Ah the ruck. Nothing feels quite as good as the phrase 'drop ruck', even if you know you'll inevitably have to pick it up and start moving with it again soon. Just like in life, there are people who are just naturally gifted at rucking. Other people (like me) had to work their asses off not to have their spine compressed and get even shorter under the crushing weight. I'm not here to claim I know everything about rucking. I don't. I still hate it, and no amount of training will ever help change that fact. It sucks. But it does get more manageable, and the weights do get more manageable if you practice.
There are 2 kinds of ruck practice:
Basic Training/some regular army units method: Wear your helmet, keep your pants tucked into your boots, and put as much gear in your ruck as possible as you slog directly behind your fellow sufferer, rifle held across your chest. You justify it by thinking, I'll endure the suck now so that when I have to do it in selection, it will seem easier.
-- This method is not recommended. If you are training for selection...immediately forget that this horrible method of human torture still exists.
If you are starting from scratch--no worries. We were all there at one point. The point of practicing any exercise is to focus on building from a solid foundation, and then adding each week. I'm not here to layout a week by week plan for you. I'm going to tell you what your end goal should be, and give you some tips on how to get there. Chuck the helmet, un-blouse your pants, and when you carry your rifle, carry it however you want as long as you don't look like a jackass. Cool?
- Pack your ruck evenly. Getting it right takes practice, but there is nothing worse than being a mile into the ruck and finding your ruck weight leans in one direction.
- Shoulder straps. There are some cool gel pads, extra padded shoulder straps, whatever. The important thing is that your shoulder straps are efficient, on correctly, and ride high on your shoulders. Caveat: Make sure you get one that the selection committee allows for selection. This may mean foregoing the high speed shoulder straps for the time being.
- Back pad. Like shoulder straps, they have some high-speed ones nowadays. Find one that works for you, but don't expect even the most expensive one not to tear up your back after logging some serious miles. The trick is to find one that doesn't rub your belt line and cause you to chafe. Get one that the selection committee allows for selection.
- The ruck: Ask your friends, those who have gone to selection recently, or an SF recruiter about what ruck they are requiring at the current time. Try and match it. This goes too for the shoulder straps and back pad. Practice with what you will use in selection!! Years from now, when you make it through the Q course and end up on a team, you'll have about 6 different rucks to choose from.
Okay--down to business. The ruck practice
Start with a 35lb. ruck, and go 2-3 miles at a 15 minute per mile clip. This will allow you to feel out how you have packed your rucksack, how the shoulder and back pad sits, and any adjustments you need to make. Once you can reliably do this distance and time, you'll move onto the intermediate ruck.
Up your ruck weight to 40-45lbs. Your goal is to go 4-5 miles at a 13-14 minute pace. The first few miles may not seem that bad, but your shoulders and legs will undeniably start feeling the weight towards the end. You should reliably be able to hit the 5 mile distance at 13 minutes per mile before moving onto the Advanced Ruck. Both the Beginner's Ruck and Intermediate Ruck are meant to build up your leg muscles and your shoulder muscles, as well as get your mind mentally accustomed to going long distances with relatively heavy weights.
Ruck weight between 50-60lbs. Your distance goal should be 6-8 miles, and your pace should be 11-13 minutes per mile. You won't achieve these times by brisk walking, especially if you're short like me.
--The best way to accomplish this is to alternate running and walking on the flat ground. Pick a spot in the distance and run to it. Pick another, preferably closer point, and power walk to it, then pick a distant point, run to it, etc. During selection in the backwoods of NC, a lot of the ruck marchers are conducted on dirt roads with nothing but trees and telephone poles. What I did was pick telephone poles as my bench marks. I would run to one telephone pole, power walk to the next, then repeat it over and over if it was flat ground.
- Run the downhill portions. Use your momentum and gravity to gain time on the downhills.
- power walk the uphill portions. Don't run or even jog uphill. It drains your energy and you don't really gain any time doing it.
If you start slow or get staggered time starts: Always set a goal on catching the person directly in front of you. Then repeat!
I'm not claiming this is the ONLY way you can better yourself at rucking. You will still be sore, your shoulders will still ache, and your back will look like raw hamburger meat for awhile. But it does get better, and it works. Out of nearly 400 people in my selection class, I always noticed that I came in well ahead of the vast majority of other selection candidates.
I hope this helps some of you!
Founder, Ready Warrior LLC