What the Ruck?!

Mastering Rucking: A Strategy for Improvement

What is Rucking?

Rucking is the action of walking with weight on your back. Walking with a weighted rucksack (aka backpack) is a low impact exercise based on military training workouts.

Hiking is rucking in the mountains and urban hiking is simply called rucking. You've probably even spent time rucking - traveling, bringing books to school, or on your commute to work. Carrying weight is a necessary part of life, and as it turns out, humans are pretty good at it too.

Rucking, regardless of whether you're in the military or not, can be a phenomenal way to increase aerobic conditioning, challenge the mind and push your performance to new limits.  But, it has to be done correctly... and let me tell you, I've done a lot of it incorrectly!  This led me to poor recovery and even injury.  In my military experience, I've honed a strategy for enhancing rucking performance. 

Here are my favourite tips to implement Rucking and improve your performance, along with insights on what I would have done differently.

Optimize Rucking Frequency:

Recognize individual body differences; high mileage doesn't suit everyone.
Avoid daily, even weekly rucking unless deployment is imminent.  If you're not in the military, alternate between heavy and light, long and short etc.  Start with a few rucks a month and increase based on your ability to recover and tolerate the workload.  Too much too soon is a recipe for injury.

Manage Training Volume:

Limit rucking distance to a percentage of the target race distance per week for effective training without excessive strain.  Explore alternative methods like sled work for enhanced speed, recovery, and work capacity.  If you're not competing, less is more.  Start low in terms of weight and distance and progressively taper up over time.  Don't try to break land speed records right off the bat.  Treat it like play and find things th

Understand Heart Rate for Conditioning:

Focus on maintaining low RPE during Long Slow Distance (LSD) rucking.  The higher the heart rate, the larger the demand on your system.  As your average HR goes up, the duration of the ruck should come down.  The higher the average difficulty of all your rucking, the lower the frequency should be.  Only do as much as you can recover from.

Embrace Unilateral Exercises:

Incorporate loaded unilateral movements to mimic rucking mechanics and enhance muscle activation.  Walking and rucking are both unilateral movements, so you should supplement your rucking with unilateral weight training movements.  Some of my favourites are:

  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Single Leg RDL
  • Copenhagen Plank
  • Walking Lunges
  • Step Ups

... and any loading variations of those movements (barbell, dumbbell, Kettlebell etc.)

Incorporate Hill Walking:

Utilize hills for lower impact training, improving lower body strength and mental resilience.  Because a hill walk has no eccentric loading, meaning that you don't have to absorb any force, the orthopedic strain is lower, even with higher difficulties.  This can be a great way to have harder sessions that don't impact recovery.

Enhance Bone Density:

Implement sub-maximal efforts and cross-training to build bone density and resilience.  Shin splints can immediately derail your progress.  So, tapering up volume and loading can improve your body's resilience to the additional weight on the body during movement.  No one wants a stress fracture, trust me.

Optimal Stride Frequency:

Follow guidelines similar to elite marathon runners, emphasizing quick strides and minimal ground contact.  This will vary for each individual, but playing with your stride cadence

Pace Estimation Method:

Use a formula to estimate rucking pace based on trial distances, adjusting for longer durations.  This is something you'll have to figure out on your own based on the data you collect from your own practice.  How long distances take you at full effort vs. submaximal effort and how to adjust your pace based on the distance.  For example - your 1 mile time will be faster if you're just doing a 1 mile carry vs. a one mile split during a marathon ruck.

Efficient Fueling:

Choose easily digestible, non-sugary options like baby food and fruit for sustenance on the move.  Liquid carbs can be great for distances sub 2hrs, but if you're in it for the long haul, you'll want some highly digestible whole food and sodium.  Don't ever discount the performance benefit of adding salt to your water during long duration activity.  Most acute declines in performance are due to dehydration rather than fuel availability.

Transitioning Strategy:

Gradually increase distance, duration, and load to build rucking proficiency.  As you improve your abilities, your strategies will need to evolve along with you.  Keep notes and monitor your progress.  Having specific benchmark tests can also really help you measure your progress over time.


  • Experiment with the run, shuffle, walk method for varied terrains. Run downhill, Shuffle on flat terrain, walk uphill.
  • Consider literature like "Strength Manual for Running" for invaluable training principles.
Rucking, the art of walking with weight, offers a powerful workout but demands careful approach. As a seasoned health coach, I've learned from my military experiences to optimize frequency, manage volume, monitor heart rate, embrace unilateral exercises, incorporate hill walking, enhance bone density, optimize stride frequency, estimate pace, fuel efficiently, and plan a strategic transition. Learn from my insights and tips to make your rucking journey effective and injury-free. Remember, gradual progression is key. Happy rucking!