You step outside and start walking…pretty simple, right?
Yeah…but rucking is a bit more complicated than that.
Okay…so you load up your backpack with a few old algebra and history textbooks, strap on a good pair of rucking boots and get marching!
Yeah, naw…a ruck march is slightly more intense than walking home from school was.
I apologize if I shattered your visions of grandeur regarding all things “rucking”; despite what you may have seen on TV (especially in recent times) it’s actually a pretty challenging practice.
…but with challenge comes extensive benefits and even some cool bragging rights and swag for those who complete the most challenging marches.
Let’s go over the in’s and out’s of the “standard” ruck march, to include historical practices as well as directive on how you can crush your first big event.
…or…at least make it through without developing too many blisters!
Table of Contents
Ruck March: Overview & Benefits
A ruck march, or a loaded march, is primarily a military training exercise. It involves walking long distances with a weighted pack (most often a rucksack or a ruck is used).
The loaded march as a military exercise dates all the way back to the seventh century BC, with the world’s first iron-clad army. Assyrian spearmen carried loads of 27.5 and 36.5 kilograms (roughly 60 to 80 pounds) in the form of the iron armor, helmets, and iron-shinned boots they wore and the heavy shields, swords, and spears they carried.
(sorry; I don’t have any links or connections for you to pick up this “rucking gear”!)
Later, loaded marches were part of the training of legionnaires in the Roman Empire. They were taught how to march with heavy loads before even learning how to hold their weapons.
Today, loaded marches are a part of training in the military in different countries: British Armed Forces, French Foreign Legion, Canadian Armed Forces, and, of course, the United States Armed Forces.
Not in the military? No problem! Ruck marches can be adapted for civilians, too. “Formal” rucking events are often held as fundraisers for veterans and as a celebration of comradery..
In any case, the ruck march is a great exercise for building strength and stamina, as well as mental resilience and discipline.
Some benefits of ruck marches (for both military servicemembers and civilians) are:
- Provide a challenging cardiovascular workout
- Improve overall physical performance
- Increases calorie burn
- Improve muscle power in older people and prevent sarcopenia
- Improves posture and balance
- Builds stamina and endurance
- Builds mental resilience and discipline
- Great as a community and social engagement
Decided to take the plunge and you’re all signed up for a rucking event near you? Then let’s go over the details regarding proper preparation!
How to Prep for a Ruck March
Here are some key steps you should take to prepare for a ruck march.
It should come as no surprise that your prep for a ruck march should include cardio training.
You should incorporate regular aerobic exercises such as walking, running, or cycling into your fitness regimen. This will improve your cardiovascular endurance, a necessary element for completing a ruck march of any significant distance. Start cardio training ASAP as it generally requires a minimum of 30 minutes 3 times a week to bolster aerobic capacity in 8 to 12 weeks.
Cardio training should include both loaded and unloaded training. You can build up your general stamina and endurance without using a ruck and incorporate more weighted cardio training as your capacity improves.
Next, you should work on increasing the overall body strength, especially focusing on lower-body muscles.
If you are into “the big 3” or powerlifting,, squats, and deadlifts will work magic for your ruck march prep. Deadlifts will work your lower body muscles, core, and back muscles. “The king of exercise” – the squat, will, besides your leg muscles, also work your abs, (this is essential for building a strong core, which we will discuss in further detail below).
If you have access to a leg press machine, it can be another great way to work the lower body muscles, especially the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Core strength is very important when rucking. You’re going to be carrying a lot of weight on your back. As such, your spine will want to bend…in less than ideal ways, opening yourself up to injury. A strong core will keep your spine aligned and stable and your back straight. Besides those mentioned, some of the best exercises for a strong core are:
- bird dog
- mountain climber
First, you should find a walking route that is similar to the actual terrain of your intended ruck march course..
Pack your ruck (we’ll go over this in the next section) and…start walking.
You should start with less weight at the beginning and gradually increase it (a good target to aim for is between ¼ and ⅓ of your bodyweight in total). Your focus at the beginning should be developing a proper and sustainable stride. That means walking at a smooth and even pace. Focus on making your muscles do the heavy work instead of your joints, especially when going uphill or downhill (the all-important eccentric movement phase).
Again, gradually increase the intensity of your march. Start with less distance and less difficult terrain, and slowly up the intensity of these variables.
The United States Military Academy (USMA) advises to “foot march 3 miles with a 10-pound pack once a week at a 4-km (2.49 miles) -per-hour pace.” After becoming comfortable with this workout, the USMA advises that you should increase one of the three following variables:
- weight (load)
(Note: none of these variables should be increased by no more than 50 percent a week i.e. you shouldn’t jump from 3 miles to 5 miles over the course of one week).
Upon growing adept at the march with the increased variable, increase another one.
A military ruck march requires specific gear. The mission will dictate the load (and the equipment that comprises that load) that will be used during the march. The common “Fighting Load” combines the inclusion of necessary equipment with the consideration that a load light enough to ensure that requisite speed and agility are maintained.
The equipment list for the Fighting Load looks like this:
- Army Combat Uniform (T-shirt, socks, boots, belt, patrol cap)
- Advance combat helmet
- Field load carrier (FLC)
- Knee pads
- M4 (no magazine)
- 5.56 unit basic load (UBL; 210 rounds and 7 magazines)
- Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light
- M68 (Close Combat Optic)
- AN/PAS-13(V)1 (LWTS)
- AN/PVS-14 (MNVD) Includes helmet mount
- Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCS)
- Small Arms Protective Inserts (front and back), Side Ballistic Insert
- 1 Quart canteens (2 each, with water)
- Meals ready to eat (MRE)
- M67 fragmentation grenades (2 each)
- Bayonet w/scabbard
- Individual first aid kit
The total weight of the Fighting Load is roughly 68,9 lbs.
If you’re a civilian embarking on a more “casual” ruck march, you will (likely!) not need to arm yourself. However, you should still put some thought into what you’re going to pack. The first thing, naturally, is your ruck.
With form training, especially at the start of your rucking journey, you can start with what you have. But, for the actual ruck march, you will want to have a comfortable rucksack specifically designed to carry heavy loads. It should have a hip strap and shoulder mid-strap to secure the load and keep it near your body.
Next, consider what you’re putting in your ruck. The simplest option for most is to invest in some ruck plates which are specially designed for loading in a ruck.
Otherwise, you can use dumbbells (ideally, wrapped in a towel to reduce movement and bouncing around), sandbags, or even some of those hardcover books you’re never going to read! Of course, you can add practical items you’ll need on your march, such as a water bottle, extra pair of socks, etc.
It is essential to ensure that the load is centered and distributed evenly. Place heavier items on the bottom of your ruck and lighter items towards the top.
Finally, you will need good boots and socks.
The boots should, of course, be comfortable and have good ankle support. Be sure to “break in” your boots well ahead of the event (don’t wear your boots for the first time during your ruck march event…you will regret it!) This means walking around in them for at least two weeks before the ruck march.
Regarding socks, you should wear two pairs. The inner pair should be thin and it serves as a layer of protection against sores and blisters. The second pair should be thicker, and you should wear them over the thin ones.
In recent years, rucking has exploded in popularity; I don’t blame you for wanting to strap up and get marching!
However, as we’ve discussed in this article, getting properly equipped and properly trained will ensure that you are able to complete your first ruck march.
Thankfully, with a bit of diligence and grit, it is possible to make yuge strides (ha!) in your rucking abilities in a relatively short period of time. It won’t be long until you’re ready to take on the (in)famous Norwegian Foot March (NFM) and earn one of these bad boys:
Thinking about getting into loaded walking/running, but only have a weighted vest? Check out our nail-biting “showdown” between weighted vests and rucks to see just how much of a challenge each implement can create!