From pickleball to Peloton, many of today’s hottest fitness trends require specialized equipment or travel to a specific location to participate.
But rucking is different.
Everything you need for this fitness activity ― which is growing in popularity in part thanks to social media and growth of ruck clubs across the country including in Wisconsin ― is a backpack, athletic shoes and some weights. Basically, it’s just hiking with a weighted backpack.
Rucking originated as a military exercise, but its popularity has steadily increased among fitness enthusiasts over the past five years.
Jennifer Earl Boehm is director of the athletic training program and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Earl-Boehm and her graduate students work with UWM’s ROTC program to help cadets with their physical training (which includes running) and injury prevention. Recently, Earl-Boehm published a a study of the physical effects of recoil.
We talked to her about the running trend, how to get started and how to participate safely. Here’s what we learned.
What is rucking?
The word “rucking” comes from the military term for a rucksack, which is known as a “knapsack”.
Rucking involves walking, often at a faster pace, while carrying a weighted rucksack. Athletes usually wear weight plates (they even make them those especially for rucking), but you can also fill your package with books, groceries or other items.
Some athletes start out lifting weights as light as five pounds, and many work up to 35 to 45 pounds, sometimes even more in military training, Earl-Boehm said. Advanced athletes can include more intense movementslike push-ups and lunges, in your hands.
Ruck mileage varies widely among athletes. ROTC cadets start running at about four miles and work up to 12 miles at a 15-minute-per-mile pace, Earl-Boehm said. But of course, rucking is no longer just for those training for military careers.
Running, she said, can be great for people who “may not want to participate in running for whatever reason” but want to do “a little more intense exercise than just walking.” You can make the workout more challenging by increasing the speed or weight, she said.
What weight is considered rucking?
Earl-Boehm said the most important way to prevent running injuries is to progress slowly when it comes to all factors — weight, speed and distance.
She recommends that new players start with a light weight, like five pounds. As athletes resume running, she advises that they progress slowly, adding no more than five to ten pounds per week. Most athletes will never need to go above 35 to 40 pounds, Earl-Boehm said.
In an interview with the New York Times, the founder Mountain Tactical Institute Rob Shaul said that those used to walking for exercise should start jogging “for 30 minutes on a flat surface at a brisk pace two to three days a week.”
What equipment do I need to start rucking?
In addition to a backpack and some weights, Earl-Boehm said it’s important for ruckers to wear proper shoes to avoid injury.
She urges athletes to use designer shoes for walking, not running, because the different designs account for the fact that your feet hit the ground differently when walking versus running. If you’ll be running on trails or other uneven surfaces, Earl-Boehm advises buying trail walking shoes for extra traction and grip.
What does rucking do to your body?
Earl-Boehm’s research found that running can lead to overuse injuries and muscle fatigue, particularly in the ankle musculature. She recommends that runners “really focus” on ankle strengthening exercises. Ankle strength work prevents injury by increasing an athlete’s endurance. That way, their ankles don’t tire as quickly on long runs, she said.
In addition, Earl-Boehm said that people who have had back injuries should be careful when they start rucking.
If you have a history of back injuries, she said you should make sure you have “good, adequate core strength” to be able to carry a backpack. You can also start with an empty backpack and slowly increase the weight over time so your body can adjust, she suggested.
How can I join the rucking club in Milwaukee?
Michael Einstein, a veteran, is one of the club’s many leaders. He said the group is made up of a variety of ages and body sizes and includes both veterans and non-veterans. The Good Land Ruck Club has about 30 core members, many of whom have met each other GoRuck eventswhich occurs regularly across the US
The club meets for regular gatherings and practices on Tuesday evenings, which are announced at club Facebook group and on GoRuck Sandlot app, Einstein said. Past events include a beer ruck, a taco ruck, sandbag workouts, and hot yoga sessions.
The group even organized a “watermelon drive,” where each member had to carry a whole watermelon for at least three miles, said Danny Clayton Veseth, the group’s second leader.
“It’s just a group that comes together and wants to understand what it’s like to accept sucking (and) learn to enjoy the hard stuff,” Einstein said. “The fact that it’s hard, that’s how you grow.”
Does rucking really build muscle?
Most of the Good Land Ruck Club runs are three to five miles long and about an hour. Participants can decide how much weight, if any, they want to carry. However, in addition to regular exercises, some members of the group participated in and organized multi-hour ultra-endurance events.
On November 11, many members will participate in CHAD 1000Xwhere they will complete 1,000 “steps” while carrying their backpacks to raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention.
Some players also regularly participate in “basic”, “hard” and “hard”. These lunches last six hours, 12 hours and 24 hours. In each, athletes under 150 pounds carry 20 pounds in their backpack and those over 150 pounds carry 30 pounds. However, after adding water, snacks, a jacket and other gear, Veseth said his load usually ends up being more than 40 pounds.
Through these difficult exercises, Einstein said he learned invaluable lessons.
“I find peace in that trouble,” he said. “It’s crazy what you can learn about yourself. … It makes me a better father, a better husband. It makes me a better colleague. It makes me better at everything because everything is so easy in comparison.”
What are the advantages of rucking?
Any walking for long periods of time can build cardiovascular endurance, but running is a low-impact way to increase bone strength and density, Earl-Boehm told the New York Times.
In addition, spending time outside running ― or doing many other physical activities ― is shown to improve cognitive functions, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health and sleep.
Toni Christiansen Gillette has been a member of the Good Land Ruck Club since 2019 and is now the leader of the group. The strength she developed from running, she said, helped her a lot in her job as a spinal cord injury therapist.
“In my job, I have to do a lot of lifting and a lot of carrying… My back started to hurt a little while I was working with patients,” she recalled. “That’s when I started to notice that I felt stronger and was able to better manage my patients and do my job.”
Gillette also enjoys reaching out for the community aspect. With GoRuck clubs across the country, even when she and her husband are visiting family in Tennessee, they can still find like-minded people to work out with.
“There’s a group that fights about 45 minutes from my parents’ house, and I got converted a few years ago, and it was crazy — they had the same culture, the same philosophy,” she said. “Since then, every time we go down there, we fight with them.”