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Step Up Your Rucking Workout With These Routines Recommended by Fitness Pros 

Nature ruck, anyone?

Rucking, or weighted walking, is the latest and greatest trend across low-impact exercise and for good reason! If you’re looking for some great ways to amp up your rucking routine, rucking workouts can add variety and boost the strength-training aspects. We asked fitness experts for their recommendations to keep your rucking routine dynamic!

We know walking makes for an effective low-impact exercise with a plethora of benefits. It’s easy on bones and joints, burns calories, enhances cognitive function and boosts mood, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and lowers blood pressure — to name a few! Based on rucksack training performed by military members, rucking delivers all the same perks, with an added strength component (so key for women as we age!).

Related: New Twist on Walking Is Helping Women Lose Weight Faster: What You Need to Know About Rucking

Rucking workouts from fitness experts 

It’s so easy to start rucking — just throw a backpack with one or two books inside over your shoulders and take a casual stroll, or you can get a weighted vest. Then, if you’re looking for a more strategic rucking routine, there are plenty of ways to spice up your workout, like: 

Time progressive rucking workout for beginners 

Jake Dickson, a certified personal trainer with online weight lifting brand Barbend, recommends a routine that incrementally builds the amount of time that you wear a weighted item on your walk. He suggests using as much or as little weight as you’d like, and wearing proper hiking shoes or cross-trainers. Here’s his three-day plan:  

Day 1: 15-minute ruck, then 15 minutes unloaded walking

Day 2: 20-minute ruck, then 20 minutes unloaded walking

Day 3: 30-minute ruck

“This three-day plan is designed to help you acclimate to the physical demands of rucking,” Dickson explains. “Perform these workouts on non-consecutive days to allow for adequate rest and recovery, especially if you aren’t used to any type of loaded cardio.”

Normal cardio activities make progression a challenge without spending more time on the exercise, Dickson says, but rucking offers the ability to progressively increase the weight you carry. “Research tells us that adding some form of progressive overload to your workouts is absolutely critical to making long-term progress,” he adds. 

See also: These Easy + Effective Exercises Are the Best Bets for Women Over 50

Distance and weight progressive rucking 

In addition to increasing the amount of time in your rucking sessions, you can focus on gradually increasing the distance and amount of weight while you ruck. Professional golfer, fitness instructor and personal trainer Patrick Stephenson suggests the following rucking workout: 

  1. Start with a 2-mile walk while carrying a backpack that has 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, fill your pack with 15 pounds. Keep a steady pace of 20 minutes per mile. This slower pace allows you to focus on your form and build endurance gradually. Do this 2-mile ruck 2-3 times per week, and make sure to rest in between. 
  2. Every two weeks, increase your distance by 0.5 miles and add 5% more weight to your backpack. For example, after two weeks, walk 2.5 miles with a 20-pound pack. Continue to increase the distance and weight until you reach your goal.

“The added weight makes your leg muscles work harder, which strengthens your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves,” Stephenson says. “As a golfer, I need strong legs to maintain my stance and power my swings, and rucking is great for this.”

Ruck/march intervals for a great rucking workout

Two women walking outside with handheld weights

Whitney Houlin, certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, suggests grabbing a pair of handheld weights you’re comfortable carrying while rucking, and doing this routine once or twice a week. 

  1. Warm-up: Begin with a 5-10 minute brisk walk to warm up your muscles and joints.
  2. Steady-state ruck: Begin weighted walking at a moderate pace, holding the dumbbells or kettlebells down next to the sides, Houlin says, and aim to maintain this pace for 10-15 minutes continuously. This will be the foundation of your workout.
  3. Interval rucking: After completing the steady-state portion, transition into interval rucking to add intensity and variety.
  • Interval 1 – Find a hill or incline in your route. Increase your pace and ruck uphill for 1-2 minutes, pushing yourself but maintaining good form. Without a hill, increase the pace of the walk but position one or both weights overhead as you walk to further increase heart rate.
  • Interval 2 – Return to a steady pace on flat ground for 2-3 minutes, allowing your heart rate to slightly decrease while still carrying the weight. You can also lower the weights back to your sides.
  • Interval 3 – Increase your speed to a brisk walk for 1 minute on flat ground or a slight decline. Hold the weights with elbows bent 90 degrees (dumbbells) or in a front rack position (kettlebells).
  1. Repeat: Continue alternating between uphill climbs, flat terrain, and speed walking intervals for 20-30 minutes, depending on your fitness level and available terrain.
  2. Cool Down: Finish with a 5-10 minute cooldown walk at a slower pace to gradually lower your heart rate and help prevent muscle soreness.

“Carrying weight while walking engages various muscle groups, including the legs, core, and upper body,” explains Houlin. “The intervals challenge these muscles in different ways, promoting strength and endurance development. The combination of steady-state rucking and interval training elevates your heart rate, improving cardiovascular health and endurance. The intervals also mimic the demands of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been shown to enhance aerobic capacity.” 

Nature ruck 

Combine the positive effects of rucking to the benefits of being in nature with an outdoor rucking routine. Peter Hinz, a chiropractor, certified acupuncturist, and the founder of Cool Springs Chiropractic in Tennessee, suggests a scenic hike through nature trails focusing on varying terrain. 

  1. Begin with a light 10-minute warm-up walk to get your muscles prepared. 
  2. Then, add a weighted backpack (start with 10-15% of your body weight) and hike for about 45-60 minutes. The varying terrain ensures that different muscle groups are activated and engaged. Hiking uphill with the added weight increases cardiovascular endurance and leg strength, while downhill portions help improve balance and stability. 
  3. For an added challenge and if you feel comfortable, you can incorporate interval training by alternating between slow, steady walking and brisk, fast-paced rucking. This approach boosts heart health, enhances muscular endurance, and burns more calories. 
  4. To finish, cool down with a 10-minute light walk to aid recovery. 

“This routine is effective because it combines the benefits of cardio and strength training in a single workout, while the outdoor setting offers a refreshing change from mundane indoor exercises,” says Hinz. 

Stair rucking with a group

Varsha Rao and her rucking group
Courtesy of Varsha Rao

Varsha Rao used Zeal, the social platform she created to help people connect with one another for in-person activities, to form a walking group with 11 other women. 

“Many of us wear rucking vests and we typically do stair walks together to get a great workout in,” she says. “The up and down of the stairs make the workout really efficient as it’s both a cardio workout while also building strength and endurance. We also get to catch great views of the city — we always take photos — and spend fun social time together making the workouts/walks really fun. We try to walk once a week and we’ve been walking for over a year together.”

Houlin says that moving up and down stairs while rucking helps to further increase your heart rate as you add elevation, incline, and more lower body movement. This will also help strengthen quads, glutes, calves, and ankle joints.

Nervous about working stairs into your workout? For added balance and stability, Houlin suggests holding a weight in one hand, while using the other hand to stay steady on a stair railing as you travel upwards, then switch hands when you come back down the stairs. Move at a pace that is challenging while maintaining balance and stability. 

Ready for more workout routines? Keep reading!

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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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