Rucking, or walking with heavy weights, has become a trendy fitness practice among anyone hoping for a functional workout – and with good reason. The benefits of rucking for exercise include strength and cardio training while being free to do, easy to start, and getting you outside along the way.
With all the hype and buzz that usually surrounds fitness trends, it can be difficult to tell whether rucking is all that everyone is touting it to be.
When I first joined the Marines, rucking was a huge part of our training, from Boot Camp and the 3 day long “Crucible” to all of our pre-deployment training. During the first of all of those miles walked, I was asking the same question.
Was all of this rucking worth it? What are the actual benefits of rucking?
There is plenty of reason that rucking is the primary tool for training and testing in elite military units around the globe. Beyond building a durable body and mind, rucking brings health benefits by getting you outside into the sunlight and fresh air and so much more. In this article, we’ll review 11 awesome benefits of rucking that make it the “exercise” you need to add to your fitness plan.
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- What is Rucking?
- How to Ruck
- 15 Benefits of Rucking as a Workout
- Next Steps
What is Rucking and why are so many people doing it?
Rucking is simply walking with a weight in a backpack for extended periods. The act of “ruck marching” has always been a prime tool of training for military units – training to move themselves and pounds of equipment over hundreds of miles while still being energized enough to “get sh*t done” when they arrive at their destination. Walking for miles and hours with weight on your back toughens the body and mind in a way that few other activities do.
These days, competitions such as the GORUCK Challenges, have encouraged many non-military athletes to adopt rucking as a training tool to prep for GORUCK events and other adventure challenges. After the challenges, most people maintain rucking as a form of exercise, and with good reason.
As you’ll read below in the 15 benefits of rucking section, rucking is cheap, easy, and safe way to and build a durable, injury resistant body, knocking out cardio training and strength training at the same time, all you need is a good rucking weight and a sturdy backpack to get started.
rucking is a cheap, easy, and safe way to and build a durable, injury resistant body
I’m a full time traveler that prefers to adventure to destinations with little infrastructure and few western conveniences. From the badlands of Laos, to remote islands in the Philippines, to Macedonia – gyms aren’t always accessible, but staying in shape for my next adventure isn’t an option, its required.
To ensure my fitness stays up to snuff, when I’m on extended layovers or far from gyms and pull up bars, I simply throw on my pack and ruck – around the airport, around the park, through the city, along a beach, or wherever else my feet might take me. As you can see from how it fits into my lifestyle as a longterm traveler, rucking is one of the most effective and convenient means of exercise, perfect for keeping adventurous travelers fit.
Read more in our article 15 tips for rucking safely, efficiently, and effectively
The 15 Best Benefits of Rucking
1. Simple to start: You just need shoes, a backpack, and weight
2. Rucking is cheap to start and free to do
With gym fees ranging $100-$200 these days and a day at a gym running $10-$20 in some places, rucking saves you tons of cash that you can save for…that round the world backpacking trip you’ve been planning!
3. You can ruck anywhere, anytime
Not only can you ruck around the place you want to spend time, like in the park or outdoors, but you can work rucking into your normal routine.
Walking the dog, doing errands, and a stroll with friends and loved ones can turn into a great workout by adding a little weight.
Even when traveling around the world, getting in a rucking workout can change a layover or sightseeing into a productive rucking workout.
4. Perfect travel as a means of exploring – combine with a city tour to get a workout (** like the time I rucked through Skopje, Macedonia on a layover**)
When traveling, rucking is my backup, do anywhere workout that I use to see the town. For example, in Skopje Macedonia I turned a 4 hour layover into rucking while sightseeing. I rucked my fully loaded backup from the train station, into town to see hundreds of statues, into the old town to absorb culture and history, and ended at a castle by sunset – and got an amazing workout along the way
5. Works both cardio and strength at the same time
Cardiovascular exercise is all about getting your heartrate up. That’s it. You don’t have to run. You don’t have to row. You don’t have to do that Crossfit or HIIT workout. You just need to get your heartrate up.
The extra resistance (the rucking weights in your bag), forces your legs, back, core, and shoulders to work the entire time you ruck, which gets your heartrate up high enough to get a good cardio workout, without destroying your knees the way running will.
This weight also creates a solid strength workout, loading your structure, and building strength and durability not only in your legs, but in the muscles that keep your spine erect, your abs, your pper and lower back, and your shoulders as well.
All of these amazing strength and cardio benefits, just by walking, outside, with weight. Not bad.
Pro Tip: Add a 4.5 minute Tabata workout at the end of your ruck and your heart health will thank you.
6. Rucking is an insurance policy for back health, posture, and hip health – assuring mobility in old age and injury proof you now
In old age, most mobility issues and the loss of ability to for people to walk on their own comes primarily loss of muscle and stability in the areas of the body that we need to walk – in the hips & pelvis, and in the spinal erectors.
By rucking, with an amount of weight suitable for your body and ability, you’re actively building and maintaining strength in the “endurance muscles” (slow twitch muscle fibers) of the areas of your body that will keep you mobile in old age – your hips, back and core.
For those of us that aren’t old yet, this same conditioning of endurance strength in the muscles that keep us upright makes us more injury proof. Strong muscles in the core and spine protect or backs during lifting weight in odd movements, sports, adventuring, etc.
Whether you’re rucking for mobility in old age, or injury proofing yourself now, rucking is an insurance policy for your body.
7. Rucking pairs well with minimalist and bodyweight workouts that can be done while rucking
The side benefit of walking with a backpack full of weight is that you can always take off the weights and throw them around for an upper body workout, or do weighted calisthenics along the way. Add in a suspension trainer, like these DIY gymnastics rings, and you can get a combo ruck and lower body workout in anywhere anytime.
Some great exercises to include are:
- Pushups (weighted or unweighted)
- Burpees (without the jump)
- Overhead presses (with the backpack)
- Backpack swings – kettle bell swings with the backpack
- Backpack rows – grab the pack by a strap, and perform a row motion
To do this, pick a time or distance interval (e.g., every mile, every 15 minutes) and a few exercises, and do 25 of each at each interval.
The result will be a great, full body workout.
8. Anyone can start (10%-20% bodyweight for 2-4 miles)
Anyone who can walk can ruck
Keep in mind that some will start lighter than others – but this means that partners and friends of varying abilities can ruck together, at the same speed, with different weights and still get an amazing workout.
If you have back, knee, or shoulder injuries, or have had any surgeries, check with your doc before rucking, just to be safe.
For more info on this, read our full article on How to Ruck to learn the right way to get started
9. One of the most natural forms of functional fitness
From hunters 10,000 years ago carrying back a kill, to farmers in rural Asia carrying pounds of rice from their fields, there is plenty of evidence that rucking (walking with weight) has always been part of human existence. It reinforces and strengthens the abilities that we were born with and need to survive.
As much as I like rowing, I don’t think our ancestors had a rowing machine available – life and their duties (rucking among them) kept them fit for survival.
Rucking is one of the most natural and functional forms of resistance training available for you today.
10. Conditions the shoulders and back muscles at the same time
Because the weight worn during rucking loads the frame (e.g., shoulders, spine) the core, back muscles, and shoulder muscles must be continuously engaged to support and stabilize the load while your legs keep you moving forward.
This dynamic, of using your upper body to support the load results in a “strength endurance” workout, conditioning and strengthening your upper body to support heavy weights for extended periods. This kind of rugged “farmer strength” is the kind of practical, injury proofing fitness you should strive for
Keep in mind, you can use the waistbelt on your backpack to support the weight on your hips, relieving the stress on your upper body for short periods of rest while moving – but I recommend generally rucking without the waist belt to give your upper body that same, rugged conditioning as your lower body.
11. Burns 3x the calories of walking
Simple as that. The resistance from the weights, and the additional stress it puts on your legs to move and your upper body to stabilize the load, result in 3x the calories you would burn walking for the same period of time.
So, you can burn 3x the calories walking Fido, if you throw a little weight in that bag.
12. Rucking can be very social due to ease of starting through “
Rucking is something anyone can do, making it easy to invite a friend. Adjust your individual loads to ensure you’ll be rucking at about the same pace, and get after it. The conversation and connection you can have during that walk can be just as beneficial as the physical conditioning of rucking.
If no one around you is crazy enough to walk with weight, join a “ruck club” to ruck with like minded individuals.
The rise of GORUCK has resulted in plenty of groups of people that meet specifically to ruck socially, making for a healthy to connect with your community. Checkout the tool find a rucking group on GORUCK.com.
13. Rucking is less stressful on the body than running
A major difference between rucking and running, besides the addition of weight, is that in rucking one foot always touches the ground, just like in walking. This is not the case in running.
In running, here is a period when both feet aren’t touching the ground, and an instant when you impact the ground, sending pressure through your legs which is absorbed by the knees.
In rucking, like walking, one foot is always in contact with the ground as you shift your weight forward. This subtle difference places less impact on your knees in rucking vs. running as long as you don’t run with weight.
14. Rucking gets you outside improving your mood, sleep, and cardiovascular health
Though you could ruck on a treadmill, you shouldn’t, because you would be missing out on the countless benefits of just being outside.
A report by the National Institutes of Health found that living near and frequent exposure to greenspaces, such as forests and parks, is associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
This is in addition to the vitamin D you’ll naturally get from being in the sunlight, which can improve your mood, increase absorption of calcium for stronger bones, and supports healthy testosterone levels according to NIH.
15. Easy to adjust exercise difficulty in the moment
Unlike some types of exercise, you never actually have to adjust the weight to change difficulty.
If it feels to easy ruck faster (but don’t run) by walking or shuffling your feet faster.
If it feels too easy, hit some hills or stairs, going up and down as quickly as you can safely.
If it still feels too easy, stop and do lunges at intervals. Every 10 minutes or half mile, stop and do 25 lunges until the burn is sufficient.
Now matter how tough you get or how little time you have, there will always be a way to make the ruck “tough enough”
A (Small) Note of Caution: Start low and progress gradually
Though rucking is a great activity for fitness and health, staying safe is the key to keeping it healthy, maximizing the benefits, and reducing the risk.
The worst risks of injury come from adding too much weight or rucking too far before your body is ready for it – though you may feel up to it in terms strength and cardio health, the tendons and connective tissues of the knees, joints, and back take more time to develop and adapt than the cardiovascular system and muscles. To avoid taxing your joints and back too much too soon, take these tips for gradually progressing while maintaining a healthy rucking program
1. Start low (weight) and slow
Starting with 10%-20% of your bodyweight on a 2-4 mile ruck is the perfect starting point
2. Progress gradually
Increase by maximum 5-10 pounds per week or 1-2 miles of distance. Never increase both in the same week
3. Maintain good form and healthy posture
Maintaining good posture, standing up straight with a healthily stacked spine and head straight, will reinforce good posture. Doing anything else (leaning forward too far, looking down) will reinforce bad habits that can contribute to injury.
When you’re too smoked to maintain good posture, stop rucking
4. Combine with a good stretching program
Rucking is a low intensity, slow exercise that wears out your muscles from contracting and relaxing repeatedly for miles. To avoid having your muscles cool in a tight, contracted position (making you less mobile and more vulnerable to injury in the long term) stretch after every rucking session.
Put special emphasis on stretching the groin/hip flexors for good hip health, stretch the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) to avoid additional stress on the lower back, and stretching the calves as this small muscle group gets taxed extremely hard.
5. Clear it with your doctor if you have prior injuries, especially knee and back injuries
As excellent an exercise as rucking is, if you have prior knee, back, or shoulder injuries, ask your doctor before starting rucking – especially if you’ve had any surgeries.
How to Ruck
Now that you’re convinced to add rucking as part of your total fitness program, how do you get started rucking?
1. Find the right rucking backpack for you
Starting rucking with a pack that is durable and comfortably holds heavier weight (10lbs-50lbs) is important to staying comfortable enough to be safe and enjoy the experience. Check out our list of 9 great backpacks for rucking to learn the criteria of a good ruck and get some ideas of good backpacks
2. Find some good weights for rucking and load your pack properly
Virtually any weight will work, but picking weights that are stable (don’t shift while walking) and fit the shape of your pack make the experience of rucking more enjoyable. 10%-20% of your weight is a good starting point
Read our article on rucking weights for several options for making or buying your ruck weights and learning how to pack them properly.
3. Put on the right shoes
Though your back, legs, and shoulders will be getting an excellent workout, your feet will be doing the most work. With the thousands of steps you’ll take, with more weight than normal on your back, ensure that you choose supportive footwear that has been broken in well and wool socks that will wick sweat away from your feet keeping them as dry and comfortable as possible.
If you’re prone to twisting or rolling your ankle, consider using over the ankle footwear for additional support.
4. Start walking
Just get out there and start walking. 2-4 miles in a place with fresh and good scenery is perfect.
Read more in our article “15 tips for rucking safely, efficiently, and effectively”
Does Rucking Build Muscle?
Yes, rucking builds functional strength and muscle in the legs, posterior chain (glutes, lower back), and upper back. Rucking’s requirement of stabilizing strength, in the spine, core, and back, and dynamically applied strength in the upper legs, lower legs, and glute builds, conditions, and maintains Type I muscle fibers, also referred to as slow twitch muscle fibers. These “slow twitch” muscle fibers are developed, and conditioned, to deliver strength over long periods while efficiently burning energy, allowing you to perform stronger, longer.
What muscles does rucking work?
Rucking trains and engages the entire legs (calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps), the hips and posterior chain (glutes, lower back), and the upper back and shoulder stabilization muscles (trapezius muscles).
What does the rucking body transformation look like?
Training with rucking will undoubtedly transform your body, with more internal changes and functional benefits than aesthetic benefits. Expect improved cardiovascular fitness and endurance, as the increased weight, and strength required, force your heart to beat much harder and faster over a similar distance walking without weight. Additionally, expect to condition and develop more of strength-building Type I “slow-twitch” muscle fibers in the back (upper and lower), core, spinal erectors, and glutes, with additionally strength gains throughout the legs due to the development of both fast-twitch muscle fibers (for balancing on unstable terrain, burst movements, and more) and slow-twitch muscle fibers (to simply stay moving).
What’s a ruck?
“A ruck” is the common term in the military, short for “rucksack” for a backpack used to hold weight, or gear, for hikes or military movements on foot. “Rucking” is the act of walking with a weighted backpack, either as a means of transport and movement or for training purposes.
Now that you know that you should be rucking, its time for you to get started. The following content is a great jumpoff point to beginning your fitness plan of getting fit by walking with weight.
Additionally, I highly recommend taking on the 100 kettlebell swings a day challenge, improvised with your ruck as a kettlebell. A “simple” 7 to 10 minute challenge for 30 days that delivers great results.
- Essential Fitness Gear for Home Gyms and Travel
- 17 Rucking Tips to Get You Started Rucking Comfortably and Safely
- How to Pick Good Weights for Rucking
- 5 Great Rucking Workouts
- The 9 Best Backpacks for Rucking + 17 Tips for Finding the Right Ruckpack for You
- The Ultimate GORUCK Discount Code Guide
- 31 Intense Sandbag Workouts: Use your ruck weight sandbag for extra training with these minimalist HIIT workouts
- “Calories burned walking for an hour” [Livestrong]<https://www.livestrong.com/article/300443-how-many-calories-do-you-burn-walking-30-minutes-to-an-hour/>
- “Greenspaces and mortality due to cardiovascular diseases in the city of Rio de Janeiro” [National Institutes of Health] < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5947462/>
- “[Effect of vitamin D levels on testosterone level in men” [National Institutes of Health] <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21154195>