Rucking is a new take on an old form of exercise. It involves walking or hiking with a weighted backpack. The extra weight takes your normal walk and turns up the intensity.
When rucking, you’ll experience less pounding on the knees than when running, making rucking a good choice for low-impact exercise. The weight also requires more force from your muscles, which makes rucking a cardiovascular exercise that will build strength and stamina, too.
Rucking is a form of exercise and the concept is simple: it’s walking or hiking a set distance while carrying a weight on your back. Rucking (also known as ruck marching) has military origins, and the name comes from the word rucksack — a durable backpack meant for carrying heavy loads.
But you don’t necessarily need a rucksack to give this exercise a try — you just need a backpack. Load it with weight (and some hydration) and go for a walk. You can choose the terrain you walk on, the distance, and intensity to match your needs.
There is no complexity and very little special equipment. All you need is a backpack, some weight, and a desire to move. There are even special groups that meet up to ruck together. They provide camaraderie and a shared desire to challenge yourself.
Rucking involves wearing a weighted backpack as you walk or hike.
Rucking evolved out of military training and dates back to the first iron-clad army, in the seventh century B.C. (1). The ability to march a certain distance carrying a load of equipment is central to almost all military units and is still a part of military training today (2).
In the armed forces, ruck marches involve carrying a load of standard military issue gear over a set distance. In basic training, Army rangers are required to carry a 35-pound (15.9 kg) rucksack over 12 miles (19.3 km) and maintain a pace of, at most, 15 minutes per mile (1.6 km) (3).
In the civilian world, the backpacks used for rucking tend to be lighter with more accommodating straps for comfort. The popularity of this activity has increased in recent years.
Rucking evolved from military training and dates back to 700 B.C.
Rucking improves strength, endurance, and general fitness. For example, a 2019 study found participants had lower ratings of perceived exertion after a 10-week load carrying program, while their muscular power and oxygen intake also improved (
Another study found that there may be some sex-specific differences in the cardiovascular response to a rucking training program, but for both men and women, this type of training improved muscle power and lowered ratings of perceived exertion (5).
Rucking has also been shown to improve muscle power in older people (
Walking with weight also increases the calorie burn of your normal walk. The added weight means you have more mass to move. Consequently, this increases the amount of energy needed to move at the same pace you would without the weight (
Rucking can lower your rate of perceived exertion with normal walking and functional strength activities. It has also been shown to improve muscle power and cardiovascular functioning.
If you are new to exercising or haven’t hiked much, then it is best to start slowly. Start with a 2 mile distance. Grab your backpack and load it with 10% of your bodyweight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), then you would load your pack with 15 pounds.
You can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, rocks, or even bottles of water. For the best comfort when carrying, secure the weight as best as you can so that it doesn’t move or bounce around. Keep your straps tight and the weight high on your back.
While the military uses the target pace of 15 minutes per mile (1.6 km), aim for 20 minutes per mile when you begin.
Where to buy a rucksack
If you think you’ll be rucking often, you may want to consider investing in a rucksack and weight that is meant specifically for this purpose.
Leave enough room in the pack to carry some form of hydration. You are upping the ante on the amount of energy you’re burning. Thus, you’ll produce more heat and sweat more.
As your fitness increases, you can increase the amount of weight you carry, the speed you’re walking, or the distance you are rucking. However, to avoid overtraining, try to only increase one of these at a time.
If your goal is to increase strength, then focus on increasing the load weight. If your goal is to increase endurance, add to your distance to make the ruck more challenging.
If you are new to rucking then start slowly. Load your pack with 10% of your body weight. As your fitness improves, then you can increase the weight you carry, the speed you walk, as well as the distance you travel.
According to the US Army, a 180-pound (81.6 kg) person rucking at a pace of 15 minutes per mile (1.6 km) can expect to burn the following calories (2):
|6 km/ 3.7 miles
|12.8 km/ 8 miles
|19.3 km/ 12 miles
Let’s compare that to running. A 180-pound person running at a pace of 6 miles per hour (which equates to a 10 minute mile) without weight will burn roughly 840 calories per hour (7). That equals about 140 calories per mile.
To cover the same ground as listed in the chart above, a 180-pound person running at the pace of 6 miles per hour would burn 518 calories over 3.7 miles, 1120 calories over 8 miles, and 1680 calories over 12 miles.
While your calorie burn is dependent on your pace for both rucking and running, and on the weight carried when rucking, mile for mile, rucking typically burns more calories than running.
Rucking can burn more calories than running. Variables such as the weight of your pack and the speed you walk vs. the speed you run make a difference in how many calories you will burn.
Is rucking good for you?
Yes. It is a low-impact cardiovascular activity that can also build muscular strength and endurance. It is scalable to add challenge or decrease challenge as needed.
Should I run with a rucksack?
Traditionally speaking, true ruck marching is walking at a fast pace, but not running. Running with a weighted backpack can put a lot of strain on your joints and takes away the low-impact appeal of rucking. If you want to run with weight, a weighted vest is a better option, because it will distribute the weight more evenly around your torso.
Can you ruck every day?
It is possible to ruck everyday, though it’s not ideal. In fact, one study recommended soldiers perform only one heavy load carriage task every 10–14 days (8). If you do choose to ruck more often you should work up to it over time.
For most people, it’s recommended you limit rucking to 1–2 times a week, because of the muscular demands on the lower body and shoulders, and the change in biomechanics when you carry a load on your back. Repeating the same exercise every day can lead to overtraining and injury.
Does rucking build muscle?
Yes. Rucking can build muscle in the lower extremities. Adding weight to your pack can increase the overload on your leg muscles to induce hypertrophy.
Is rucking better than running?
Rucking produces less impact on the joints of the lower body as compared to running. Depending on your pace and how much weight you are carrying, it may also burn more calories. If you tend to jog at a moderate pace, and if you work up to 35 pounds in your rucksack, you will likely burn more calories rucking that you will running the same distance.
How long should you ruck for?
Start with a manageable amount of time for your schedule and previous exercise history. If you have not exercised much in the past few months, then start at 15–30 minutes and gradually work your way up as you can tolerate.
Does rucking build ab muscles?
It can, if you engage your core properly during the ruck. But it doesn’t work your abs in the same way as, say, doing crunches might. The abs work to stabilize your body with the added weight and forward lean of your body.
In particular, the transversus abdominus can help to keep your spine stable when the weight might otherwise pull you backward (9).
Rucking is an excellent fitness routine that takes your normal walk and turns up the challenge. It is lower-impact than running and jumping rope, but still offers a high calorie burn. It also increases cardiovascular fitness and strength quite well.
So, if you are looking for a new, low-impact, cardiovascular challenge, rucking might be a good fit for you. Grab a pack and some weight and hit the trail.