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Rucking? What to Know About This Cardio Strength Workout

If you served in the military, the term “ruck” is nothing new to you. Also called hump or forced march, it’s about getting your gear from point A to point B in a backpack.

Lately, rucking has marched its way into the civilian fitness scene. You can find people from all walks of life getting into this cardio and strength routine.

Whether you are ready to get your ruck on or are just curious about how it works, Jason Paladin, a physical therapist with Banner Health, is here to share all you need to know about the basics of rucking.

What is rucking?

Remember back in the day when you lugged a heavy backpack to and from school? You were rucking and you didn’t even know it!

Rucking originates from the military term “rucksack” or backpack. It is a low-impact exercise that is based on military training.

“Essentially, rucking is any form of walking with a weighted vest, backpack or rucksack,” Paladin said. “If you carry weight on your back, you’re rucking.”

What are the pros and cons of rucking? 

Rucking is an inexpensive way to work out. You can ruck anywhere – around the city, on a mountain trail (AKA backpacking) or even on the treadmill. 

“The biggest benefit is that while you are doing a cardio workout, you are doing a strength workout as well,” Paladino said. “It’s a 2-for-1 combo.”

Rucking can be a fantastic workout, but it also has risks. 

“Low back pain is a risk,” Paladino said. “Carrying more weight than your body is used to can cause low back muscle strain or even a lumbar disc injury.” 

In addition, rucking can take a toll on the knees, ankles and toes. 

What type of backpack is needed for rucking?

It depends. If you are walking, any basic backpack you have used for school or the gym can work. If you are ruck running, you will need to spend a little money on a rucksack with long, thick straps and strong fabric that won’t tear while running.

“You want the straps to be long so that the load is higher on your back and not putting pressure on your lower back or glutes,” Paladino said. 

How to get started rucking

Paladino shared a few tips on how to safely get started with rucking.

  1. Invest in good footwear: Rucking can be tough on your feet. Consider trail shoes that offer ankle stability and extra traction and grip. Wear your new shoes at home for a few days to break them in and help your feet adjust.
  2. Start small: Start with just walking for three weeks without any weight. Add air squats, then gradually increase your weight and distance as you get stronger. Only add five pounds or so each week. If you add more than that, you may increase your risk for injury and strain on your body. You can use any weighted items in your rucksack, like books, rocks, weighted plates or sand-filled weights. You may also want to consider starting with a weighted vest.
    “The weight is evenly balanced front and back in a weighted vest and won’t move around,” Paladino said. “Running can be more difficult when items like rocks move around in your pack. They can make it hard to keep your balance.”
  3. Balance the weight: When packing your rucksack, put the heaviest items at the top near your shoulders. The heavier the load, the closer you’ll want it to your back. This will ensure your ruck doesn’t drag on your shoulders and help you maintain your body’s center of gravity.
  4. Choose your route: Start with a flat dirt trail or treadmill when you are just beginning. Walk somewhere safe, preferably on sidewalks or designated walking paths. You can gradually increase your distance and the difficulty of the course.
  5. Maintain good posture: Proper posture can help prevent injuries and improve performance. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and down and engage your core muscles. Avoid leaning forward or backward. Work with someone like a professional trainer or physical therapist who can make sure you’re using proper form and rucking correctly,” Paladino said. “This can help you lower your injury risk in the long run.”


Rucking is a great two-in-one workout that combines weight training and cardio. While it’s still a part of mandatory military training, this fitness trend can be enjoyed by anyone.

By following the tips above, you can hit the mountain or urban trail with confidence. Remember, to go slow and steady and talk to a professional trainer or Banner Health specialist if you have questions or concerns.

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