Rucking: A Surprising Addition to the Fitness Plan

To Start Rucking, a Backpack and Dumbbell can be used

Simply put, rucking refers to walking with a weighted rucksack or backpack. So a hike or half-hour dog walk turns into a more intense exercise session. Rucking helps anyone reach national fitness guidelines (150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week). And for endurance athletes, it provides a good cross-training workout.

Like walking, rucking is considered a low-impact activity. Yet, like weight lifting, rucking is also a weight bearing activity, especially as weight is increased and/or walking uphill. In fact, it works all the muscles in the lower body, especially hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. It also works muscles in the upper body for straightening the spine and posture while walking. And further, like running, rucking can take heart rate up into the aerobic fitness training zone (60 - 74%  of HEART RATE RESERVE). So what’s not to like with rucking?

Surprisingly, rucking has been around for thousands of years. Armies in ancient Greece and Rome had their soldiers carry weighted packs to transport goods and build fitness. To this day, armies around the world continue to use rucking in both operations and as a fitness standard. For instance, to receive the United States Army’s Expert Infantryman Badge soldiers must complete a 12-mile (19km) ruck within 3 hours (15:00 per mile / 9:19 per km pace) while carrying at least 35 pounds.

As you can see above, I began rucking using my hydration backpack with a dumbbell as weight. I started out at about 10% of my bodyweight - 15 pounds. And I’ve increased this weight in five pound increments to where I’m at right now - 25 pounds. With increasing weight, I’ve had to change to a larger backpack which seems to be working fine right now. With a larger backpack, it’s good to put a bath towel around the dumbbell so it stays in position near the shoulder blades rather than the hips. After increasing weight, I check to see how I handle the new weight. Right now at 25 pounds, I have to really work at stabilizing my core while rucking downhill. And after finishing, my legs and hips feel like they’ve done work, but not to the point of soreness. However, there has been some strain around the neck and shoulder region which can last for a half-day after a ruck. Until this straining works itself out, I’m not planning on increasing the weight.

I'm using rucking as a cross-training workout up to two times per week. For rucks up to an hour, I'll use 25 pounds in my backpack. For longer rucks or a RECOVERY WEEK, I'll use 15 pounds.

The terrain I’m rucking on is dirt trails with an equal amount of uphill and downhill. In addition, rucking can also take place on pancake-flat city streets, too.

While I’ve gradually increased the weight in my backpack, so far I’ve been able to still stay close to my BRISK WALKING PACE. With the varied terrain I’m rucking on, I find it easier to check my cadence of rucking to that of brisk walking (120 steps per minute). If my rucking cadence were to slow quite a bit, I would maintain the same backpack weight until it increased.

Rucking In Action
Calories Burned per 60 Minutes of Different Cross-Training Activities

Above is a chart of calories burned for an hour of different cross-training activities. Generally speaking, rucking uses about two to three times more calories than brisk walking (which as you can see in the chart is 260 calories per hour). After I filled out an online rucking calculator for a one hour ruck with equal downhill and uphill sections carrying a 25-pound pack - 772 calories burned per hour was calculated. So referring to the chart, rucking can use two to three times more calories than brisk walking, and seems to be one of the higher cross-training activities (ranks up there with running and cross-country skiing).

I’m recommending two different online rucking calculators for readers to check out:
THIS ONLINE CALCULATOR is good for uphill and downhill rucks.

THE SECOND CALCULATOR is good for rucking on flat terrain and the website also has lots of good general information about rucking.
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Thanks for reading! I’m going to leave it there for now. If my rucking changes with new equipment, weight, and so forth; I’ll update information in this post. 


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Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel. I usually post once or twice a month.