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Running isn't a bad workout; it just isn't the only workout, as some would lead you to believe. Cardiovascular exercise and preparing for the fight go hand in hand.
But running on its own doesn't build muscle or develop functional strength. Running in nothing more than skimpy shorts with a fanny pack of electrolyte goo won't prepare you for SHTF. You need an exercise that'll test your power, endurance, and cargo-carrying capacity.
This workout, of course, is ruck marching. Whether you prefer to go at it alone or wish to seek out a training group to motivate you, ruck marching (or “rucking”) is a growing trend you should be consider joining.
Long before health-minded folks used weighted packs for exercise, soldiers carried rucksacks into the field and backpackers carried frame packs up mountains. In recent years, rucking has grown exponentially as a health trend. You'll find individuals and groups around the country storming down trails, urban landscapes, and sidewalks under heavy pack in the name of fitness. Leading the charge is a company called GoRuck. It's spearheaded the movement with its own line of packs, dedicated group equipment, and organized events nationwide.
Today, the numbers continue to grow and are led by fitness fanatics who've abandoned traditional running for a workout with a much greater health-benefit yield.
Walking burns more calories than sitting. Running burns more calories than walking. And rucking burns the most calories of the trio at an approximate rate of three times that of walking.
How? Add weight to your back and you build strength in your shoulders and core. Add weight to your legs and you increase the work necessary to move you, improving your cardiovascular output.
Opinions vary as to the magic number of workout minutes needed to burn fat. Assuming it's around 30, give or take, rucking with a weighted pack will help keep the heart rate up with far less impact on the bones and joints than running.
Also, since rucking taps into different muscles, folks who can't run 30-plus minutes on end may find rucking easier while accomplishing similar goals. Even accomplished runners will find they're sore the next morning (and especially two days later) after a good rucking session. It simply works the body in a way running can't. The weight of the ruck requires the wearer to tap into stabilizing muscle groups in the torso and legs.
It's a true full-body workout.
The Basics: While any weight will work, most supplemental pack weights are dedicated plates meant for competition and training and makeshift weights made from bags of sand and duct-taped bricks. Bricks can be abrasive on packs and need to be wrapped in duct tape. Those who don't will get nicknamed “raw dog.” We'll pass.
For official events, participants under 150 pounds generally carry four bricks and those over 150 pounds haul six. For the individual not bound by competition rules, a good rule of thumb is to begin with approximately 10 to 20 percent of your bodyweight. To more closely mimic reality, carrying true hard armor plates and ammo cans will let the “survival athlete” know how they'll perform in a real-life situation.
Group/Team Rucking: The group dynamic of a ruck cannot be denied. Peer pressure, as well as the pressure from elite Special Forces cadre who lead the GoRuck events, help runners push through pain. A group usually travels only as fast as the slowest rucker, and generally there's a team burden to bear. Depending on the fitness level of the participant, group ruck marches can last hours or even days.
If this level of organization is too much commitment for you, informal partnerships between two or more ruckers will ensure someone is watching your back and vice versa.
Beyond Rucking: Most any bodyweight workout can be enhanced with the use of a ruck. These workouts don't require much space and allow the athlete to train in place. Pull-ups, dips, and pushups take on a new dimension when the added resistance of a weighted pack is incorporated. Squats, lunges, and calf raises will work the lower body relative to the amount of weight stuffed in the rucksack.
Even crunches with the pack clutched to the chest, leg raises with the ruck squeezed at the calves, and planks can be used to work the core and stabilizing muscles. For those who have never tried resistance training with anything other than a barbell, using a weighted bag requires more frequent stabilizing. This added resistance burns more calories.
Note Your Baseline: Before you strike off on a ruck march, you should consult a physician if you're unsure about your health. Also, it's advisable to determine your baseline resting heart rate as well as your maximum heart rate. Rucking can be a tough workout, and you should know how to monitor your pulse to achieve the fat loss or muscle building beats per minute needed formula to achieve your goal.
Stay Visible: Rucking is done at all hours of the day. Plan on finding trails and pathways where you won't be struck by a car. For this reason, carrying a headlamp and signal panel will help drivers see you.
Pick It: While any pack can be worn during a ruck march, a durable well-fitting pack is best. Hip belts are non-existent on many rucks, as they interfere with what's worn on the belt. Looking to the experience of the military, this means waist belts are cut off to avoid obstructing holsters and blades. A ruck shouldn't shift unnecessarily when worn. A sternum strap will add support, but it must be worn just above the nipple line or the wearer risks being choked out by his ruck.
Test It: A good ruck must be comfortable to wear with significant weight inside. The ruck chosen should be tough as nails, as it may house objects that will abrade and damage lesser-quality designs. Padded and curved shoulder straps will help cushion the load and a good padded back panel will mitigate the sharp corners of taped bricks, armor plates, and dedicated weight panels.
Fit It: One other consideration in picking your pack is knowing how it fits your torso. The torso of a 6-foot man isn't the same size as a 5-foot female. Make sure your ruck fits before you exit the store, let alone strike off on the trail.
Even those with a good running technique (landing mid-foot to forward instead of heel striking) will eventually feel the effects of running. It's jarring on the knees and the pounding takes its toll. Rucking works the body three times as hard as walking — even if you take the same exact trail — but has less impact on the human body. With rucking, since one foot remains on the ground when the stepping foot makes contact, less impact is felt than running where the athlete “catches” his weight with each stride.
The benefits of rucking extend far beyond the physical for the survivor. Anyone who has completed a set distance run (from 5K to full marathon) always remarks on their feeling of accomplishment. They were tested and finished the race. The same is true for rucking. If you never thought you could walk to safety or have what it takes to push on, rucking will give you the answer. Rucking is a safe dry run, giving you the mental strength and confidence if you really have to bug out.
“The mind is toughened through the body,” says Johnny Ray Vega, a rucker, Crossfitter, and fitness trainer. “Rucking allows you to tribally connect to likeminded individuals.”
Beach muscles aren't the same as functional muscles. The average fighter (soldier, police officer, martial artist) isn't built like the professional bodybuilders seen on stage. Rucking will give you muscle for function first, form second. It challenges the mind and the body, building abilities the survivor may need to tap into if the SHTF.
Most runners run with nothing more than a house key, an identification card, and an MP3 player or smartphone. In a bug-out scenario, anyone caught with this minimalist load out won't last long. A more practical prepper on the run will have a pack with them. What they carry and how far they can carry it shouldn't be unknown factors. Ruck marching exposes the answers and prepares the survival athlete for hard times.
If you're looking for more information on ruck marches, we have exclusive content online. To learn what you should pack in your ruck and five common newbie mistakes to avoid, go to www.offgridweb.com/preparation/ruck-gear.
Kevin Estela is the owner/head instructor of Estela Wilderness Education, a bushcraft and survival school in New England. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, and an avid marksman. As a “survival athlete” he can be found regularly testing his physical and mental limitations in the gym, woods, and urban landscape preparing for the fight.