Rucking: The Workout That Builds Muscle

On the surface rucking sounds pretty simple. You put some weights in your rucksack and go for a leisurely stroll. So what’s with all the fuss?

Is it a better workout than cardio? Can you build more muscle rucking than with other workouts? And how many miles should you aim for?

Beginners often don’t know all the benefits of rucking. But this military fitness program is a better muscle builder than a lot of the strength training you could do in a gym.

Rucking tests even the most ardent fitness guru’s endurance in more than one way

This is a program that will pound you into top form within weeks. Whether it’s straightening out your back posture or tightening your core you will notice immediate results.

What muscles does rucking work?

What began as a military endurance building strategy has taken the fitness world by storm.

With companies such as GORUCK leading the way in establishing rucking as an everyday workout, more people are learning about rucking and what it can do for them.

Now you might be wondering, what muscles does rucking work?

Everything from shoulders and legs to glutes and back muscles.

Rucking will even help with your abs.

If you’re looking for a complete breakdown for “what muscles does rucking work and why” simply search for type 1 muscles that require repetitive exercise. On the other hand, exercises like squats target type 2 muscles.

Since you’re carrying weights while you ruck, you burn more calories than you would hiking. That’s because carrying weight takes a lot of energy.

A big concern people have is whether this exercise is safe for joints.

Don’t worry rucking is perfectly safe for your joints. In fact it is a lower impact workout than running. You can see more on the differences between them here.

If you’re a lifter, rucking has immense benefits both as a form of cardio and as way to help your lifts.

Who is this exercise for?

Now you might be wondering, that sounds really hard, is rucking really the best exercise for me?

Professional athletes and people in high-intensity jobs like special forces, and various branches of the military already know the benefits of rucking.

But this isn’t just for soldiers.

In fact, the people who can benefit the most from rucking are actually average people looking for an every day workout. If you can incorporate the right strength training exercises into your ruck you can build muscle at an insane rate.

But you can’t jump into this extreme workout head first. So it’s a good idea to go hiking once per week and spend some time resistance training before going on a ruck.

Check out the calories you could burn while rucking and factor that in when deciding if you’re interested in starting.

Researchers recommend starting with around 20 lbs. or 10% of your bodyweight, whichever is lower.

How to start?

Before you can start rucking you’ll need to improve your fitness level because this is a highly intensive workout.

Walking with a 20 lbs. weight or 10% of your bodyweight, whichever is lower is a good first step. Once you’re comfortable with that much weight you can add more to your pack and increase the distance for your ruck.

However, if you’re having back pain, here are ways to help alleviate those issues

Increase your weighted pack by 5 lbs. every week of your ruck. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you take it slow. Rucking pushes your body past its normal limits because it exerts every muscle in your body.

By that rate you could carry 55 lbs. by week 8.

What gear will you need?

Companies like GORUCK make gear specifically for rucking. You’ll need to invest in weight plates, a durable rucksack, and workout shoes. 

But what if you don’t want to buy equipment?

While getting ruck plates is easier, you can also create makeshift weights to save money. Wrapping bricks with duct tape and foam is a low-cost alternative to professional rucking equipment.

How can you pack for your ruck?

If you want to be comfortable on your ruck you need to pack your backpack the right way.

The trick is to work with and not against your bodyweight. Keep the heavy items against your back so the center of gravity doesn’t pull you backwards. This strategy also reduces the load on your joints.

A badly packed rucksack can cause joint pain and cause injury.

Pro tip: find a backpack with a laptop sleeve. That way you can keep the weight packed tight against your body.

Workouts for your ruck

Strength training exercises can elevate your rucking to give you the most fitness value. Training with your weighted pack is a great way to maximize the health benefits from your walk.

So you can use it to do squats, lunges, triceps extensions, and overhead presses, using the ruck similarly as you would a medicine ball.

Exercises like the squat go a long way in helping you increase your distance and pace.

Break up your walk with a few sets of strength exercises every few miles. Use the weight in creative ways to strengthen your core.

Tips for rucking

If you’re a beginner at rucking here are a few tips to help you get started.

Adjust the weight

There are a few ways to adjust the weight in your rucksack. Following these tips will help you avoid back pain. Apart from keeping the heaviest items close to your body, you should also cinch your rucksack at the hips.

Also adjust the straps against your shoulder and sternum. This will stop your bag from swinging while you’re walking. Then you’ll have the majority of the weight strapped against your hips and the remaining in a stable position against your back.

Use a hydration bladder

Installing a hydration bladder in your backpack will make your ruck a lot easier. That way you can drink water while walking and go miles without walking. If you add electrolyte powder to your water your muscles won’t cramp while rucking.

Get a backpack like the CamelBak Motherlode that has been specially designed for hydration.

Keep a steady pace while rucking

Running on your ruck is a bad idea. And this comes straight from GORUCK founder Jason McCarthy. Walking at a slow pace is good for beginners. People at a higher fitness level can walk faster to increase the difficulty level of their ruck. But under no circumstances should you run with weights. 

Find your initial pace and build from there.

Invest in your footwear

The right footwear is the secret to getting the most benefits while avoiding injury on your ruck. You need shoes that will support your feet and ankles. With rucking, the best shoe changes depending on the amount of weight you’re carrying.

With a weight of 35 pounds or under you should aim for a durable walking or running shoe. Hiking footwear is a top choice to get started. If your weighted pack is more than 35 pounds you’ll need a sturdier boot to support your bodyweight.

If you’re using boots, make sure you properly break them in.


Prioritize safety!

Rucking is not an extreme sport. If the weight is putting stress on your knees and joints or muscle burn in your body that’s a sign you need to stop. It’s probably a sign you’re walking with too much weight.

Also make sure you carry snacks on your walk because you’ll get hungry after a few miles. Jerky, nuts, and protein bars are good rucking snacks.

Once you get all your gear together, put on your ruck, and get started!