By Lauren Beihoffer M.S.
Coach ~ Misfit Mountain Athletics
For two years, I have been enjoying the benefits of consistent rucking. I use rucking as cross-training for my endurance pursuits, but I also love the health benefits of rucking as a stand-alone workout.
Rucking is a low-intensity exercise in which you walk or hike with a weighted bag on your back, known as a rucksack (i.e., a backpack).
Rucking is a great, compact workout that anyone can do as there's no need for a gym or high-tech equipment. Rucking can be done on sidewalks, or for added resistance and performance benefits, many athletes choose to hike trails. Rucking can help reduce stress on joints caused by impact workouts.
With the added resistance from weights, many find that rucking can be an excellent substitute for mileage run as you often can shorten the training and still reap similar benefits.
How To Begin Rucking
While it isn't necessary to purchase an official rucksack, it's essential to acquire a properly fitting pack that is sturdy enough to hold the weight while providing adequate support to prevent the pack from bouncing or shifting when training. A rucksack should have pockets or straps that the weighted plates slide into, allowing you to carry the weight securely and evenly distributed. In addition, some packs include both chest and waist straps for added support as this enables the weight to rest on your hips instead of carrying the weight through your shoulders.
Although I've used various types of packs before, I will say the best rucking experience comes from having a pack and weights made specifically for rucking.
Weighting the rucksack can be as simple as tossing in a bag of rice. However, some athletes opt to use sandbags or dumbbells for added resistance. Many companies make products designed for rucking, which may reduce the chances of weight shift when training. (note that some items may be bulky or not sit well in your pack--so you may have to experiment) In general, it's best to have the weight sit as close to your body as possible to reduce excess strain and pressure.
When an athlete first begins rucking, it's essential to start with no more than 10% of your body weight to allow time to adjust to the load. Initially, it's best to start with one flat mile to ensure the rucksack's comfort, fit, and weight. Some find that their shoulders and upper back are sore following initial workouts. (while some initial soreness is common, it may be worth considering adjusting the load, which is why the chest and waist straps are beneficial)
Rucking is scaleable! Slowly increase mileage, time, and weight as your body adjusts. Walk briskly, but do not run as it can be harmful to your joints.
Why Rucking Can Benefit Runners
Rucking erases the divide between cardio and strength training. It can help boost endurance and cardiovascular fitness while simultaneously building muscle (hello runners!!)
Rucking is less stressful on the body than running and counts as a low-impact exercise.
Rucking can increase balance and coordination and help improve upper body strength.
There are organized rucking events you can participate in with friends.
A weighted rucksack can be added to a strength routine by wearing it during step-ups, lunges, squats, planks, etc.