Rucking on a Treadmill? Why…and (Maybe)…Why Not…

I have a secret to tell you:

I enjoy rucking on the treadmill.

I know probably sounds downright blasphemous to rucking enthusiasts who (rightly!) advocate that outdoor weighted backpack hikes are a great way to jack up your heart rate, build some muscle, and burn some calories.

….and I agree with them!

However, sometimes I want to get a little bit of ruck interval training in and I find that it is much easier to do this on my home treadmill where I can much more easily control my speed and incline than out on some uneven terrain. 

If you want to improve your cardiovascular capabilities as well as your strength and endurance listen up because we’re about to discuss how your standard treadmill at the gym is your entry ticket into the world of rucking!

Why You Should Consider Using a Treadmill for Rucking Workouts

I know, I know…one of the main reasons why you (and countless others) got into rucking was to get yourself outside. However, some days, as beautiful as the outside may be…it ain’t all that inviting! As such, rucking on a treadmill is a convenient and versatile exercise option for individuals who want to get a good rucking session in while enjoying the comfort of indoors. 

Treadmills are accessible at most gyms and are a staple in many home gyms, making it easy for one to ruck, regardless of the weather conditions. “Curved treadmills“, Air Runners, etc. are other indoor cardio options that are ideal for indoor rucking (I regularly use one of these o perform indoor rucking workouts).

So, besides the fact that you don’t want to get outside for your workout, why else should one consider rucking on a treadmill? Here are a few of the main reasons:

  • Consistent Environment: Weather conditions won’t interrupt your workout
  • Safety: A controlled environment reduces the risk of tripping or having to deal with uneven terrain
  • Pacing: Treadmills allow for precise control over speed as well as pace monitoring, helping to maintain a consistent pace
  • Familiarity: Impossible(?) to get lost or to ruck “too far” on a treadmill 
  • Footwear: Shoes designed for indoor environments (and that are less-than-ideal for outdoor workouts) can be used

I understand that rucking “purists” may disagree or scoff at many of these reasons. However, this isn’t an endorsement for only rucking on a treadmill. Additionally, for those who prefer indoor rucking, this practice is definitely preferable to not rucking at all!

Benefits of Rucking on a Treadmill

We have established some of main reasons why you should consider rucking on a treadmill. Let’s look at some of the benefits that the practice has in comparison to it’s outdoor, more established brethren.

Low-Impact Exercise: The cushioning of a treadmill offers a low-impact alternative to the hard surfaces encountered outdoors. This is particularly beneficial for joint health, as it reduces the stress on knees and ankles. Of course, many outdoor trails present a low-impact environment, but it’s hard to replicate the consistency of the treadmill.

Customized Workouts: One can tailor their rucking sessions by adjusting the treadmill settings. Want to (safely) ruck faster? Hit a button. Need a more challenging elevation? Hit a button!

Pacing Confidence: Being able to keep track of the exact distance traveled and pace of travel inspires confidence in rucking at a more “ambitious” pace. 

A convenient place to collapse: Don’t discount the body’s desire to shut down during long, tough rucking sessions (especially when just getting started with rucking). It’s much better to experience this shutdown in the comfort of your home or gym than a couple miles away, out on some random trail.

How to Properly Ruck on a Treadmill

If you’re accustomed to outdoor rucking, there isn’t a ton of difference with you approach rucking on a treadmill. However, for less experienced and new ruckers, let’s go over some form best practices.

First and foremost, we need to discuss posture. You need to stand upright, ensuring your back is straight and shoulders are pulled back, minimizing slouching and excessive forward lean. This reduces the risk of injury. Here’s a couple points to keep in mind:

  • Overall Posture: Keep back straight/vertical and core engaged
  • Arm Swing: Bend the arms at about 90 degrees and swing them from the breastbone to mid-thigh level to drive pace and maximize efficiency

Rucking (obviously) involves walking with added weight, so it’s important that they carefully select the rucking gear for the job. A properly designed ruck (with acceptable weights for beginners) can go a long way in facilitating the rucking experience  Proper footwear that is designed to accommodate the additional load is also ideal, whether rucking outside or indoors (rucking shoes are generally a better option for indoor rucking).

Finally, setting the treadmill for a rucking session should be deliberate. When you’re first starting out, have an idea of the total time you would like to spend rucking and find a pace/incline that guarantees you will be able to reach that time with minimal breaks/stopping. This pace/incline can be increased as you build stamina and strength.

If you find that your pace/incline is too challenging, don’t hesitate to dial things back a bit…just as you would if you grew overly fatigued out on the trail. This will promote longevity, both in your current session as well as in your overall rucking “career”.

Dangers of Rucking on a Treadmill

As safe as rucking on a treadmill can and should be (especially in relation to rucking outside), there are some inherent dangers to opting for a big, treaded beast for your workout. A few of the main hazards are:

  • Falls and Burns: Treadmills are notorious for incidents if one loses balance; the moving belt can lead to scrapes or more severe burns. On a traditional treadmill, without the safety key on, that belt ain’t stoppin’!
  • Space Clearance: They recommend at least 6.5 feet of clear space behind the treadmill and 1.5 feet on either side to minimize injury risk in case of falls. In case this risk isn’t obvious…here is a visual of a potential…problem:

Prevention Tips

  • Safety Key Use: Always attach the safety key to yourself; it will stop the treadmill if you fall.
  • Laced up Footwear: As obvious as it may seem, make sure that your loose laces don’t get caught in the belt (remember what Mom said about laces in the escalator!)
  • Incremental Progression: Gradually increase weight and duration to prevent overloading your body and risking injury. This is applicable to any rucking venture or environment.

Sample Treadmill Rucking Workout

Enough talk; time to ruck. Here is a look at a sample treadmill rucking workout. Depending on your fitness and experience levels, this could be pretty hard…or not!

Warm-Up

  • 5 minutes at a comfortable pace, no incline. Empty (“slick”) ruck.

Main Workout

(When you’re first getting started with rucking, use a 10-20-lb ruck plate.)

rucking on a treadmill

  1. Ruck Walk:
    • 10 minutes at a moderate pace, 0% incline
  2. Incline Climb:
    • Increase the incline to 2-5%
    • Walk for 5 minutes
    • Maintain a steady pace that allows you to sustain the effort
  3. Intervals:
    • Alternate between 30 seconds of brisk walking or a light job and 1 and 1/2 minutes of walking at a moderate pace.
    • Repeat this cycle 5 times.
    • (Return the incline to a low (0-2%) level for this portion)

Cool Down

  • 5 minutes of gradual slowing of pace to finish up

Remember to stay hydrated throughout the workout and don’t hesitate to lower the speed or even to “step off” if you need to. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Rucking on a treadmill can raise several questions for beginners and experienced ruckers alike (it also can lead to questions from onlookers!) seeking to replicate the outdoor challenge indoors. Let’s pre-empt some of these!

The best rucksack for treadmill rucking is one that is actually designed for rucking. It should fit snugly against the body be easily adjusted to prevent plate bouncing or shifting. A ruck with a hip belt attachment can be especially beneficial.

To simulate outdoor rucking conditions, one should start with a low incline and gradually increase it to practice more strenuous uphill rucking. An incline setting around 5% can mimic run-of-the mill hills, while 10% or above will start to feel like the Appalachian Trail!

A Weighted Treadmill Hike Never Hurt Anyone…

I hope that this article wasn’t too much of a strain for the rucking “purists” in the audience!

Even if it was, it’s tough to argue with the upsides to starting a treadmill rucking routine or even with simply giving it a try during a future workout session.

If treadmill rucking can start you down the path towards future rucking endeavors, I would definitely consider it to be a “win”. 

…and for the more experienced ruckers, well, treadmill rucking is my go-to training modality as I prepare for an upcoming Norwegian Ruck March as well as an 80-kilometer all-day rucking event. If it ends up working out for me, it will bulletbbull be effective for you as well!

If you’re ready to fire up the treadmill and get moving but don’t have your ruck yet, check out our article on the GORUCK Bullet…possibly the best “entry-level” ruck on the market!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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