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How to Strength Train & Recover from Ruck Marching

By Shane Jenne, CSCS, NSCA-CPT

What is Ruck Marching?

ruck marching

Ruck marching can be defined as simply getting your gear from point A to B using a backpack.  Ruck marching is often seen, and felt, as one of the most grueling “gut-checks” you will perform during your military training.  They are usually conducted one or two ways: 1) Early in the morning with little to no sleep or 2) at the tail-end of a field exercise when all of your equipment is wet and you are feeling used and abused.  In either scenario, you are completely drained of all energy and need to keep your head down and put one foot in front of the other.  The train up to build your capacity to ruck is typically done linearly. 

The soldier will have a packed 35lb ruck and have worn their Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform, boots and TAPS completed with the soldier’s rifle and 8 quarts of water.  Generally, each mile will be completed within a sub-15 minute standard.

In a 12-week course, you will conduct a 4-mile forced ruck march and by week 11, you would have completed a 6, 8 and 10-mile ruck march as well.  This poses many issues, one of which being that there is no stimulus provided in between ruck march events.  Soldiers are then expected to not only perform at their original level, but also exceed in mileage with no proper training program.

3 Problems with the Way We Train

  1. The test weight used in gated ruck march events doesn’t compare to the weight used while on combat patrols.  On patrols, it is very common for an individual soldier to carry 80+ lbs.  This weight comes from their sleep system, many changes in complete uniforms and necessary equipment to complete their mission.
  2. There is no consistent stimulus in between ruck marches.  Traditionally, you complete your ruck march every third week or so then continue basic physical fitness training consisting of a lot of cardio with very little strength work.
  3. Framing ruck marches as “gut check” events allows each soldier to see it as a burden.  Each soldier looks forward to the moment when he/she can take a knee and dump the ruck from their back with a sigh of relief.  The reframing of the rucksack itself would shed light on its importance.  As I mentioned earlier, it is essentially the lifeline of the individual soldier and the collective as well.  In the ruck, you carry the mission essential equipment and without it you will not complete the mission and go back home.

Strength Training for Ruck Marches

You can improve your rucking by including strength training into your program.  A good way to build a solid base is through a focus of what I call a Chassis emphasis.  You want to be a brick wall of a soldier.  Focusing on the Squat, Deadlift, Shoulder Press and Farmer’s Walk will allow you to earn more stabilized trunk musculature. 

Musculoskeletal injuries are occurring at such a high rate because most soldiers are simply not strong enough to handle such loads (80+ lb. rucks).  You should be able to Squat 1.5x of your bodyweight for a set of 10 and 2x your bodyweight for a set of 10 just as a BASELINE to start influencing your capacity to ruck.  If you can’t do that, which I would say the majority of us can’t, then you are at risk for injury.

ruck marching

The Primary lifts (the first lift of each day) should be periodized weekly to more of a strength focus up until the third week.  Progressively overload these muscle groups by lifting a heavier weight for a lower prescribe rep count.  The fourth week, a deload week can be utilized if needed, if not, continue back at 3×10 at a heavier load than you started.  Over time, you will become stronger.

Recovery Recommendations

First and foremost, after rucking, fight every urge to ruck flop and simply sit down.  A mere five minutes will go by, it’ll be time to move out, and you will hate every cell in your body.  I suggest that you place your ruck down, and continue to walk around a bit.  The focus should be to loosen and restore range of motion in your shoulders, hips and ankles.  Perform some simple arm circles and bodyweight squats and deadlifts.  You want to focus on greasing those positions you haven’t expressed during your time ruck marching.    

As soon as you can get away from your chain of command, conduct hygiene and immediately apply the Marc Pro electrodes to your problem areas.  For me, my problem areas are my calves and quads. 

After allowing the Marc Pro to run it’s course on you for 30 minutes, unplug yourself and perform simple mobility techniques and stretches to get rid of trigger points and lengthen your muscles.  I would suggest using the Marc Pro again for another 30-45 minutes before bed to further enhance recovery.  The more active you are in your recovery techniques, the lesser the ruck will have a debilitating effect on you.  The more sore you are from the ruck, the more ineffective you will be in your follow on training, the more you will set yourself behind your peers.