What Is Rucking — and What Makes It Such a Great Workout? | appencode.com

What Is Rucking — and What Makes It Such a Great Workout?

Fitness trends come and go, but one of the latest workout obsessions on TikTok (and IRL) is an activity that’s been around forever: rucking. What is rucking, exactly? Put simply, it’s a fancy name for walking while carrying some extra weight on your back.

As basic as that sounds, rucking is blowing up your feed because of how accessible — and effective — it can be as a form of exercise. “It’s a really low barrier to entry [form of exercise] that reaps a lot of rewards and benefits,” says Tasia Percevez, an ambassador with rucking gear company GORUCK who’s rucked as part of CrossFit competitions. “All you need is a backpack.” Stick in some books or water bottles, hit the road, and you’re good to go. 

If that sounds like a workout you could get into, read on for a complete guide to what rucking is, what it can do for your fitness, and how to best work it into your routine.  

What Is Rucking?

Even if the term “rucking” is new to you, the activity itself probably isn’t. Since rucking is as straightforward as walking with a weighted backpack, avid rucker, and NASM-certified personal trainer Tony Vacharasanee points out that “chances are, all of us have done some form of it when we were in school.” Rucking doesn’t even necessarily need to be done with a backpack — anything that adds weight works. Some people use a weighted vest, while others walk with their kid in a carrier or on their shoulders — and yes, that counts, too! 

Rucking can also be part of a hike. Anyone who’s ever backpacked on the trails — or carried extra water and lunch to the peak — has done rucking, even if they didn’t call it that. “Hiking and rucking are pretty much siblings to each other,” says Vacharasanee. “Hiking is rucking in the wild, and urban hiking is rucking.”

Although many people point to military training exercises as the origin of rucking, the military wasn’t the first place where people walked while carrying things, points out physical therapist Jessica Olivarez, D.P.T., who first began rucking in the army herself and now leads a community rucking group for adults. Truly, this is one fitness routine that’s pretty much as old as humanity itself. 

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The Benefits of Rucking

What is rucking good for? A whole host of helpful stuff. It’s a low-impact way to raise your heart rate for a cardiovascular workout. The added resistance helps to strengthen your bones as well as muscle groups like your calves, hamstrings, quads, core, upper back, shoulders, and even your feet. It also challenges your balance. And unless you do it on a treadmill, it gets you outside, something that’s proven to be good for our mental health

Although rucking won’t get your heart rate as high or rev your metabolism quite as much as running, it does beat walking: It will give you a greater cardiovascular challenge and can burn up to three times as many calories, depending on the weight you carry, says Vacharasanee. Yet it remains low impact, which means it’s easier on your joints, so you can do it daily with little risk of injury.  

“It also helps prepare you for general day-to-day life,” says Olivarez. Whether you need to carry your groceries to the car or your kid down the stairs, rucking will give you the strength to pull it off. “Essentially, it makes life less hard to live,” she adds. “I tell my patients it puts money in their strength bank so that when they’re doing activities that require them to carry or move things, then they’re not short on cash.”

What Is a Ruck Pack?

You can ruck with any backpack with wide straps. However, dedicated rucksacks will come with features like a special compartment for weight plates, extra cushion on the lower back, possibly a waist or chest strap, and extra handles so you can use the pack for strength-training exercises. Most offer somewhere to stash your water, either via a side pocket for a bottle or a slot for a hydration bladder. 

Some people ruck in weighted vests, which can help distribute the load more evenly across your torso. But Vacharasanee says these can sometimes restrict your breathing. They also aren’t as versatile. “Unless you’re wearing a bulletproof vest for work, the only thing you can use it for is exercise,” says Vacharasanee. “Whereas a rucksack, it’s a lot less conspicuous. I definitely get a whole lot less looks than when I used to go out rucking with weight vests.” 

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Tips for Getting Started with Rucking

Inspired to give rucking a try? Here’s how to do it right. 

Start Light 

No matter how fit you are, keep your pack light in the beginning — no more than three to five percent of your body weight, says Olivarez. “With any new kind of activity, the best way to start is to start slow and progress based on how you’re feeling,” she says. 

Focus on Form 

One of the perks of rucking is that it actually inspires good posture. “It’s extremely uncomfortable to have bad posture while rucking,” says Vacharasanee. Just focus on keeping the weight over your center of gravity, or midfoot, which means you’ll want a slight forward lean in your trunk without slouching. 

Also, keep an eye on your stride. “You’re pulling your leg forward with the hip muscle and then driving forward with the back leg. It’s a deliberate stepping versus just kind of a lackadaisical walking,” says Olivarez.  

Pack Strategically

Olivarez suggests trying to place the weight as high up in your backpack as possible. “Roll up some towels in the bottom or [use] a yoga block to get that weight to the top of the bag,” she says. This will make it easier to maintain good form while you walk.

Follow These Sample Rucking Routines 


If you’re not already a regular walker, Olivarez suggests starting with a weight equal to three percent of your body weight and heading out for 15 to 20 minutes or a mile a couple of times a week. Or, if you regularly walk three to five miles, you can start by adding five percent of your body weight for half the distance you’d normally walk, and see how your body responds. Regardless of your athletic background, don’t try to carry more than 10 pounds until you get used to the activity, warns Vacharasanee

“If you’re really sore, then drop the weight down, go a little shorter on time, slow down a little, take seated rest breaks,” Olivarez suggests. “Skip a day or two to let your body return to its baseline, and then continue to progress again.”


As you get more comfortable, experiment with the variables: Add more weight (no more than five pounds per week, says Vacharasanee), more time, or pick up the pace. “If you have access to hills, you can walk up a hill at a fast pace and recover on the walk down,” says Percevez. 

Intervals are another great way to spice up your workout. Percevez likes to challenge herself with intervals that alternate two minutes at a fast pace with one minute of recovery. Or, after every 10 minutes of walking, she’ll do 10 squats or lunges with the pack on. 


Depending on your goals, Olivarez might recommend doing two shorter rucks each week of 45 to 60 minutes while carrying 15 to 20 percent of your body weight, then one longer ruck on the weekend of two to three hours with a lighter weight to build up your endurance. “Someone who’s doing it for military training or ruck-centric fitness challenges like a big 24- to 48-hour rucking tour of a city, you have to train three to four times a week [and] add in weightlifting and some functional fitness,” she says.  

Advanced ruckers that want to add some variation to their routine can also try rucking backward up a hill. Olivarez sometimes has her groups do this to work their hamstrings and quads in a new way. “Then I might have them wear their pack on the front for a little bit just to get the backside of the body a different challenge,” says Olivarez. “It’s a very versatile piece of equipment — you’re only limited in your imagination of what you can try.”     

Don’t Forget About Resistance Training

No matter how much you’re rucking, if you want a truly well-rounded fitness routine, you’ll also want to dedicate some time each week to resistance training. “Some basic lower body strength training — squats, deadlifts, calf raises — [will] prepare your body to meet the demands of rucking,” says Olivarez. 

Safety Tips 

Before heading out, you’ll want to make sure you have water with you (fortunately, backpacks offer a convenient place to carry it!) and that you’ve fueled yourself with enough calories. 

Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes to keep your feet secure — any comfortable sneaker or hiking boot will do, says Vacharasanee. If you’re out after dark, wear bright colors or lights. And if you have to walk on the shoulder of a road, go against the direction of traffic so you can see cars coming. “Just be super aware of your surroundings,” says Percevez.

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Ready To Start Rucking?

No matter your age or fitness level, as long as you can safely walk, you can ruck. If you do it at least once or twice a week, Vacharasanee says, you’ll start to see stronger muscles throughout your body, plus greater cardio endurance. 

And it doesn’t even have to take extra time out of your day. “You can literally put on weight while walking the dog, shopping for groceries, doing any activity while you would be on your feet anyway, and you’ll get more benefit out of it with a fraction of the impact on your joints that you would get from running,” says Vacharasanee.

You can also turn it into a social activity. People of different fitness levels can easily ruck together by carrying different amounts of weight, points out Percevez, who admits that the community element is one thing she especially loves about rucking: “You can exercise in a way that you can talk to your friends at the same time.”

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