Today I want to fill you in on one of the best “life hacks” I have come across in recent years: rucking. Rucking is simply the act of walking while carrying weight on your back. The concept is nothing new, as humans have been carrying things on their backs for most of our existence. What I love about rucking is that this is what our bodies have been designed for, something that no other animal on this Earth can do like us!
The beauty of rucking is in its simplicity. All you need is a backpack, something heavy to put in it, and some walking shoes. Most people already take walks, hike in nature, walk their dog, or run errands, so this is an easy way to incorporate a workout without taking additional time out of your day. Michael Easter, author of one of my favorite books Comfort Crisis describes ruck as “cardio for people who hate running, and lifting for people who hate the gym.” Rucking increases your average walking heart rate and gives your leg muscles some resistance when you are climbing hills, a win-win situation when you’re looking for ways to improve your health.
Rucking got its popularity within the military and goes back centuries with soldiers carrying gear into battle. More recent studies on military personnel show that the balance between efficiency and low injury risk is around 50lbs.
But this is on fit, well-trained individuals and likely too much for most of us.
I would recommend starting with 10% of your body weight and increase this as you want to about 20% or 50lbs, whichever comes first. These studies also reveal that rucking has a very low risk of injury (almost equivalent to walking), does not increase knee pain, and can actually alleviate or prevent back pain. This is because we are designed to be carrying machines, and weight on our back can correct a stooped-over posture.
How to Start Rucking:
– Create your “rucksack” I use special “ruck plates” I bought off of Amazon that are flat and fit in the laptop sleeve of a backpack. But you can easily start off by just using dumbbells, heavy books, or even small children (in specially-designed baby carriers, that is!).
– Aim for a rucksack weight of around 10% bodyweight at first, increasing to 20% if you want more of a challenge. Most backpacks are designed to carry <40lbs but please check the brand for any specific weight limits.
– Go walk: around the neighborhood, in the woods, with your family, while running errands around time, during lunch breaks. Whenever you know you’re going to be walking for a period of time, throw on the backpack and move!
– If you really want to get after it: throw in some pushups or squats while on your walk. You can also hold it in front of you and work in some burpees or overhead presses. Don’t worry what passersby think — maybe you inspired them too!
Like it has for me, I hope rucking becomes a simple addition to your regular routine. Before you get started, you may want to check in with your doctor to make sure the weight and the activity will be safe for you.
Have a great weekend!
Troy Jackson, MD