How to Train for Ruck Marches

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The importance of rucking in the military
Senior Airman Carly Brenner. 36th Security Forces Squadron defender, participates in a Defender's Challenge competition during Police Week at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 15, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Alexander Riedel/36th Wing Public Affairs)

I often get emails from soldiers and civilians who are training for Ranger or Special Forces courses on how to prepare for ruck marches. Many civilians training to join the Army ask more specific questions concerning how the ruck marches are performed.

For example, here is a Ranger/SF hopeful:

"I'm currently a civilian and about to join the Army and go Ranger, then HOPEFULLY to SF. So, for beginner/first timer's, do I start with about 25 lbs. in my backpack? Is that at a "normal marching" speed or borderline jogging or should I just be walking "briskly"? Finally, what do I wear?  Shoes or boots? PT clothes or fatigues? And is it with or without the LBE? If so, water in the canteens? Sorry, Stew, never done it before!" 

Also known as "forced marches" or "humps," these events are basically walking at a fast pace over rough terrain with a backpack at least 45 pounds in weight. When you take the ruck march test, you also will carry a weapon, wear boots, BDU (battle dress uniform -- "fatigues" pants/blouse), LBE (load-bearing equipment -- shoulder harness with canteens with water) and a helmet.

If you break it down, you need to train the major muscle groups of the body -- legs and back. Sure, your upper body (shoulders and arms) comes into play carrying the backpack and weapon, but you will get most of your exhaustion from the legs and lower back. So training your legs in running, leg PT and rucking will build the stamina and endurance you need for any type of Army or land navigation training.

There are many ways to develop the legs and torso for the ruck march. Here are some sample ways pulled from the Army Ranger/SF prep workout ebook as well as the other Army workouts on the Military.com Fitness eBook Store.

The run and leg PT workout:

Repeat 4-5 times

Run 1 mile at your goal pace (6-8:00/mile) (no ruck sack)

Squats: 30

Lunges: 20/leg

Calves (heel raises): 30 per leg

Bike and leg PT:

Repeat 4-5 times

Bike 5:00 at increasing levels per minute on a Life Cycle-type stationary bike

Squats: 30

Lunges: 20/leg

Calves: 30 per leg

Related Video:

Long-distance bike/leg workout

(Life Cycle pyramid)

On a stationary bike with manual mode and levels of resistance:

Start at level 1 for 1 minute; increase resistance level by one level each minute until you no longer can pedal between the 80-90 RPM zone. Typically, people will do this workout for 20-30 minutes, depending on the bike they have. Some bike will max out at level 12, and some will go to at least 20 levels. Both are tough to get to the top of the pyramid levels. Once at the top, repeat all levels in reverse order and work yourself down the other side of the pyramid. Usually by the end of the pyramid, there is a puddle under you, and your legs will be exhausted.

And, of course, there are long-distance ruck marches for 10-20 miles with at least 45 lbs. in a rucksack you must train for before some of the advanced Army courses. The best way to train for these is to move out with a rucksack for 1-4 hours at a time, combined with smart foot care.

The most important part of training (running or rucking) in boots is proper fit and blister control. Here are some tips to deal with training in boots and treating/preventing blisters:

1. Break in your boots to your feet

One way to break in your boots is to take a shower with your new boots and walk around in them for about two hours. This will mold them to your feet. Polish them well with shoe polish to protect them from further water damage.

2. Place insoles into your boots

Good arch-supporting and heel-cushioning inserts are thick and may require you to purchase boots that are one size larger.

3. Wear two pairs of socks

Wear a tight-fitting polyester pair of socks that cling to your feet underneath the thicker pair of regulation socks. This will enable your foot to have a protective layer on it and prevent blisters. It also will keep sand and dirt from rubbing your feet inside your thick sock, which is what will cause a blister - even in perfect-fitting boots. I never had a blister at SEAL training doing this, and we were wet and sandy all day long.

4. Do not run with weight

You can walk at a fast pace, but running will damage the lower extremities (shins, knees, lower back). When walking, stride with short, fast steps and straighten the knee with each step to relax the leg muscles briefly. When going uphill, do not go straight up; zigzag to avoid tiring the leg muscles. Walk straight, with the weight of the body kept directly over the feet, walking flat-footed. Conversely, bend your knees when going downhill to absorb the shock of each step. Dig in the heels with each step. (from USAREC Pam 601-25)

For more information on preparing for the Special Forces Assessment Course or any course with long ruck marches and land navigation, see the "Army SF Guidelines" (PDF) (USAREC Pam 601-25).

There is a ruck marching program in the SF guidelines that will build you up from three-mile ruck march with a 30-pound rucksack at a 45-minute pace to 18 miles with 50-pound ruck sack in 4.5 hours.

Have fun with this type of workout. It is different and challenging and will prepare you for most Army schools.

Related Video:

Learn more about available Special Operations opportunities.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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