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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Tired of the Gym? Meet Rucking!

The well-documented physical and mental benefits of exercise often confront us with the overwhelming task of choosing the right regimen among a multitude of options. Should one opt for HIIT, prolonged cardio, or strength training? And if so, how frequently? Navigating this maze of choices can be daunting, as there's no one-size-fits-all solution. To simplify matters, the key is to include a variety of activities that stimulate different systems in your body, and most importantly, choose activities that resonate with your interests.


Enter rucking—a practical, efficient exercise method that caters to both these needs by offering a low-impact workout targeting multiple aspects of physical fitness with the added benefit of taking your workout outdoors.


a man hiking in a red jacket carrying a pack, looking out over a cliff

Rucking is an underrated fitness activity offering a wide range of benefits while serving as a practical answer to the challenge posed by Michael Easter in his book, The Comfort Crisis.


Easter warns of an insidious danger in our modern, convenience-filled lives—the gradual extinction of discomfort. As our existence is cushioned by conveniences like cars, instant food, and regulated environments, we risk losing a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from engaging with primal human experiences and skills.


To counter this growing disconnect, Easter advocates returning to strenuous exercises, particularly those that pit us against nature's demanding forces. Among such activities, rucking stands out — a practice reminiscent of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In essence, rucking not only provides a comprehensive workout but also bridges the gap between our comfortable modern lifestyle and our basic human instincts.


"Hiking is not escapism; it's realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong." - Jennifer Pharr Davis


 

Table of Contents


 

What is Rucking?


At it's core, rucking is a form of exercise that is both straightforward and accessible. It primarily involves walking for a set distance while carrying a weighted backpack, often referred to as a 'ruck sack'. Unlike more complex workout regimens, rucking does not necessitate expensive equipment or specialized training. All one needs is a sturdy backpack and some weight, which can be anything from dedicated weight plates to everyday items like books or bottles of water. The weight adds resistance, effectively turning a simple walk into a challenging workout that engages several muscle groups, stimulates cardiovascular activity, and aids in improving endurance.


1. Carrying Weight: The recommended starting weight for rucking is about 10% of your body weight. So, for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your rucksack (rucking backpack) should carry 15 pounds. It's best to start with a lower weight and gradually increase it as your strength and endurance improve. For most individuals, a weight of 20-30% of their body weight is considered a high load.


2. Duration: Similar to the weight, the duration of a ruck should be tailored to your fitness level. Beginners might start with 15-30 minutes of rucking, slowly increasing the time as their endurance builds. A common goal for many is to ruck for 60 minutes at a stretch, but there are no hard and fast rules. Some might enjoy rucking for a few hours, especially if they are hiking.


3. Distance: If you prefer to measure your rucks by distance rather than time, a good starting point could be 1-2 miles. As you get more comfortable with the weight and your pace, you can start increasing the distance. Eventually, you might aim for 3-5 miles or more per ruck.


4. Frequency: As with other forms of exercise, it's important to allow your body to rest and recover between rucks. You might start by rucking once or twice a week, increasing the frequency as your body adapts.


5. Speed: A good pace to aim for when rucking is about 3-4 miles per hour, or a 15-20 minute mile. This is faster than a leisurely stroll but slower than a brisk walk.



a man wearing military fatigues walking carrying a pack


Origins of Rucking


The roots of rucking can be traced back to military training, where it has long been an essential component. Soldiers are often required to carry heavy loads over long distances, either as part of their training exercises or in real-life scenarios on the battlefield. This training not only prepares them physically for the rigors of military life but also cultivates mental toughness and resilience.


The military ruck marches are typically carried out with a pack weighing at least 35 pounds, sometimes more, depending on the soldier's role and mission requirements. These marches can stretch over considerable distances, often over rough terrain, testing both the physical endurance and mental fortitude of the soldiers.


In recent years, this military exercise has been embraced by civilians as a practical and efficient fitness method. The adaptability of rucking allows individuals to tailor the workout to their fitness levels, choosing the weight of the pack and the distance to be covered, making it a viable exercise option for a wide range of individuals.


Benefits of Rucking


Unlike many other forms of exercise that target specific muscle groups, rucking offers a comprehensive workout that engages a wide range of muscles. As you walk, your lower body gets a solid workout, and when you carry a weighted pack, your upper body also comes into play. Moreover, the challenge of stabilizing your body and maintaining balance while carrying the load, especially on uneven terrain, puts additional emphasis on your core muscles.


Rucking transforms a simple walk into a full-body strengthening exercise, yielding significant benefits.


One of the valuable aspects of rucking is its capacity for resistance training. This type of training is known to boost bone density, a particularly crucial benefit as we age. With advancing years, there's a tendency for our bone density to decline, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. By promoting bone growth, rucking becomes an effective means to sustain bone health throughout our lifespan.


In addition to its strength-building qualities, rucking provides a notable aerobic component that should not be underestimated. The added weight raises your heart rate during the activity, transforming it into an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. Whether you're engaging in VO2Max training while conquering steep hills or maintaining a steady state for Zone 2 training, both approaches are crucial for preventing diseases and promoting a healthy healthspan. For more information on Zone 2 training, you can check out our previous post titled "The Unseen Impact of Zone 2 Training on Performance and Wellness."


Rucking is also a calorie-burning powerhouse. As a general rule, it can burn 2-3 times more calories than walking alone, thanks to the added weight. Consequently, it becomes a highly effective exercise for weight management, making it an ideal choice for those aiming to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.


The Dangers of Comfort in Our Modern Life


In his thought-provoking book, "The Comfort Crisis," journalist and health science writer Michael Easter delves into the paradox of our modern, comfort-filled life. Easter suggests that while humanity has been striving towards greater convenience and comfort for centuries, we have reached a tipping point where too much comfort can actually be detrimental to our wellbeing.


Our lives have become so removed from the natural world and the challenges our ancestors faced that it's having unintended side effects on our health, both physical and mental.


a woman sitting at a long table working on a computer and drinking coffee

Our world today, with its temperature-controlled environments, deskbound jobs, and fast food, makes it easy to lead a sedentary life with minimal physical exertion. This lack of physical activity can lead to a plethora of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, and mental health issues. Similarly, the convenience of modern technology often removes the need for problem-solving, leading to a decrease in cognitive function and resilience.


The Loss of Primal Human Experiences and Skills


Easter also points out that as our lives have become increasingly comfortable, we've lost touch with essential human experiences and skills. Activities that once formed a vital part of our existence—such as walking long distances, carrying heavy loads, and dealing with the elements—are now almost entirely absent from our lives.


These primal experiences served to strengthen our bodies and minds, build resilience, and instill a sense of achievement. Without them, we risk becoming physically weak and mentally complacent, robbed of the challenges that once spurred our growth and evolution. We also lose the satisfaction and fulfillment derived from accomplishing these primal tasks, leading to a decrease in overall happiness and contentment.


To remedy this growing crisis, Easter suggests that we need to consciously reintroduce discomfort into our lives. One effective way to do this is by engaging in strenuous exercises that hark back to our primal roots, such as rucking, which offers the dual benefits of providing a comprehensive workout and reconnecting us with our basic human instincts.


Rucking to Bring Discomfort Back into Our Lives


As an exercise, rucking introduces a measure of discomfort back into our lives. The additional weight makes this otherwise simple activity more strenuous, pushing us out of our comfort zones. It forces us to engage our bodies and minds fully, to manage the load and maintain the pace.


two people and a dog hiking up rocks, wearing packs

This discomfort is beneficial. It trains our bodies to become stronger and more resilient. It also helps build mental fortitude as we learn to persevere and overcome the challenge. By choosing to engage in an activity like rucking, we are consciously breaking away from the sedentary comforts of modern life, actively improving our physical and mental health.


Beyond its physical and mental benefits, rucking can also provide a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. There is a certain gratification in completing a ruck—knowing that you've pushed your limits, carried a heavy load over a set distance, and come out stronger on the other side.


Rucking can make exercise feel more purposeful and functional, rather than a chore to be checked off your daily list. It hearkens back to a time when physical exertion was not just for maintaining health, but a necessary and integral part of life. This functional and primal aspect of rucking can instill a sense of purpose and achievement, making it not just a powerful form of exercise, but also a potent antidote to the comfort crisis.


The GoRuck Community


GoRuck is a company that was founded in 2008 by Jason McCarthy, a former Green Beret, with the initial idea to create rucksacks (rucking backpack) robust enough for military use but also suitable for civilian use. The company later expanded into organizing events and creating a community built around the military-style fitness practice of rucking.


The GoRuck events, also known as GoRuck Challenges, are team-based, guided, and range from light, which covers 7-10 miles and lasts about 4-5 hours, to heavy, which covers 40 miles and lasts 24 hours. The events are not races but rather physical and mental challenges designed to push participants to their limits while fostering teamwork and camaraderie. They often incorporate elements of military training, with team leaders who are Special Operations veterans.


The company also promotes the rucking movement more broadly by offering training plans, advice, and encouraging people to get active through rucking. Their philosophy revolves around the idea of building better Americans by encouraging physical activity, mental toughness, and a sense of community among participants. It's an amazingly comprehensive website to get you started into your rucking journey!


The GoRuck movement has grown significantly since its inception, with a robust community of ruckers participating in events worldwide and engaging in daily training. Rucking has started to gain recognition as a valuable, accessible fitness activity that can be performed anywhere, by anyone, irrespective of their fitness level.


 

Our modern world, while comfortable and convenient, often distances us from essential human experiences that not only challenge us physically but also stimulate mental growth and resilience. As Michael Easter suggests in his book "The Comfort Crisis," this growing disconnect can have detrimental effects on our health and overall wellbeing.


Rucking emerges as an effective antidote to this comfort crisis. Rooted in our primal instincts, it offers a multifaceted exercise that targets various aspects of physical fitness and mental health. It introduces beneficial discomfort back into our lives, pushing us beyond our comfort zones and making us stronger and more resilient. Moreover, it provides a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from engaging with a functional, purposeful form of exercise.


In the maze of fitness options, rucking stands out as a practical, efficient method that not only contributes to our physical health but also reconnects us with our primal roots. As we strap on our rucksacks and step out, we engage in more than just a workout—we embark on a journey towards overcoming the comfort crisis and reclaiming the strength and resilience that lie at the core of our human nature.


So, next time you're pondering your fitness regimen, consider rucking. It's more than just an exercise; it's a step back towards our primal instincts and a step forward in navigating the challenges of our comfort-filled modern lives


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