Do you wake up ready to conquer some miles on a long run? Lacing up your well-worn running shoes, you head out for your daily run, and as you step off, your knees start hurting, your back is sore from running too hard the day before, and you think, maybe I should try something new.
Well, I have something for you. Rucking.
The dictionary definition of a rucksack is a bag strapped to the back with two shoulder straps and used for carrying personal belongings and supplies. My first contact with a rucksack in its raw form came in 1993 during U.S. Army basic training. The drill sergeants had us line up with our rucksacks and take off on a trek for 12 or so miles. Was I hooked on making this a staple of my workout future after our ruck? Hell no. I kept the rucksack to the side and brought it out for military training through the years. However, it didn’t become a staple of my workouts until last year.
Rucking is essentially taking a rucksack (i.e., backpack), filling it with weight, and walking for a distance.
How is rucking better on the knees compared to running? Michael Easter, the author of The Comfort Crisis and GORUCK contributor, said, “The common issue seems to be knee pain for runners, especially runners with extra weight on their body. This is because the forces that hit the knee with each stride are lower. Running hits the knees with forces eight times body weight per stride. This puts heavier people at a particularly high risk of injury. The same figure for walking is 2.7. Rucking is akin to walking with a bit more weight. So let’s say you have a 200-pound person. Each running stride puts a 1600-pound load on the knee. If they’re walking, it would be 540. If that person rucks with 30 pounds, the loads that hit the knee become 621 (200 lb person + 30 lb ruck x 2.7 = 621).”
In short, running puts a lot more pressure on your knees, a lot. Easter said, “Rucking also strengthens your legs to a greater degree than running. Stronger quads, hamstrings, etc., protect the knee.”
If running is your thing, stick with it. In fact, do both, run and ruck. Michael Easter said there are a few reasons runners should do both, “Rucking allows runners to get in endurance work (which bolsters their running) with less impact on their body, lowering the risk of overuse injuries. Rucking strengthens the weak links runners often have that put them at more risk of injury: It strengthens their core and leg muscles. That seems to be protective. It gives them something different to do. People who do more than one physical activity generally have lower rates of injury because they don’t “lose” any one system that can be protective.”
Finding a workout that you like is one key to consistency. I spoke to rucking enthusiast Drew Ward. Drew, a corporate executive chef for major restaurants spread throughout the East Coast, is not a big fan of running, preferring to ruck for his workouts. Drew told me, “I think doing what you enjoy for exercise and fitness is much more important than doing what you think you should do. I used to get pains in my knees, hips, and lower back from sitting in the office. Even on long flights, it would hurt. But now that I have started rucking, all those pains have gone away. My heart rate is lower, I’m more flexible, and I can feel my core getting stronger.” The ruck workouts that Drew does weekly have kept him moving forward.
Do not just strap on a ruck with fifty pounds and take off on a ten-mile ruck. Again, don’t strap a ton of weight on your back and take off on a 20-mile ruck. Find a comfortable weight at first, from 15 to 25 pounds. The weight will depend on how YOU feel; lighter or heavier, it is your choice. Take it easy at first, and then step off on your first ruck.
GORUCK, the company that took rucking into the mainstream, recommends you maintain good posture and “stand up straight with an open chest while rucking, and keep your core engaged. This will strengthen your muscle groups and enforce good posture practice.”
Rucking really depends on you. You can ruck using a regimented program. Or you can ruck as you walk your dog. You can ruck anywhere, from the city to the mountains to the beach, anywhere.
Rucking is not a short race; it’s more like a marathon. The goal is to carry weight a long distance, a distance that makes you work for it. A sense of accomplishment will come from traveling a long distance with a weighed-down ruck; I equate it to a “runner’s high.” You may find it has become your primary fitness routine. For you die-hard runners, rucking may become your backup when you feel knee pain creeping in. Try it out; you may like it.