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Rucking, part two

  • February 14, 2022

We’re back for part two of Rucking 101! If you missed part one, you can find it here. There, I cover all of the basics, like “what is rucking?” and “how do I get started?” Here, I’ve answered all of the FAQs you sent me two weeks ago, to help you make the most of your rucking adventures.

Note that while I reference specific gear from GORUCK here (I’m a superfan of the brand, friends with the founder, and an affiliate), this same advice applies to your own backpack or whatever tools you’ve chosen to use while rucking.

Which pack do you have?

I use the Plate Carrier for 90% of my rucks. It’s the lightest/leanest way to carry the weight, and it sits tightly on my back and doesn’t move around much, except for dynamic workouts. The downside is that there isn’t room for ANYTHING besides the weight inside that compartment. If you want to ruck and take layers, water, or snacks, you’ll want one of their backpacks. Their brand new Rucker 4.0 is the most cost-effective option, with room for hydration, lumbar padding, added handles for exercises like deadlifts, cleans, and presses, and it has an optional hip belt, which will help you distribute the weight of the load to your hips, not just your shoulders. (Note, weight plates are sold separately, and come in 10, 20, 30, and 45 pound options.)

How does rucking feel different than hiking for you?

I rarely combine my “church” visits with rucking, mostly because these two activities serve different purposes. My time in the mountains feels sacred—it’s where I talk to God, restore my mental health, absorb the beauty of nature, and move my body in whatever way feels joyful. Rucking is about navigating discomfort—making my physical activity heavier, harder, or less comfortable. My normal walks with Henry are harder and less comfortable when I ruck. My normal workout dragging the sled is harder and less comfortable when I ruck. I love how rucking is teaching me how to be uncomfortable—embrace it, even! But I don’t want to combine church and discomfort. (Aside: I do occasionally throw weight on when I hike, but I have to be in the mood to make my hike purposefully harder in this specific way.)

How do I make sure I get the right size ruck?

GORUCK has a sizing guide linked on all of their product pages, and you can also find details in this article. Here’s the gist: You want the bottom of the rucksack to sit above your belt line. If the bottom isn’t above the belt, then you’ll introduce the potential for friction along your belt line. They’ve found that most people under 5’6″ pass the belt test with a Small Frame Rucker. Most people will feel good in a Standard size—I’m 5’10” and use a Standard, and so does Brandon at 6’ 1”. (Their Extra-Large is for very tall people, and has the longest straps.) You can always reach out to GORUCK via Instagram DM with specific questions.

How do I make sure the pack fits well?

You want the pack to be snug on your back. Secure the side straps such that they’re tight, but not digging into any part of your flesh. The chest strap should be on the flattest part of your collarbone, and should also be pulled tight enough that the pack doesn’t shift from side to side, but not so tight the straps cut into your neck or your shoulders round forward. The weight should be carried high on your back, not down by your hips. It may take a little adjusting, but once you have the pack set where you want it, you’re done!

Is rucking good exercise for those who are 50+?

Hell yes! Rucking is excellent for older folks, especially women. As bone density tends to decrease as one enters peri-menopause, adding weight to low-intensity workouts like walking can help you keep building strong bones. It’s gentle on joints, as it’s low-impact, and it’s excellent for cardiovascular health, balance, and strength, especially in your legs, hips, core, and back. It’s also a wonderfully social activity, and something the whole family can do at the same time, scaling to their own individual abilities. (My son has been wearing a backpack on hikes since he was 4!) If you struggle with balance, adding hiking poles to your rucking can provide you additional support, especially going downhill or on uneven terrain.

Can/should I ruck if I’m already overweight?

There are benefits to adding weight to your workouts at any size, because everyone can build muscle, and rucking with weight makes your muscles and bones stronger and improves your mobility and balance. Plus, rucking can boost your mood, improve your self-confidence, get you outside, and help you make like-minded fitness friends, as there are rucking clubs and groups just about anywhere. (Or, start one yourself!) As with any new activity, work with a qualified trainer or PT to add rucking to your fitness plan in a way that works for your body and ability.

Can/should I ruck with a specific injury or pain (back, shoulder, knee, etc.)

I can’t answer that for you—and neither can anyone but you and your qualified healthcare provider. Rucking is low-impact and gentler on your knees and hips than running, but I can’t say whether the added weight is appropriate for your specific pain or injury. Note that while you may not use your shoulders while you’re just walking with the pack, you do need to get the weight on and off, which requires some load-bearing and contortions in the shoulder area. Again, check with your doctor or PT.

It hurts my shoulders.

That’s not a question—and yes, it’s gonna. There’s quite a bit of weight hanging solely off your shoulders and traps, and if you’re less muscular, you’ll really feel it, depending on the weight you use. They key is to wear it for short durations, building up tolerance, and take days off in between to give your shoulders a break. You can wear it around the house as you wash dishes, vacuum, or fold laundry, take it for a stroll through the grocery store or Target, or start with a walk to the end of the street and back, slowly increasing your time and/or distance.

How can I learn to wear the pack longer?

A few tips. First, distraction while you ruck is the best solution. Go with a friend and chat, or listen to a podcast or audiobook; it helps you keep your mind off your shoulders. Two, when you finish a session and feel ready to tear the thing off, don’t. Give it one more minute. (Literally, time yourself—I will wear this for one more minute even if it’s uncomfortable.) This reminds you that you can be comfortable with discomfort, and lets you practice the idea. Finally, I find pulling a sled or doing step-ups is SO challenging, I don’t even think about the pack. (Granted, it’s a different form of discomfort.)

After you get more comfortable with rucking, can you up it to more days a week? Or increase the weight?

You can do… both! There are a number of ways to “progress” your rucks. You can walk faster, or start adding hills to your routes. You can add more weight, or increase your distance, or add more time to your session (regardless of distance). Mix and match all of the above! Some days, I walk slower with a heavier pack. Other days, I do an hour of step-ups light and fast. Still others, I wear the lighter weight and climb hills. Mix it up because all of this glorious variety is only adding to your fitness.

How do you progress from walking to working out with your pack?

There are many movements that naturally lend themselves to the ruck pack, including step-ups, squats, elevated push-ups, plank, dips, and more. Also, you can ruck for a length of time or distance, then take the pack off and hold it for a different type of movement! Here are a few ways you could use the pack in your workouts:

  • 10 elevated push-ups or plank (hands on a high box), 20 step-ups, 1 lap around the block, repeat 4-5 times.
  • 1 mile ruck, stopping every minute to do 10 walking lunges.
  • 1 lap around the track, then (holding the pack) perform 10 goblet squats, 10 presses, and 20 flutter kicks, repeat 4 times.

You’ll notice when the pack is on your back, you have to be more careful bending over for planks or push-ups—it can slide up and shift as you move. You’ll get the hang of it, just make movements like burpees less dynamic (squat, walk forward, then plank or push-up, instead of jumping back).

Can you wash your plate carrier or backpack?

Yep! And that’s a good thing, because mine gets sweaty. With the plate carrier, as there’s no mesh, it doesn’t absorb all the stink. Just spray it down with a hose and scrub with soapy water if needed, then hang to dry. With the backpacks, rinse with fresh water and soap, flip it inside out, and rinse it some more, then hang to air dry. (Do not machine wash or dry.) GORUCK has a blog post and video about cleaning your gear on their blog.

So there you go—everything you wanted to know about rucking (and a few questions I added myself, based on past experience). I hope this new adventure in fitness is as fun and rewarding for you as it has been for me!


Note: I am a GORUCK affiliate and make a small commission when you purchase through my link. I’ve built a close, personal relationship with the brand and founders, believe strongly that their mission, vision, and values align with my own.