Preparing for a ruck march involves preparation from both a mental and physical perspective. Rucking is one of the military’s tests of strength and endurance but can also be enjoyed by civilians and anyone that enjoys outdoor adventures. The term “rucksack” is taken from the German language meaning “back pack.” Ruck marching sounds like an easy concept of walking long distances while carrying a large load on your back but without proper preparation and knowledge, it can become an ambitious task. Improving the quality of your ruck march starts with proper planning and understanding common injuries associated with this task.
Preparing Your Ruck
Packing a ruck can be difficult but it is one of the most important steps in achieving a beneficial experience. First, agree on an approximate weight to carry in your ruck. If you are new to ruck marching you should start by carrying lighter loads between 20 and 30 lbs., eventually working up to 45 lbs. Even the most experienced ruck marchers should not exceed 70 lbs. When looking at the weight of your ruck you should focus on proper weight distribution. Pack in a way to prevent contents from shifting which could cause unnecessary injuries from occurring.
Below are a few tips when preparing your ruck.
- Lay out all the gear in which you are going to pack to achieve the desired results. Pack the gear into bags ensuring they are wrapped tightly to prevent anything sharp or bulky from making unwanted contact with your back.
- Arrange heavier items close to your back.
- Place the heaviest items in the middle to upper part of your back across your shoulders.
- Make sure all straps on the ruck are properly secure so it doesn’t create any friction with your body.
- Pack a small medical bag, hydration device, and nutritional snacks for the actual ruck event.
- Mark your ruck with a reflective material to make yourself visible to other ruck marchers and vehicular traffic.
- Practice carrying the ruck sack on your back once it is properly packed. Secure the ruck on your back just tight enough to reduce rubbing but not so tight that it cuts off circulation. Your body should generally remain straight making sure the movement with your feet is fluid and comfortable. Try to avoid leaning too far forward as it will add additional weight to the shoulders causing you to apply more stress to your knees.
Properly Condition Yourself
Proper conditioning will get your mind and body ready for the challenge of ruck marching. Below are some recommended workouts to prepare for your ruck march.
- Slow-paced runs of three to five miles at 80% maximum heart rate.
- 1-2 mile jogs wearing your ruck and appropriate footwear.
- A couple of small road marches during the first couple weeks of training; Load your pack with 10% of your target weight and ruck 10% of your target distance.
- After two weeks of training Increase your load by 10% of your target weight each week. Continue to increase your target distance by increments of 10% each time.
- Incorporate sprints, squats, lunges and calve exercises to strengthen your lower body.
- Incorporate push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups to strengthen your upper body.
In addition to exercise, proper nutrition plays a major role in attaining and maintaining total fitness. Healthy dietary habits year around and on the days leading up to, and including the day of your ruck march can greatly enhance your ability to perform at your maximum potential. According to the Department of the Army Fitness Training manual, "Because foods eaten one to three days before an activity provide part of the fuel for that activity, it is important to eat foods every day that are rich in complex carbohydrates." Leading up to your ruck march you can benefit from drinking plenty of water and eating fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. On the day of your ruck march, it's a good idea to eat just one light meal before you begin. Having a light meal will help keep your energy up without making your body feel sluggish. Click here for some more nutrition tips to help increase your ruck march performance by staying energized and hydrated.
Sleep is a vital component for peak physical performance, yet it is often overlooked or not prioritized. In addition to increasing energy and endurance, getting enough sleep also aids in muscle recovery, stress reduction, and increased accuracy and reaction time. Sleep so strongly affects physical performance, that experts say that your body declines in physical performance by 25% for every 24 hours that your body is deprived of sleep. It is important to get enough sleep all the time, not just the day before your ruck march. Here are some tips for getting more sleep:
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime (including soft drinks, tea, and chocolate)
- Avoid eating 2-3 hours prior to bedtime
- Keep the bedroom cool
- Block noise and light
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a hot shower
Hopefully these tips help you properly prepare for a safe and successful ruck march. Please visit the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. website for more information on being the best warfighter you can be.