One woman’s beginner intro to rucking

28 May 2024

Whew! Pals, I did not mean there to be such a big gap between today’s post and my last one – but such is life at the end of the school year, I suppose! :) Thanks for being here. Onwards to today’s topic…!

If you had told me a few years ago that I would get into rucking, I probably would have looked at you in confusion – and asked the number one question submitted to the question box when I asked what you wanted to know about rucking on Instagram a few weeks ago: um, what is rucking?!

Well, friends, John and I are a few months into this rucking adventure, and I’d love to share what we’ve experienced so far – the good, the hard, and my advice if you’d like to try it, too. Let’s go!

What is rucking?

Rucking is simply walking with weight on your back – simple as that. Unlike hiking, it doesn’t need to take place in the woods (though it can!). Rucking is an important part of training for many branches of the military, and so the idea of rucking as exercise kind of moved in popularity from military communities out into the wider world in the last decade or so.

Why were we interested in getting into rucking?

Funny story :) In the last year or two, an interview with Michael Easter popped up on one of John’s regular podcasts, as part of a publicity round after publishing his first book. We did a double take – Michael was a fellow graduate of our college class, and in fact was an English major alongside me! It is not common to see a classmate pop up in the news – we went to a tiny school! – and so this was an unexpected delight. In the book and in the podcast interview, Michael extolled the benefits of rucking, which was the first time I remember it piquing our interest. His enthusiasm was later echoed by Peter Attia and others, until it felt like we were hearing about rucking everywhere we turned.

What appealed to us about rucking:

It would not require adding anything additional to our schedule. It might seem silly, but this was the biggest one for me. Since we were already in the practice of taking a walk several times each week, we could simply add weight and get more out of what we were already doing. Balancing the need to exercise with all the other things I want to do is a constant struggle for me, so this was huge, and easily what got me on board so quickly.

The health benefits. From my understanding, rucking builds muscle and strength while improving cardio and endurance. (You can burn up to three times more calories than walking alone.) The pressure the weight puts on your muscles and joints also helps to build bone density, which is particularly important for women.

It’s simple. You just need a pack, some weight, good sneakers, and a place to walk. There are no fancy moves to learn and no subscription to buy.

It’s outside, and can be done with others. We’ve been able to incorporate our kids (more about that below!), and though we haven’t yet participated in any group rucks, we enjoy being able to ruck side by side.

This article lists more benefits of rucking, and I agree with many of them!

How we got started with rucking:

Last fall, John bought us each one of these ruck plates – 20 pounds for me, and 35 pounds for him. (Experts suggest starting with 10-25 pounds and gradually scaling up until you’re carrying no more than 1/3 of your body weight.) We put the weights into normal backpacks we already owned and set off on our first ruck.

It was awful. We were both terribly uncomfortable – the plates sat low on our backs and bounced as we walked – and ended up cutting our first outing to less than ten minutes. I freely shared my very negative impressions with John, ha.

We returned the plates (that was a heavy box to ship off at UPS, yikes) and decided to go all-in with official GoRuck gear – backpacks and plates. We got another 20-pound plate for me, and this time a 30-pound plate for John. This was a leap of faith – our initial attempt was not a positive experience, and the GoRuck gear is not inexpensive – but it seemed like our best option if we wanted to make a real go of it.

While the GoRuck gear was noticeably more comfortable, the weight quickly fatigued my shoulders and back and caused pain between my shoulder blades for the first few weeks. I would complain bitterly to John on even our short 10- or 15-minute loops – somehow it made me feel better, ha – and constantly adjust my straps to try and relieve the pressure.

But we kept going! John gamely encouraged me to “embrace the suck” (which is apparently something that rucking people say), and slowly, over several weeks, the pain started to lessen and we were able to increase our distance. Now, half a year later, we regularly ruck for 30-40 minutes several times a week with no pain or fatigue, at a sub-20-minute/mile pace.

Our thoughts on rucking so far:

Rucking has been a great workout for us. When I have my pack on, I can feel my whole body working — particularly my calves, glutes, rear, and core. I’m grateful for that.

That being said, the greatest delight I take from rucking is twofold: first, as I alluded to at the top, I feel like I’m gaming the system by getting more benefit for my body without adding anything to my schedule. It feels like some sort of cheat code and I am HERE FOR IT. I suppose I’m working both harder and smarter? :)

My second source of delight is knowing that I’m doing something that will make future-me grateful. My bones don’t feel any different right now – I can’t notice any changes and haven’t looked at any scans – but just knowing that what I’m doing today (even when it feels hard), is making it more possible for me to enjoy my favorite people, activities, and places for a long time to come is thrilling for my future-oriented, big-picture-loving brain and heart.

I’m not particularly motivated by pushing myself to complete challenging physical tasks (that’s all John), but increasing the likelihood I’ll be strong, mobile, and independent in the future? That will get me off the couch.

Rucking with kids

A last aspect I wanted to circle back to: though my rucks have mostly consisted of 30-40 minute rucks around our neighborhood thus far, John has set off on longer routes – and he’s taken our two older kids (5 and 8) with him. (They don’t carry packs!) On many Sunday afternoons this spring they’ve set off on treks around our town, a little platoon of adventurers, five miles or so at a time. They’ll stop along the way to play at a playground or get ice cream downtown and return after a few hours, tired but happy. June and John even rucked to our friends’ house one memorable afternoon – 10 miles!! (To be fair, I picked June up toward the end – she completed 9 of the miles :))

I like to think this might be just the beginning of our family’s rucking adventures together. From keeping us connected to keeping us fit, I’m hoping it will be a part of our family’s culture for many years to come.

What questions can I answer for you about rucking? Has anyone else tried it? I’d love to hear!

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May 28, 2024 8:06 am

I love this concept and weight lifting is so great for women! How does one make sure that the pain is the good kind and not causing an injury? Did you follow guidance on this – or did you hear that neck and back pain is normal and will go away? Also did you consider just stuffing a backpack super full? (Ha ha the cheapo option?)

May 28, 2024 9:16 am

You know I love this! I’m getting my packs today, thanks to your encouragement!

May 28, 2024 12:58 pm

Love this glimpse into a new-to-me workout! I think if I relayed an interest in rucking to my prior-military husband, I’d definitely win a wife award :) I am jealous of your couple rucks, as we struggle to get workout time together with a 2 year old at home. Your evening walks give me hope for the more independent future years!

June 1, 2024 8:22 am
Reply to  Em

Yes! Sometimes if I’m not able to get in a workout I planned I’ll put on my weighted vest and do my evening speed clean of the house which always involves a few trips up and down the stairs and lots of steps – sneaking in the same bone density benefits and a clean kitchen!

Jackie K
May 28, 2024 9:49 pm

I love the college connection! I too was inspired by Michael Easter to try rucking :) I did CrossFit for many years but have had mixed success getting back into it after my health challenges, and at the same time bone density has become a greater concern because of my treatment. I’m hoping rucking will help me build back strength and keep my bones healthy. I’ve been walking around my neighborhood with my LL Bean backpack from high school and two 5lb. plates that are meant for a barbell (my neighbors think I am nuts). With my fitness background I thought I’d be able to do 20lbs, but 10 feels like enough of a challenge for now and I’ll hope to work my way up. The DIY pack is okay, but I may invest in the GoRuck pack at some point. Thank you so much for sharing this and I’ll be curious to continue comparing notes!

May 29, 2024 2:39 pm

I feel like I’ve been unknowingly rucking in the form of baby wearing for the past decade – lol!

May 30, 2024 1:55 pm

Woah! I had no idea this was a thing. Beginning in April, I challenged myself to start walking 15k steps a day, and I really feel like I’ve hit a stride with making it more of a habit throughout my day! I prefer walking to running because I can listen to a podcast or book, and I can bring my dogs, but I’d love to step up the impact a little! I might have to try rucking!

May 31, 2024 2:10 am

So interesting to learn about this, and I want to read the book! I’d love to try this new habit with my boyfriend—osteoporosis runs in my family. I’m curious about your heights and how the Ruck Plate Carriers fit you and John individually—did you go with the Standard or Long carriers? Is it unisex—do you feel like the carrier works just as well for you as it works for John?

Kristen M
June 3, 2024 12:12 pm

This is super fascinating! I’ve been trying to get myself down to our home gym every morning to do a quick 15 minute dumbbell workout to try and increase the amount of weightlifting I do for the exact reasons you list above – the impact on bone density for women later in life. I find approaching 40 has made me really think more long term for my workouts, which has been helpful in making me more willing to do them! I might have to consider something like this too – being able to combine my walks with a harder workout seems ideal!