced march, and foot marching. The word “march” gives you a clue to what rucking is and its origins.
Essentially, rucking is marching (walking, hiking, or running) with weights in a backpack. It’s a low-intensity functional exercise, meaning it uses large muscle groups in your body to move similarly to how you move in your daily life. For example, when you carry groceries or your baby from place A to place B, you are, in essence, “ruck marching.”
Rucking is highly popular for various reasons. Namely these:
Where Did Rucking Come From?
The origins of rucking can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Back then, rucking was referred to as the “military step,” and according to a Roman theorist by the name of Vegetius, the military step was the first thing taught to soldiers. These military men could only master the military step through constant practice.
Vegetius believed that the basic standard of fitness meant a soldier in the Roman army should march 20 miles in 5 hours while carrying 60 pounds of equipment.
Rucking as part of military exercise didn’t end with the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, in this day and age, soldiers and special forces operatives ruck as part of their training.
Ruck marching is one of the pillars of the drills and fitness regimen in the military so soldiers can increase their stamina, strength, and endurance. Military personnel need to be able to walk quickly over rough and diverse terrain, and the weight they carry should be 45 pounds minimum.
Pros of Starting a Rucking Exercise Program
1. You will see improvements in your overall fitness level.
Rucking burns more calories than if you walk or run; is easier on the joints than running; helps build core muscle groups; improves your bone density, immunity, proprioception, self-esteem and self-confidence, and your sleep; and it’s a natural and functional workout you can do it anywhere and anytime.
2. There are no special apps required.
You can use similar apps to track your ruck marches than if you go cycling, running, or hiking. A few good mobile apps to consider when you ruck are Strava, Relive, and Under Armour’s MapMyRun (or MapMyWalk).
3. Rucking is a highly accessible activity.
Almost everyone can ruck, and you can start tomorrow if you really want to.
4. Rucking is rather inexpensive.
Many sports require that you go for classes or training sessions and buy expensive gear. Not rucking! You need good quality shoes and a backpack, and then add some weights like canned food.
5. The individualized experience.
You can choose how you want to ruck… from how much weight you carry and where you ruck, to whether you ruck alone or yearn to be with fellow ruckers. If you want company on your rucks, join a local rucking club or rucking group, or check out rucking events near you.
6. Rucking is a real plateau breaker.
You may feel like you’ve hit a plateau or roadblock with your fitness or weight loss journey and aren’t progressing further, no matter what you do. So, take up rucking, which is a great form of low intensity steady state (LISS) training, to help you break the plateau and see the progress you are worthy of.
Cons of Starting a Rucking Exercise Program
7. Greater risk of back injury.
If you have poor posture or rucking techniques, you can seriously injure your back, sustain stress fractures, or pull other muscles. However, if you ruck properly, you can strengthen your core and back muscles, which helps prevent injury.
To avoid hurting your back while rucking, ensure you maintain the right posture, choose the right weight and backpack, evenly distribute the weight, and put on and take off the weighted ruck the right way.
8. Potential to develop blisters.
With all the walking you’ll be doing during your ruck marches, you can easily develop blisters on your feet (same as when you walk, run, jog, or hike). There are ways to prevent blisters though.
Start by purchasing high-quality rucking boots that are the right size and break them in. Then cover problem areas with liquid bandages or moleskin, choose the right socks, and keep your feet clean and dry.
9. It’s not about instant gratification.
Even though you can use rucking to break a plateau or use it to lose weight, build muscle, increase your stamina, and get fit… you won’t see instant results with rucking. Actually, you won’t see that with any kind of workout.
You just need to keep chipping at the mountain and sticking with your rucking exercise program, and you’ll see results soon enough. And then don’t give up. Keep putting in the work.
10. Time consuming.
The army recommends rucking a mile in 15 minutes; but, as a beginner, a mile can take you 17 to 20 minutes (or even longer). If you ruck a minimum of 3 to 4 miles, you need to set aside at least an hour to an hour and a half per training session.
Alternatives to Rucking
Rucking may not be the right fitness hobby for you. Perhaps you can’t carry a lot of weight in a ruck (military slang for a rucksack, or backpack) because you have joint issues. Or maybe you need something that’s higher in intensity to really feel like you got your sweat on.
I’d even venture to say that rucking may sound a wee bit intimidating, and you want to start your exercise journey with another (perhaps easier) type of workout.
Luckily, there are a couple of alternatives to rucking you can try:
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Rucking
When you look at the pros and cons of rucking, the pros really do outweigh the risks. That said, only you know what type of exercise is best for you and what you enjoy most.
If you love being out in nature and you are already into walking or hiking, it’s not that far of a stretch to add a weighted backpack to increase your fitness level and challenge yourself. Is it?
Of course, it’s essential to beware of your form and posture, from when you put on the backpack and during your ruck to the last minute of training when you remove the ruck. You don’t want to injure yourself and have a setback.
Or maybe you’ve heard that rucking is bad for you. If so, we’ve got a comprehensive article on why rucking isn’t bad for your back.