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Using rucking to train for an expedition

Rucking for beginners

What is rucking?


Rucking is essentially trekking with a deliberately heavy pack. The idea is to overload your central nervous system for extended periods to strengthen your endurance and power. Essentially, if you can carry a heavier weight for a long distance or time then a lighter weight will be a piece of cake. That’s the idea. Rucking is used in the military and in a lot of strength based sports like Rugby to increase a person’s overall strength, will power and endurance over time.

Rucking is an awesome (and essential) part of training for trips like The North Pole and other polar expeditions, but also for general trekking and walking trips like The Pamir Trail.


Rucking for strength and building muscle


Will rucking build muscle?


Carrying a heavy pack for long distances might seem quite obviously good for building strength – your muscles fight resistance across multiple planes when holding a weight and moving simultaneously. Gravity is trying to pull the weight down, but also with every step the weight wants to swing and move, and throw in some hills or steps and you’ll really be working everything. This means rucking is excellent for building a solid core, lower back and hamstrings and glutes, as these are the primary muscles to hold you upright against the pendulum of the pack. But, rucking will naturally affect other muscles too and can be good for building some size, depending on how you train.


The trick is to train in varying intensities- heavy weight for a shorter distance, lighter weight for a longer distance, or intervals between a range of weights. Varying these intensities will generate thicker muscles across the upper back, and quads over time, especially when rucking is mixed with a good strength training program.


Rucking for cardio

You may be wondering, will rucking help my running?


In short, yes. Why? Because it’s an intense endurance exercise that improves core stability, mental toughness and is much easier on your joints than running. Rucking transfers force through your knees much more softly than running – where up to 7x your body weight can travel through your knees in each step… This means you can train more often, recover better and prevent injury.


Rucking for cardio is pretty easy- increase the speed, the incline or the weight and you’ll pretty quickly feel your chest pumping and your muscles burning. It’s very unlikely you’ll get your heart rate up into the top zones while rucking, but you can comfortably get out of breath and push your stamina pretty hard.


As with all training, you should look to make your workouts tougher over time if you want to force an adaptation in your body (i.e get fitter). Mixing rucking once or twice a week in with a running program will greatly improve both.


rucking to prepare for a jungle trekRucking to lose weight


The weight that you carry on your body greatly affects your performance in many sports and activities – and expeditions are no different. If you’re carrying a lot of excess body fat, your fitness is likely to be poor and you will find it harder on an expedition than someone lighter. Now rucking is a great way to lose weight because it effectively makes you “fatter for the day”. The additional weight you carry means you’ll:


  • Burn more calories during the exercise
  • Get more out of breath
  • Get stronger and leaner


Without getting too much into the science (there’s a time and a place for that), adding long rucks into your routine or training program will increase the calories you burn in a week- as long as you don’t eat additional calories to compensate then rucking will definitely help you lose weight, and probably quite quickly.


How to start rucking


The great thing about rucking is that you really don’t need a lot of kit. If you’ve never rucked before and aren’t a very active person, you should definitely start with normal hiking first before you start introducing a loaded pack. Perhaps you could do 2 long walks per week, and 1 ruck and gradually increase the frequency and intensity over time.

How much weight should you use for rucking?


It depends on the intensity you’re going for – a heavy pack will mean a shorter distance and the opposite for lighter packs. The key thing here is recording everything you do. You can use an app like Strava for this.


Start with 10kg in your bag, complete 1 session and record the distance and time. Next time you go out, use the same 10kg bag but aim to improve the time or the distance. Then, increase the weight to 15, 20, 25 or even 30kg. Using this progressive overload method means you’ll increase the weight only as your body starts adapting. You always want to keep your muscles from getting too comfortable, so as long as the workout is tough then whatever weight you’re using is fine.


What weights should you use for rucking?


It makes sense to pack your bag with things that could be useful- 1litre of water weighs 1kg, so water is a good place to start. But, this will only get you so far and so you might want to start adding small weight plates (you can pick these up cheap second hand), a kettlebell or even a sandbag. Go for items that have a high mass and so don’t take up loads of space.

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