There’s a limited set of training options for rucking other than rucking itself. But, rucking is the one sport that requires practice in that act, only, to improve. To ruck you have to ruck. But, I say that with one caveat – endurance running helps a ton. Embracing longer runs, ten or more miles every weekend, improved my rucking more than anything else. Mixed with intense mile repeats and all-out 500m rows put me in a great place to ruck with speed and strength. Moreover, the more you train like that while you’re in the army, the less likely it is you’ll ever fail a PT test.
At first, rucking was both miserable and therapeutic. When you’re in basic training, you seldom get time to yourself. It’s hard to even really think without some fool squawking at you. One trait that you’ll pick up in basic training is tolerance of other people, because you’ll end up with a potpourri of personalities and backgrounds. There are absurd personal stories you’ll hear in basic training from your colleagues; you’ll be forced to get over yourself. You’re all at the same level, together: straight-up “mother fucking trainee bitches,” as one the more humorous and fat drill sergeants would remind us. We even had two guys, I guess they became a couple, go AWOL and run off only to be discovered a few miles away at a motel. But, that’s completely off topic.
Back to rucking: I hated to love it. Because of my build, hatred of running at the time, and semi-enjoyment of pain (mainly because it affected others more) – it was something I could do well. But, and especially at first, it’s most definitely painful. I’ve played sports my entire life. I know when I’m innately good at one thing or another. I know when I start off at a more advanced place than others might. For whatever reason, maybe mental and my build, rucking came easier than other feats. In the army, and in Special Forces, it’s a competitive and team based environment. There has to be some performance metric you bring to the team to escape extra scrutiny. As an X-ray, when I first came to the teams I had a skill set in hand, being an 18D, but also knew I had no excuse to not be fit.
Because those were the only two things I could bring with me that could impact the team right away. The more I experimented with my own physicality I found that being “jacked” and a gym hero didn’t amount to much in the field. However, endurance running and rucking is an irreplaceable asset. They both take time to develop and real planning, discipline and mental toughness. Rucking is a basic infantry trait and if you can’t do it – you can’t carry your weight, literally. People fold under pressure and weight in war zones – and it’s clutch to have a teammate who can carry your load while you reconsider your life’s choices.
One time, I swapped boots with a teammate because he chose to wear winter boots that weren’t broken in. We were in the middle of a unit-wide competition where we rucked our equipment between stations where we are given challenges, puzzles, and physical feats to accomplish. They were a winter variant of Danner’s. Honestly, those boots sucked at first and are terrible when you’re humping weight. Maybe they’re useful on a tundra – but when you’re carrying weight, they’re a nightmare; something the boot makers might not have tested. At that point, thankfully, I was comfortable at distance training and rucking. I had developed the diet I follow today that’s paid off – I’ve never gotten fat – even though I’ve only recently re-ignited my own PT since I got out.
I first discovered that the most critical aspect to rucking isn’t your feet – those will improve on their own. But, instead, your traps (which are only hardened via experience rucking) and your legs and lungs. It’s all about your cardiovascular strength – it’s a Crossfit workout. It’s a grueling hours-long punch in the face to your body. Your “Fran” time won’t help you during the STAR course during land navigation in selection. Your ability to cover distance is what will count. Endurance training and running is paramount. If you can cover 30 miles at a decent pace you can probably ruck, too. But, you can’t be a scrawny kid, either. Most runners and marathoners aren’t built for much and almost exclusively train for the race. But, simple push-ups, pull-ups, ab exercises and cross-training can make a world of difference.
It is possible to have a solid build and be proficient at endurance. It just requires more time and more discipline. You have to maintain your state of fitness with eternal vigilance. Gym-based workouts will become very easy and not taxing when compared to your last few miles of an awfully long run or ruck.