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Unlocking Fitness: Transform Your Walks with Weighted Rucking


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If you’re one to relish a brisk walk as your favored form of exercise, there’s a remarkably simple way to elevate your fitness game: introduce “rucking” into your routine.

Rucking is essentially walking while carrying extra weight on your back, and it’s a fitness trend that’s been gaining popularity. The allure lies in its straightforwardness and its potential to deliver impressive results.

Former US Navy SEAL Stew Smith, a fitness instructor and coach at the US Naval Academy, has observed that rucking has become a common sight in his neighborhood. This fitness practice originates from “ruck marching,” a fundamental skill in military training worldwide.

The US Army, for instance, subjects recruits seeking an Expert Infantryman Badge to a rigorous 19-kilometer ruck march, which must be completed in three hours while carrying a load of at least 16 kilograms. However, beginners can start with a lighter load and gradually increase the weight as they build strength.

The growing popularity of rucking can be attributed to several factors. It provides a simple, low-impact, full-body workout that enhances cardiovascular and muscular health. A study in September 2019 revealed that ten weeks of weighted walking and resistance training not only improved physical performance in men but also reduced their perceived effort during exercise.

Another study from January 2019 found that weighted step training enhanced lower-limb muscle power and functional abilities in older women, potentially extending their independence by almost a decade.

Moreover, rucking is a calorie-burning powerhouse. Carrying weight while walking burns 30% to 45% more calories compared to walking without a backpack. For instance, a 180-pound soldier carrying 35 pounds and walking 15 minutes per mile for 3.7 miles burns 680 calories, according to the US Army. Essentially, the heavier you are, the more calories you’ll burn during rucking, making it a scalable workout option.

Notably, rucking typically takes place outdoors, offering mental health benefits. Numerous studies have highlighted the positive impact of natural environments on mental well-being, making rucking an attractive option for those seeking both physical and psychological benefits.

How to Get Started with Rucking

While rucking is essentially walking with a backpack, there are some key considerations to keep in mind before embarking on this fitness journey. First and foremost, start slowly. Just like any new exercise, it’s crucial to ease into it.

Begin with an empty backpack and cover a distance you’ve comfortably walked before, advises Mark Stephenson, Senior Director at the Center for Sports Performance and Research at Mass General Brigham. When you’re ready to add weight, start with a modest amount, such as 10% of your body weight, and increase it gradually. This gradual approach helps minimize the stress on your ankles, knees, hips, and back.

Consider using a weighted vest instead of a backpack, especially if you’re looking to distribute the weight more evenly between your front and back.

When selecting a backpack for rucking, opt for one with wide, padded shoulder straps. Avoid using bags with thin straps, as they are not designed to carry heavy loads and may cause discomfort.

Additionally, ensure that your backpack has a waist strap, which helps stabilize it, minimizes movement, and evenly distributes the weight. The pack should sit snugly against your back, avoiding excessive pulling on the shoulders.

When adding weight to your backpack, avoid placing heavy items at the bottom of the pack near your lower back. Instead, center the load near your shoulder blades for better balance and comfort. To keep it comfortable and safe, consider using a bag of sand, which molds to your back. Specially designed fitness sandbags are also available.

For those seeking the convenience of a dedicated rucking backpack, there are options available that come with weighted plates or sandbags, along with pockets designed to hold them securely in place. Some of these backpacks even feature exterior handles, allowing you to pause during your ruck and perform additional exercises, such as squats while holding the bag above your head.

Finally, don’t overlook the importance of your footwear. Choose comfortable shoes and pair them with socks made from moisture-wicking materials like wool to prevent blisters.

Additional Considerations for Rucking

While rucking is a suitable form of exercise for many people, it may not be advisable for everyone. Individuals with shoulder issues, tendinitis, or stiffness should exercise caution, as adding weight to a backpack can exacerbate these problems.

It’s recommended to incorporate rucking into your fitness routine just a few times per week, rather than doing it daily. To maximize the benefits, consider supplementing your rucking sessions with lower-body exercises.

For example, the US Naval Academy’s students, under the guidance of Stew Smith, include rucking in their fitness regimen, performing it twice a week. Their rucking workouts involve traversing tracks, ascending and descending bleachers, and incorporating lunges and squats.

Ultimately, rucking is a straightforward yet effective fitness activity. The key is to approach it intelligently, seeking a balance between challenge and safety. If it becomes painful, it’s essential to listen to your body, as discomfort may indicate that adjustments are needed in your rucking routine.

Incorporating rucking into your fitness journey can be an excellent way to enhance your overall health, offering a low-impact, outdoor workout that not only strengthens your body but also provides mental rejuvenation.

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