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Rucking - Old School Military But The Latest Fitness Trend / First Phase BUD/S too...

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For many, the term “ruck” is a new word.  Defining RUCK is difficult to someone who has never moved out with 50+ lbs in a backpack for many, many miles.  The definition can be as simple as walking around with a backpack on a hike or as difficult as moving fast with all your military gear, loaded for bear, over rugged terrain, infiltrating to your objective.  But the terms, ruck, hump, or forced march, all really mean getting your gear from A to B in a backpack.  It also happens to be one of the newest fitness trends with people all over the country doing races with backpacks, GORUCK challenges, and even obstacle course races with backpacks.  Here is a question that prompted this discussion:

Stew, I am adding backpacking to my workouts — usually 20-​​25lbs.  My buddy told me I was “rucking.”  After a google search, I see that is what I am doing, but I really have no idea what kind of pace is a ruck.  Is it a fast walk, slow jog, nice and easy walk so you can go all day?  How should I incorporate it into my workouts?  Does adding more weight actually burn more calories?  Is it ok to do?

I typically do this test every year, just to see where my three rucking paces are:

This is a three mile ruck test and it goes like this:

MILE ONE:  Easy pace /​ hike — I walked a mile with my 45lb pack, carrying my phone, making calls, answering texts, completely distracted from any challenging pace.  It took me 18 minutes to walk a mile.  To put this in perspective, the Army minimum standard requirements is 15 minutes per mile.  So a slow walk will still be a workout, but it will not challenge your cardiovascular system.  I call this easy, conversational pace.   Too slow for a good workout but fine for walking the dog on a nature trail, enjoying the scenery.  Also this is a perfect beginner way to start with rucking as it makes your walks just a little bit harder.  Starting with 20-25lbs is a good idea.  10-15% of your bodyweight is a good start for your first ruck.

MILE TWO:  Fast Walk Pace — The second mile was a faster walking pace — similar to power-​​walking.   This pace requires some effort, but nothing overly challenging and you can still hold conversations with minimal effort.  This mile took 14 minutes to walk and it is very maintainable for many hours /​ miles.  This pace is a good pace to master as it is typically a fall back pace when you need to take a breather from the faster pace below.  This makes for a descent workout if you have a few hours for fast walking.  If you are a runner already, this fast walk pace is fine to experiment with as you get used to moving with additional weight on your back.

MILE THREE:  Slow Jog /​ Rucking Pace — Now this is what I would call “rucking”.  That is — moving out at a pace that is only sustainable if you are conditioned for it.  It looks like a combination of a fast walk /​ slow jog.  This mile took me under 11 minutes to complete which is about right as I typically take 42–45 minutes to ruck 4 miles.  Personally, any faster for me hurts my knees /​ back more than my lungs, so I back it down just a notch so I am faster than the minimum rucking standard but slow enough to maintain for longer distances without structural pain.


 How About the Calorie Burn?

Whether the enemy is a terrorist in the mountains or a wild fire on a high desert plain, some people ruck for a living.  If you compare the calories expenditure of rucking to normal walking or running you will see a significant difference.  For people with not much time to train each day and prefer not to run, here is a way to get more out of your normal walk.

Walking at 4mph with /​ without weight

I just went to a calorie calculator online and did a 60 min walk at 4 miles per hour for my weight of 200lbs — I burn 468 calories.  With 50lb pack I would weigh 250lbs and I would burn 585 calories for the same pace.

So it looks like you can add in 100–150 calories by adding a 40–50 lb back pack to a 4 mph walk.

Jogging at 5 mph with and without weight 

Since walking with a ruck at 4mph is the bare minimum standards for military rucking — here is a good test if you put out a little more.  Try 5mph or a 12 min mile with 40lbs.  Still not blazing fast but a better indicator of effort with /​ without a ruck.  If you input a 60 min jog at 5 miles per hour for a weight of 200lbs — I burn 768 calories.  With 50lb pack I would weigh 250lbs and I would burn 960 calories for the same pace.  So it looks like you can add in 100–200 calories by adding a 40–50 lb back pack to a fast walk/​jog depending on your weight and pace.

Backpacking Pace

Now there is a calorie burning standard for backpacking, which is typically a weighted stroll at a much slower pace of 1–2 mph.  At my weight of 200 lbs, I burned 670 calories “backpacking” and 840 calories burned if I place an extra 50lbs on me.   So — yes it makes sense that you would burn more calories by either going faster than “backpacking pace” which I would average out at 4–5 mph as well as when you are carrying even more weight in a ruck.

So a precise answer is tough as this is a bit all over the place. I think a safe calorie estimate for rucking with 40-​​50lbs is to add 40 — 50% to what a walking /​ jogging calorie burn would be at that pace.  So if you are burning 450 calories just walking at 4mph, then you would add 180–225 calories to that number of 450 and get roughly 630 — 675 calories burned an hour with rucking.

Progress logically with a back pack and walking – only increasing the time/weight and distance performed each week by 10-15%.  Give yourself some time under pack before attempting any races or GORUCK events.

Calculator Source: http://​www​.healthstatus​.com/​p​e​r​l​/​c​a​l​c​u​l​a​t​o​r​.​cgi


Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL, fitness author and writer at, and other fitness websites and magazines.

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