Last month, we discussed the various types of ruck sacks as well as how to pack them successfully in part 1 of this serious. Today, we will talk a bit about training for or around your ruck.
Most clients that I work with are rucking because rucking is an important ability within their career path. However, a number of organizations have taken the appeal of rucking and marketed challenges for recreational purposes. I have seen people with ruck requirements as short as four miles to upwards of 60 miles with a pack and everything inbetween. As rucking gains traction and mainstream appeal, the same preparation errors that plague every recreational fitness sport. Lack of smart progressions, lack of adequate recovery, and generally jumping the gun on important basebuilding work.
Situational Awareness: This can mean a multitude of things throughout your life. For the sake of clarity, I’m requiring that you take a look at where you are in physical abilities right now vs. what you need to be successful in the rucking challenge you have chosen. A few questions to ask:
–What is your current aerobic base fitness? What pace are you able to sustain for 60 minutes of unloaded running while keeping a controlled heartrate? Are you able to hike terrain and recover adequately to complete courses? Endurance differs so greatly from strength sports in that energy management is crucial, and assessing that requires a pretty firm grasp on fatigue indicators.
–Is your rucking goal reasonable? So, unfortunately, if your military/LEO or involved in any vocation that requires rucking, this isn’t really a question you can ask yourself. Your best bet there is to maintain a decent aerobic base year round. However, recreational ruckers need to assess if they are setting themselves up for success. If you are struggling to manage a 35lb ruck over 5 miles, partaking in a HeavyGORUCK challenge (24 hours to complete 40ish miles) is firmly off the table for a bit. Luckily, most recreational rucking avenues offer light courses and abbreviated challenges.
–Will this challenge destroy your body? If you are already riddled with overuse injuries (particularly of the hip/knee/ankle), you may want to make sure your body is able to safely endure rucking. If you are constantly battling nagging knee pain from unloading running, adding rucking into the mix may not do you any favors. THAT SAID, running and marching are significantly different in stride. My suggestion here is to take a LIGHT ruck out for a short duration. Assess your joints over the days that proceed.
Making Smart Progressions:
Alright! Hopefully we have decided that you are ready to rumble! If you are like many athletes, the first thing you want to do is take the course distance with the course weight and see how it goes. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. THIS IS NOT REALLY A SMART MOVE. I like to have people start with a rucksack that is about 15% of their bodyweight for an hour. WITHOUT launching into a jog, I like to see what distance is covered in that time. From there, I will assess some biomarkers (such as heartrate/average pace/duration at certain HR zones/etc) but generally, this gives us a pace and some parameters to work with.
Assuming the primary programming concern is endurance rucking, I generally recommend increasing ruck distance by no more than 15% each week, often 10% being more appropriate. More aggressive, time sensitive goals may require closer to the 15% mark. I will typically prescribe 1 long ruck per week. During these efforts, the focus should be on foot turnover and sustaining a pace that allows comfortably surpassing the time cutoffs of desired courses. I will typically really scrutinize progress over a 5 week mesocycle, which will also include a “deload” of sorts where the ruck is replaced by a timed zone 2 run. From there, we can decide if we want to increase the weight. I will often reset the distance a bit and begin a rebuild with a weight increase of 5% or less. Again, this will depend a LOT of where you are in relation to your rucking goal.
Recovering from rucking is another forgotten aspect of rucking. As mentioned earlier, I recommend one long ruck per week, so the unfortunate tendency I see is that people just eat three days of inactivity to recover from their ruck. Many people simply make peace with being a bit sore, and there is some value in that. However, your progress will be stunted if you are taking no action to expediting your recovery.
–Hydrate: seems simple enough, but its understated. In part one of this series, I mentioned packing along water. Water is crucial, but water is not the only mineral lost in sweat. Salt and electrolytes are also lost. Its important to replenish these things during and after your ruck. Cutting pedialyte with water at a 1:1 ratio will help post ruck, and having some electrolyte blend in your water is also helpful. I recommend 1st Phorms Intra-Formance, which has EAAS, potassium, and highly branched cyclic dextrin. Want to know how much you should drink? There are a few rough calculators out there that recommend anything from 16-48oz per hour you are out. Pretty wild variance. The most sure fire method of making sure you are rehydrated is to weigh yourself (naked) pre run and post run, and make up the different. If you lost a pound, drink 16oz h20.
–Fuel: Getting enough food to fuel rucks is also important. In the hydration section, I recommended 1st Phorms endurance product. This product has highly branched cyclic dextrin, which is a carb source that digests very smoothly. Generally, I would recommend checking into a calorimeter and refueling what you have lost in a ratio of 80%carb/10%pro/10%fat. Once you get a rough idea how many calories you burn per hour, you can even start this refueling process during your ruck. Bringing low fat, light weight carb sources are also an option if you aren’t keen on putting powder in your camel pack or water supply. Dried bananas, raisins, papaya provide a quick punch of fructose and are light enough to carry away with you.
Questions on how to make rucking work for you? Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Next month, we will discuss crosstraining for rucking challenges