The questions have been coming in again with the influx of new and upcoming Selection classes in the winter months as many of the candidates are trying to get prepared. As is the norm, most of the questions we get center around the physical part of Selection, especially rucking and land navigation.
We touched on some of the land navigation topics you’ll need to know in an earlier refresher and today we’ll look at some of the rucking questions that always seem to crop up in every group of Selection candidates.
First, and foremost… Ignore the noise! I can’t stress that part enough. Don’t worry about everyone else’s horror stories. Most of the worst stories coming about Selection are from guys who weren’t prepared and failed. I’ve said this countless times and so we’ll throw it out there again. Thousands of guys before you have made it through the course and being one of them, I don’t remember any of my classmates looking like Rambo or Chuck Norris.
It is tough, don’t doubt that, and trust me, you’ll be challenged, and beat down. That is what the course is designed to do. You will have to work hard and push yourself, but if you do that and put the effort in to properly prepare for the courses, then there’s no reason to believe that you won’t be able to meet the standards.
I highly suggest that you read and follow the PT Program that we publish daily here at SpecialOperations.com and if you follow that, you should be in good position to be selected. Most of the workouts are more distance running based rather than rucking. Why? Because running and building up your endurance on dirt and soft sand trails will ultimately help your ruck times. And everything works hand in hand.
A while back, I wrote that our PT preparation work focuses a lot on shoulder work, and for a good reason. That is one spot that you’ll find if you are a novice at rucking that will be really sore, perhaps even sorer than your feet. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to pass selection but if your shoulders are strong, it will take a lot of the stress and strain off when carrying a rucksack. And they’ll be sore.
So, you ask, what is the best way to get better at rucking? That’s easy, it is the same way to get into Carnegie Hall. Practice. Practice, practice, practice. Carrying a rucksack is just like shooting. You’re not going to be doing double taps on Day 1. Well, some of you may…however, I digress. It takes learning the fundamentals and putting a lot of lead downrange. The Special Operations trooper has to learn to handle the rucksack like it is an extension of his own body. And you will.
Being over 6 feet tall, rucking came easier to me than some. I learned quickly to lengthen my stride and did it without using my calves too much. Otherwise, they’ll quickly tire and get tight. I’d lengthen my stride using more hamstrings and hip motion, those are bigger muscle groups and with a bit of practice pushing off with your hamstrings and thighs. This will get your legs stretched out to a good length and really allows to push off and keep a good pace over a long distance. Again it is all practice.
As I got older, I learned that your hips will generate a lot of power…if they are stretched out properly. If your hips are tight, it will affect your gait, your stride and put too much pressure on your calves. Especially after taking part in the rucking for these columns and taking part in a GORUCK Fundraiser for the Green Beret Foundation, my hips were tight.
It slowed my times down, and the hip tightness was a major reason. I didn’t realize how tight my hips had gotten until I began to stretch them out again. Your hips will put everything in good working order. Do some really good hip stretches, (here are some good ones) and not just before a ruck march but daily and you’ll notice a big, big difference.
Remember, this is Special Operations so we’ll practice, practice, practice… again it is much like shooting. Learn to do it right and the speed will come. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Once you get your technique down, you will find that the speed will come naturally but there isn’t a trick or magic formula you can take, it just takes repetition and putting the time in.
Last year I wrote in an earlier piece, “They’ll be times in your selection course or the qualification course that you’ll have to make up time or want to pick your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must,” But the key here is to learn to increase your speed without running. Running with a ruck will hurt your knees and back in the long term…take it from the guy with two arthritic knees and an arthritic back to boot.
Being stretched out, especially in your hips will definitely help to lengthen out your stride naturally and generate power with your legs. Then your speed will come without having to resort to running. But while in the Selection course…do what you must to pass. Just don’t train that way. It puts too much stress on your joints…nuff said.
Adjust the fit of your ruck ensuring that it fits snugly but with the least amount of rubbing, because those will quickly turn into sores. Then adjust the load and this is something that will require practice as well. Learn to pack your ruck not just for ruck marches but all the time so that the weight is higher up between your shoulder blades. For you younger guys, packing a ruck is another art that will come in time. If you have any NCOs from Light Infantry, Airborne or Ranger Battalions in your unit or as a training partner, don’t be shy about asking for tips. You’ll be glad you did.
Ensure that the waist strap is buckled, and nothing is rubbing either on your back or shoulders. Have a couple of pair of boots broken in and ready to go and get out and hit the trails.
Always try to vary the terrain, and especially use the soft sand trails, I guarantee that you see them again during Selection. Hit the hills with a vengeance, learn the best ways to climb and descend those while picking up the pace. We have some good trails in the area that I live in where the steep rise and fall helps getting you prepared for those later on during the course.
Now let’s talk about weight. I hear from many of the younger guys who try to slay the beast before they get to the course. Don’t start off your training preparation by trying to be a pack animal. Like everything else, it will come with time. Patience. Yes, there will be times (many times…trust me) that you’ll be carrying a lot of ‘light-weight’ gear on your back in Special Operations. It is the nature of the beast. But as candidates for Selection, don’t worry about that.
Stick to what the workout programs call for, and that is a 45-pound ruck. Don’t be trying to start your prep with a 75-85 pound rucksack. You’re not quite ready for that yet. Once you get to where you are easily making the time limits (and you should aim to be well under them) with a 45-pound ruck, then you should have no problems in meeting the criteria in the course. And only then, add some weight. But for preparation, don’t go higher than a 55-pound rucksack.
As a cadre member at Selection, we’d always see candidates erring on the side of caution with a few pounds extra to ensure they made the correct weight, which is understandable and smart. We all did the same. But there would always be one or two candidates who were out there toting 80-85 pounds when the standard called for 45.
One way to break the monotony of carrying a ruck for miles in preparation is to bring along your I-pod and listen to some good music that will motivate you while walking. Now, remember, you can’t do that in Selection but it sure helps during your prep phase.
I’m a big Metallica fan and love rocking out when hitting the early morning ruck trails, and now even more so in the cold weather since my training partner, my English Bulldog is taking the winter off.
And finally, hydrate constantly while out training. It is a habit that you should carry over in the course. It is especially so even in the winter when you may not feel as thirsty. But you can lose a lot of sweat quickly in the winter and go down. Don’t let that happen to you.
Time to hit the trail before the snow hits here in the northeast this morning. “Boots, boots… there’s no discharge in the war” Look that one up… I bet you’ll see it and hear it again
Photo courtesy of US Army