We’re always talking about rucking here…it is one of our favorite subjects, a constant source of worry for Special Operations candidates and still one of our favorite activities. Anyone can do it, everyone can improve at it and it is a good way to get outside and get some exercise, whether you are an aspiring SOF operator, someone just looking to get outside for some exercise or an old FOG like myself who still enjoys toting the ruck a few times a week.

Here at SpecialOperations.com we incorporate rucking a couple of times a week in our physical prep articles for the aspiring SOF candidates. Because rucking is the basis around nearly everything you’ll do in training. In Special Forces, especially during the Selection course, candidates will be required to carry around a rucksack in all activities other than when they conduct timed runs or when they are conducting the SF Obstacle Course (Nasty Nick).

Which brings us to today’s subject…our favorite, Rucking. We always say that the only way to get better at rucking is to do it. That is very true. However, there are some exercises you can do and incorporate into your workout routine that will definitely help build your body that will help in rucking.

As we all know, rucking puts a lot of stress on your shoulders, lower back region, and your knees. And that is with just a 45-lb ruck. Add in what you’ll be toting around as an operator and that number will jump exponentially.

Here are some exercises that you can work into your workouts if you aren’t doing these already. For those of you who follow along with SOF Physical Preparation PT workouts, you’ll recognize these. If you aren’t utilizing these, it is probably time to do so.

Barbell Squats:

As we’ve said here many times, squats are one of the best overall exercises for building strength, explosion, and overall fitness. It not only will help with your rucking but believe it or not, helps with your speed too.

The following techniques are all from Bodybuilding.com – A barbell squat is a push-type, compound exercise which works primarily your quadriceps, but also trains your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as well as muscles in your lower back. The following table lists general information about barbell squats and the muscles that you use when performing barbell squats.

  1. Begin with the barbell supported on top of the traps. The chest should be up and the head facing forward. Adopt a hip-width stance with the feet turned out as needed.
  2. Descend by flexing the knees, refraining from moving the hips back as much as possible. This requires that the knees travel forward. Ensure that they stay aligned with the feet. The goal is to keep the torso as upright as possible.
  3. Continue all the way down, keeping the weight on the front of the heel. At the moment the upper legs contact the lower legs reverse the motion, driving the weight upward.

Walking Lunge/Kettlebell Swing:

Although two different exercises, I’m including these together because I usually superset them and do them together. I will conduct a walking lunge across the gym floor and have a kettlebell at each end and do the swings before heading back.

One area where most ruckers who are either new to it or not good at it are weak is in the glutes. Both of these exercises work the glute area which is great for building the strength and stability for your lower body. If you’ve ever met a professional hockey player, especially a defenseman, they use their glutes in the push off for their skating, which is why many of them have huge glutes. If your rucking is weak, this could be an area to look at.

The lunges can be done with just body weight or with dumbbells. I use light ones (25-lbs) but you can adjust accordingly.  Lunges-

  1. Begin standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground. Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot.
  3. Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up.
  4. Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.

Kettlebell swings-

  1. Start tall, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold a kettlebell between your legs with your chest up and shoulders back.
  2. Initiate the swing by bending your hips and knees while bringing the kettlebell back and down. Keep your back neutral, like you’re performing a Romanian deadlift.
  3. Use your hips to drive the kettlebell forward and up explosively. Clench your butt and abs, and don’t let your back extend backward too much.
  4. Actively pull the kettlebell back down to begin another rep.

Tip: Keep your head and chest up, and control the kettlebell so you don’t lose your stance and positioning. Maintain a flat back throughout the movement, and focus on driving with your legs and core.


One of the harder exercises to do (form wise) are deadlifts. There are so many ways to do them (and injure yourself) incorrectly. It seems that of all of the exercises you’ll see people doing in a gym, the Deadlift is one that is often done with the worst form.

But it is a great one for building overall strength and explosion. I’d recommend that you do it with a trainer at least at first until you get the technique down if you’re not familiar with them.

  1. Your feet should be spaced hip-width apart with your grip just outside your legs.
  2. Use an overhand grip.
  3. Your back should be flat—neutral spine—from start to finish.
  4. Your shoulders should be back and down.
  5. The bar should remain in contact with your legs for the entire range of motion.
  6. Your hips and knees should move together to transfer the bar from the ground to an upper-thigh, locked position.

Shoulder Shrugs:

If you’ve ever toted a heavy ( I mean a really heavy ruck) when you finally do take it off, after a few seconds, it feels like your shoulders, and traps were springing back forward and a surge of soreness came it. It always helps to build some shoulder muscle in there to help stabilize everything.

  1. Stand erect with a dumbbell on each hand (palms facing your torso), arms extended on the sides.
  2. Lift the dumbbells by elevating the shoulders as high as possible while you exhale. Hold the contraction at the top for a second. Tip: The arms should remain extended at all times. Refrain from using the biceps to help lift the dumbbells. Only the shoulders should be moving up and down.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back to the original position.
  4. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Variations: You can perform this exercise with bands, barbells or cables. You can also use a single handle and work one side at a time.

So, if you are experiencing any issues with rucking, these exercises can and do help. Use them to build up your body to increase your strength and explosion and to minimize as much as possible the wear and tear on your joints.

I use these in my workouts with my trainer at least three times a week but I always check in with Bodybuilding.com for any of the latest updates on the exercises.

Photos: DOD, Bodybuilding.com

*Originally published on Special Operations.com