Woman goes rucking outside

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All You Need to Level Up Your Next Walking Workout Is a Backpack

Who says you can't work your upper body and core on your next stroll?

By Kells McPhillipsNovember 21, 2023


It’s no secret that walking is one of the easiest ways to step outdoors and get moving, but add a backpack full of groceries, books, or gym gear, and, suddenly, you have a serious challenge. Welcome to rucking. This workout offers all the benefits of a typical walk but with a little extra weight on your back to increase your strength, build your endurance, and improve your posture. 

What Is Rucking?

“Rucking is a form of physical exercise that involves walking or hiking with a loaded backpack or rucksack, typically over varying distances and terrains,” says Peloton instructor Logan Aldridge. Simply add sandbags or other weighted objects to your backpack, and you have a workout that you can do anywhere.

The History of Rucking

Rucking has its origins in military training, with the word “ruck” or “rucksack” meaning backpack. Prior to World War I, soldiers schlepped all of their gear in bundles of cloth and sticks—a less-than-ideal arrangement. However, at the start of the 20th century, soldiers trained to carry supplies on their backs in rucksacks.  

Rucking is still used in military training today, but it’s catching on among civilians as well. The practice has a growing social media presence, and chances are someone in your life has taken up the sport in the last few years. “Rucking has gained popularity for several reasons: It provides a practical and effective way to improve fitness and strength, it's a low-cost exercise that doesn't require expensive equipment or gym memberships, and it can be done individually or in groups,” Logan says.

How to Ruck

One of the best things about rucking is that it requires minimal equipment. All you need is a backpack, some heavy objects (books, rocks, a laptop—you name it), and a route. 

Start your rucking journey with one or two rucks a week. “For beginners, it's advisable to start with a relatively light load, typically around 10 to 20 pounds,” Logan says. “The distance you cover can vary, but it's recommended to start with shorter distances, such as one to three miles.” 

Lara Heimann, a physical therapist and yoga instructor, suggests thinking about how long you can walk without weight and cutting that time in half for your ruck. For example, if you can comfortably walk for 30 minutes, try rucking for 15 minutes. As the muscles of your arms, shoulders, hips, and back become stronger, you’ll be able to gradually increase the load, distance, and elevation of your rucks, Heimann says. Everyone’s body gains muscle and skeletal strength at a different rate, but generally speaking, you should start to notice changes within a few months. 

The outdoor walking workouts on the Peloton App are a great opportunity to test your rucking skills. Simply grab a comfortable, ergonomic backpack with 10 to 20 pounds of added weight and hit play. 

Here’s Logan’s packing list for a rucking session:

  • A sturdy backpack or rucksack

  • Weight, which can be in the form of weight plates, sandbags, or other heavy items

  • Proper footwear with good support and cushioning

  • Comfortable clothing suitable for the weather and terrain

How to Choose the Right Rucksack 

Before you pack up and head out, it’s a good idea to invest in a supportive backpack to avoid injuries and make your rucks more comfortable. Heimann recommends choosing one that features both a chest and waist strap so that the backpack’s weight is evenly distributed across your upper body. “It should fit like a life jacket,” she says. “If you have those straps nice and snug, water isn't pushing the life jacket up over your head; you and the life jacket are a unit.” If you’re able, go to a store near you and try on a few backpacks until you find the perfect fit.

Woman rucking outside through a grassy area

© Lupe Rodríguez/ Stocksy United

Why You Need to Warm Up and Cooldown 

Warm Up 

Before you get out there, you need to prepare your shoulders, upper back, and neck for your impending workout, Heimann says. “I would really recommend five to 10 minutes of some mobility work,” she says. “Maybe stretch out your neck a little bit or march in place, swinging your arms so that you're really exaggerating some rib cage movement.” Unsure of where to start? Try a short, upper body-focused stretch on the Peloton App. 

Cool Down

Once you’ve gently removed your backpack after your ruck, Heimann recommends some gentle shoulder rolls. After that, move through your go-to upper body stretches.

Is It OK to Ruck Every Day? 

Aim to ruck no more than every other day when you’re just starting out. “I would do two to three times a week maximum, and not on back-to-back days,” Heimann says. “Take a little bit of rest in between. Injury happens when you overload beyond what you're capable of managing.” 

On the days between your rucks, prioritize other activities—and rest. “Cross-training activities that complement rucking include strength training, running, and yoga,” Logan says. “These can help address different aspects of fitness and prevent overuse injuries.” Heimann also recommends adding in exercises that promote 360-degree movement. For example, you can try side lunges, horizontal bear crawls, and side squats. Moving in all directions will help you balance out the repetitive forward motion of rucking.

The Benefits of Rucking

“While there may not be extensive research specifically on rucking, the benefits are similar to those of brisk walking and hiking, which are well-documented in scientific literature,” Logan says. “Rucking offers an added challenge due to the weight you carry.”

1. Rucking Is “Functional” Fitness

Functional fitness is exercise that supports everyday movement, such as picking up grocery bags, lifting heavy objects, and, yes, carrying a heavy backpack. With rucking, you’re practicing carrying a large amount of weight for many miles, which will make lugging your lunch, laptop, and notes on your morning commute that much easier. 

2. Rucking Is Good for Your Cardiovascular System

Just like walking or hiking, rucking benefits your entire cardiovascular system. “Rucking is an aerobic exercise that can improve your heart and lung health,” Logan says. Aerobic exercise can increase your stamina, build strong bones, improve your lung function, and even lower your blood pressure.

3. It Increases Muscle Strength and Endurance

No surprise here: Strapping extra weight onto your back and carrying it around your neighborhood, local track, or park can help you build muscle and increase your endurance. “Carrying weight on your back engages various muscle groups, including your legs, back, and core,” Logan says. 

4. Rucking May Improve Your Posture and Stability

Rucking strengthens your back, which may also help you stand up a little straighter. “When you’re wearing a backpack, your upper trapezius muscles, shoulders, and upper back muscles have to engage, and that can be really helpful for people who have weak upper back muscles and poor posture,” Heimann says. So, if you’re someone with a desk job, you’ll start to see the benefits of rucking pretty quickly. 

5. It Supports Healthy Bones

“With age, our bones lose density, and rucking is a great way to build stronger, more dense bones,” Heimann says. Having strong bones is kind of like having an insurance policy for your body. When your skeleton is primed and ready to go, you can move with more ease, reducing your risk of injury if you fall

6. It’s a Full-Body Workout

All that weight strapped to your back isn’t just challenging your upper body; it’s putting your legs and core to work, too. When you add weight to your back, you engage your core, which is working to stabilize your body, making it a full-body workout, Heimann says.

7. Rucking May Strengthen Your  Mind and Your Body 

“Rucking can be mentally challenging, helping to build resilience and determination,” Logan says. This type of mental toughness can support you in other workouts, as well as in your career and creative pursuits.

Why You Should Try Interval Rucking

If the idea of walking for an hour with a weighted backpack doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, interval rucking may be more your speed. 

With interval rucking, you’ll put in a hard walking effort with the backpack before removing it and taking a quick break. After your breather, you’ll slip the pack back on and do another interval. For example, you may decide to complete three intervals of 15-minute rucks with three minutes of rest in between each one. 

If you’re an advanced rucker, you may even opt to use your “break” intervals to complete strength training moves, such as push-ups, lunges, or crunches. 

Other Considerations

Since rucking is an outdoor activity, you’ll want to keep your safety in mind. If you plan on rucking in the early morning or late at night, carry a light for visibility. Make sure that someone knows the route you’re following and the time you plan on returning home.

As with all new physical activities, talk to your doctor before you get started with rucking, especially if you have pre-existing conditions. Once you receive the green light, grab your backpack and enjoy your ruck. 

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.