Five Beginner Mistakes for Rucking

While rucking has gained popularity in recent years with events like GoRuck, Spartan’s Hurricane Heats, Tough Mudder’s Infinite Hero Honor Challenge and a host of other one off events like Death Race, moving with a weighted backpack is originally a form of military movement that requires technique and efficiency.  Here are five lessons that beginner future “ruck stars” tend to make on the course: 

1. Poor Weight Distribution. 

“Oh we need a 25 lbs. ruck? Cool, I’ll just throw this 25 lbs. plate in an empty backpack”.  The problem with that is it puts the weight very low on your body.  To make rucking easier, you want the weight high and close to your back, just look at any backpacking book or the Boy Scout handbook.  The importance of weight distribution is part of the basics of backpacking.  The military knows this and when they designed/purchased the ALICE ruck sack the radio pouch (typically the heaviest item you are carrying) is high and close to the back.  

2. Uncomfortable Rucksack.

Speaking of the ALICE pack, a pack used by the Army from Vietnam all the way up to around 2008, you’ll want a comfortable rucksack on your back. While I, and many other veterans, default to the ALICE pack because that’s what I’ve used for a large portion of my military career that involved lots of rucking, there has been great improvements in comfort, materials and pack construction since then.  Avoid standard military equipment, unless you are trying to save money and go with a nicer brand if you plan on rucking a lot.  Brands like GoRuck, Mystery Ranch or other popular brands that can be found at stores like REI are a much better bet that will be significantly more comfortable.   

3. Poor Boot Choice.

Again some people like to default to standard military equipment, which is usually largely decided by cost. Just like with any sport, I encourage looking at what the pros are doing.  The “pros” for rucking are Special Operations units.  Rather than using standard military equipment most buy civilian boots made by brands like Oakley, Merrell and Nike.  Regardless of the brand, your boot should be comfortable.  Most of the military has trouble rucking far because their feet start falling apart caused by poor boot choice.  Boots can make the difference between making it to the end of the day and getting pulled out mid-event because it hurts too much to walk. 

4. Not Fueling

Rucking is a total body activity. Your legs are doing a lot of the work but your upper body is stabilizing this heavy load over possibly several hours.  You’ll need to fuel properly to keep going.  If you are in a training mode by your house, try rucking to a location, grabbing a snack and rucking home.  If you are in an event, be sure to fuel constantly via gels or little snacks.  It will allow you to keep rucking and feeling strong.  While you’ll still be able to move forward with very poor fueling strategies, as demonstrated by military courses like Ranger School that food/sleep deprive soldiers, you’ll find consistent fueling makes you feel a lot better and move faster. 

5. Going to Big, Too Fast

People tend to scale up running a little more reasonably since it is often physically hard for a beginner to run far.  When it comes to rucking, which is essentially just walking, I’ve seen guys go from zero to 12 miles when starting off.  Just like any activity build slowly and use recovery days.  Just like with running I encourage building for three weeks before a week of lower volume to recover.  While you don’t need to ruck up to the full length of the event you are doing, I would encourage you to start small and build in a progressive manner.  Going too big too fast can be a recipe for injury, so take it slow and build.  

Rucking can be a lot of fun but it will be a little better if you avoid these beginner mistakes.  Pull up your Ruck Socks, throw on your ruck and get ready for a different type of challenge with rucking. 

Evan “Ultra-OCR Man” Perperis is a professional obstacle course racer for the MudGear-Battle of the Lions Pro Team.  With over 65 overall podiums and counting, he is best known for his annual ultra-endurance events that often last multiple days to raise money for the charity Folds of Honor.  You can read about these events and his military service in his biography “Ultra-OCR Man: From Special Forces Soldier to Record Setting Pro OCR Athlete” (available in hard copy, digital and audiobook).  A NSCA-CPT he also has an additional five books on training and preparing for Obstacle Course Racing. 

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