Disclosure: Rucking SUCKS!
First off, there is absolutely no way to make rucking or ruck marching not suck. It hurts your shoulders, knees, and lower back and your pack will chafe you like crazy. But fear not, there are a few simple tips and tricks that you can use to shave minutes off of your rucking time and minimize fatigue, pain, and discomfort. If you are trying out for a selection in the future, take notes. Here are a few things that can help you to pump out a substantial ruck time if you ever need it. Keep in mind that these are things that work for us. What works for us might not work for you, and in the end, you need to find what method will help you out the best.
Why is rucking so important?
Ruck runs or marches are found in almost every SOF school and selection in the U.S. Military. These events can make or break your chances of succeeding if you find yourself in a course that requires students to pass timed rucking events. Courses like Ranger School, BUD/S, and the U.S.M.C. Basic Reconnaissance Course can break the will of would be candidates with their rigorous rucking standards. But why is there still such a considerable emphasis on ruck runs and marches with all of the available technology and vehicles available to transport troops? The answer is two-fold and very simple. Firstly, rucking is not only a test of one’s physical abilities, but of their overall mental fortitude, determination, and drive. It can show instructors and evaluators how far you are willing to go to succeed, especially if some rigorous PT or team events are implemented after the ruck is finished. Rucking breaks the body and mind down and can reveal the true character of a student and show the instructor cadre whether or not the student has the self-motivation and grit necessary to succeed in a team. Instructors want to see that no matter the level of discomfort you may be facing, you are always willing to push a little further, and can maintain a cool head and work as a member of a team. Rucking is a great way to see what a student is really made of.
Secondly, you never know what type of situation you might find yourself in. Patrols are still conducted on foot regularly and can cover extremely long distances. Especially if you find yourself in a reconnaissance or sniper team. All of the gear you use for the mission has to be humped in on foot even if you came off of an insertion platform i.e. jumping, diving, ATVs, horses etc… If you jump a big gun like a Barrett into a reconnaissance patrol, chances are you are going to have to ruck that bad-boy a considerable distance to the objective. Throw in food, ammo, explosives, water, optics, and any other mission essential gear on top of that, and now you can see why it might be important to be decent at rucking.
Pack your ruck correctly.
Packing your ruck correctly is ridiculously crucial, but unfortunately, a lot of people fail to do so. When packing your ruck, the heaviest items should go as close to the top as possible. Items such as the team radio or ammunition are good examples of this. The closer the heavy items are to your shoulders the less strain there will be on your lower back. Soft items such as sleeping bags, warming layers, camo netting, and woobie should go on the bottom. This not only lessens the strain on your lower back, but it can cushion the heavy, mission essential items you have packed on the top of your ruck from being battered while on the go, or when you take that ruck-sack flop you will inevitably do to sit down after the movement is over. Extra water should be easily accessible with at least a couple liters available to drink without stopping via a camelback hose.
Also, ensure you pack your ruck as tightly as possible to minimize bouncing. After a few hours of rucking, you will find that your canteen that has been swinging back and forth the past few hours is starting to wear on you. Also if the pack isn’t packed tightly, it will sit out further from your center of gravity and increase the pressure on your lower back and shoulders. Make the ruck sit high on your shoulders, with the bulk of the weight as close to your body as possible. If you think this isn’t a big deal, try holding a 45-pound plate with your arms extended away from your body and see how long you can hold it. Then hold the same weight close to your chest and compare the times. The closer weight is to your center of gravity the lighter it will feel and the longer you will be able to carry it. It’s science…
If you are simply training for a course and don’t have the gear you will be using on a mission at your disposal, try putting weighted plates into the radio pouch in your ruck. You can also create your very own “Pig-egg” which is essentially a homemade heavy sand-bag wrapped in duct tape that fits in the radio pouch inside your ruck. If you find yourself in a selection SOF selection course, chances are you will get very familiar with Pig-eggs.
Find your pace:
When training for a ruck run, try and find a good pace that you are comfortable with and keep it for a mile. Time yourself and see what the outcome is. If you find that this pace is adequate to pass the standards of the course you are preparing for, try keeping that same pace for as long as possible. Keep in mind that some selections have ruck events that are 10-plus miles. If the pace is not fast enough, then speed up a bit and try again. Once you have found your minimum comfortable pace that allows you to pass the time standard, use this as a last resort on the graded events and know in the back of your mind that you cannot go slower than this speed on a timed event for any reason.
This is a perfect time to find your ideal stride as well. Try to maintain a longer than average stride when marching and use your arms more than normal to create positive momentum. This is especially helpful while going uphill. Try and generate as much momentum as physically possible with your arms and stride. Finding your pace and the ideal stride is very important because many courses do not allow you to wear a watch or have a timer of any kind during graded events. Knowing your stride is crucial if you find yourself in this type of situation. Knowing your pace and ideal stride will ensure that you are moving at an adequate pace, even if you cannot keep track of your time.
Run when you can, stride it out when you can’t
If you are participating in a timed ruck run or march, it’s do or die. Failing to see the time standard can get you dropped from many military schools and selections immediately. Run, jog, or at least shuffle on flat ground or hard packed roads or paths. Walk up hills that are too steep to run while still keeping a sense of urgency. Open up your strides and try to get through hills as quickly and efficiently as possible without smoking your legs. If you can still jog up the hill, do so. If you cannot, make sure to take advantage of the downhill and make-up for lost time. You should try and go down hills as quickly as you are comfortable with. Downhills are virtually the only break you will get during a ruck run so don’t waste an opportunity to create free momentum and shave time off the event.
DO NOT STOP!
This cannot be overstated, if you are conducting a timed ruck run for score, do not stop. This kills momentum and adds time to your score that is almost impossible to make up. If you need to, you can slow down to catch your breath or walk a cramp out on the go, but try not to stop, and NEVER SIT DOWN in the middle of a ruck run unless absolutely necessary. Not only will it waste time, but it takes a lot of energy to stand up with a heavy ruck on your back. You are better off saving that energy for later.
Your rucking posture will be slightly different than your regular walking or jogging posture. You will most likely want lean slightly forward, so the weight is more evenly distributed near your center of gravity. Do not get into the bad habit of staring at the ground while rucking. It happens to everyone who rucks now and then. Your back is tired, your shoulders and knees hurt and you are chafing, so you zone out and have your head straight down with your eyes on the ground and run in “zombie” mode. Do not do this! Fight past the laziness and your neck will thank you for it later.
Try and keep your head in an upright position so that you are aware of your surroundings at all times. This is also important to do because instructors will be looking for this. Students who are not observant will likely be singled out. It’s called “going internal” and instructors freaking hate it. Do not let this be a bad habit that you fall victim to. You will be no use to a team later on down the line if you zone out and can’t pull security just because you are tired. Stay alert at all times and be aware of your surroundings, it may save you or your buddies life one day.
When jogging with a ruck on your back, your stride will probably resemble more of a shuffle than anything else. You don’t need to high knee run like you are in a track meet, but don’t drag your feet on the ground either. If you drag your feet and trip and fall, your ruck frame will most likely slam against the back of your head while you simultaneously face-plant. Unless you like smashing your head and face you should probably pick your feet up a little when you are jogging.
Hip Pad/ Waist Belt
Buckling the waist belt on your hip pad is a pretty debated topic. You will see guys swear that it helps and others will say they hate it because it chafes their hips, waist, and lower-back. The fact is, if done properly, buckling the waist belt can help to minimize the amount your pack bounces back and forth while running and can ease the stress on your shoulders. If not adjusted properly, it can cause chafing and discomfort. It’s up to the individual to decide if they want the belt fastened or not.
If you choose to use the waist belt, there are additional benefits that you can take advantage of that most people do not know about. If you want to give your shoulders a rest mid-run, fasten the weight belt tightly around your waist and loosen the shoulder straps slightly to relieve pressure on your shoulders. The weight will then be primarily on your hips if the waist belt is tight enough. This should not be done for an extended period as it is hard on your hips and lower-back, but can provide your shoulders a much-needed rest without stopping to take your pack off.
Nothing will ease the suck more than being in good physical rucking condition. You may think that just because you run an 18 minute three mile that you will crush a ruck run no problem. I’m here to tell you first hand that this is often not the case. A veteran runner is not always a good Rucker. When running with no weight, there is much less stress on your back, shoulders, calves, and core. Rucking is much more physically and mentally taxing and requires a specific type of conditioning that really cannot be replicated. Putting a ruck on your back and training is the only way to truly become the best you can be at rucking. Sure there are things that can help like running and weight training, but there is no substitute for the real thing.