Real Rucking

Operation Red Wings
January 15, 2014
Interest Video: Pathfinder Platoon
January 16, 2014

I have been asked many times to do something on fitness. I have written about realistic combat/SHTF fitness in ‘Contact‘ but other than that I’m not a personal fitness trainer so I will stay more towards the rucking/tactical side of fitness rather than the “how many reps in the gym” side.

Here is a post I have dragged back up on Rucking, and the realities:

I’ve seen some stuff around and about recently about rucking. I remember back in the day when I could ruck twenty miles carrying 150lbs in about an hour. Ooops – Bullsh*t Alert!

Let’s take a realistic look at rucking. I did do an interest article not so long ago about extreme rucking on UKSF selection – ‘Max on How to Ruck Like the SAS‘ – but remember this is an extreme event designed to select and is not to be taken as a way of training or a standard to aspire to.
Let’s think about a couple of factors. I am now forty years old. I used to think I was luckier than some by getting out of the British Army without destroying my knees, but more recently I have suffered for it, it appears to be catching up. A lot of you out there are older, looking for ways to protect your families in SHTF. You are not of the age where you might be joining the army for the first time. You may be aged anywhere from your 30’s to 70’s. This means you may already have injuries and it is not a time to start destroying your knees or back.
The flip side of that is that you may never have done activity that would perhaps have caused overuse injury, but you may have gone the other way and destroyed your body by inactivity and fatness. That is also something that you need to try and fix while you can.
Why would we consider needing to train by rucking? Because we plan to carry arms and operate in the way of a light infantry soldier when SHTF arrives. That will entail the carriage of at least a basic fighting load of weapons, ammo and equipment. We may have to patrol, move or bug-out over varied terrain carrying fighting and sustainment loads. We may have to escape an enemy force while carrying our gear. So, there is a reason for it, and the more conditioned you are the better you will be able to cope, the more alert you will be, and thus the more chance of survival you will have.
I used to ruck for a living. We used to call  it ‘tabbing’, or being on a ‘tab’. The Royal Marines call it ‘yomping’. Tabbing with fighting and sustainment loads was part of the selection into and the role performed during my time in the British Army. One of the things to immediately point out is that the athletic selection and conditioning events that you see and hear about are simply that. They are standards and conditioning events. They are not what you do when you go into the field or on operations. But, the fitter you are the better you will be able to cope on operations.
For example, part of the selection standard on ‘Pegasus (or ‘P’) Company, passing which is a requirement to attend parachute training in the British Army, is the ’10-miler’. There are other tabs with varying distance and weight to pass as part of the course. However, the 10-miler is historic because it came about following the jump into Arnhem in 1944 as part of operation ‘market-garden’ (of the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’). The paras had to rapidly move 10 miles from the drop zone to the bridge. The standard for the 10-miler is 35lbs, water and rifle, over hilly terrain, in 1 hour 50 minutes. This is an 11 minute mile pace.
It has to be understood that this is a hard event on its own. To make this time, you have to run on the downhills and ‘tab it out’ on the flat and uphill. The technique is to take the longest strides possible, swinging the arms or rifle out to the side, almost like speed walking. If you are not conditioned, it can hurt the muscles on the front of the lower legs (shins), cramping them up. When you are ‘double timing’ it you are either shuffle-running or outright running downhill to make up time. When you are marching (‘tabbing’) you are not allowed to run, to shuffle, because it causes the squad to concertina and makes it really hard on those at the back – but you can run to catch up if you fall off the back of the squad.
Here is a video of troops on P Company doing the 10-miler:

Note: Green shirts = enlisted/recruits. Red = NCO. White = Officer (who have to stay at the back where it’s harder).
Which is designed to prepare you for this sort of training:

The standard for the British Army overall is (was?) the CFT (Combat Fitness Test) which is 8 miles, 55lbs, water, rifle and helmet in 2 hours. This is a 15 minute mile pace. This is also achieved by ‘tabbing’ and shuffling downhill.
You have to realize that by doing this you are putting a lot of stress on your knees and other joints, including your back. This is not hiking. 15 minute miles is a 4mph pace which is actually pretty fast and most hikers will not sustain that over hilly terrain. As I mention in the SAS rucking article linked at the top, the required pace on UKSF selection is set at 4kmph as the crow flies (checkpoint to checkpoint). When you hike downhill, your knees take 8 x more mechanical stress of your bodyweight. Imagine that with a heavy ruck and running. There is a lot of stress there.
When I was training to go on UKSF selection, I had learned of the danger of overuse injury. I used to run one day, and go on a long cycle ride the next. I would then take time out to go up into the hills and hike. The cycling and the hiking are excellent endurance conditioning for carrying a pack over the hills. When I would hike, I would not ‘tab’ – I would not run downhill. I would just walk all day over the mountains.
Prior to going on selection, I attended a short prep course run at one of the Para Battalions. They took us out for a tab. It was very interesting, because the concept of the PTI who was running the training was that we would not tab conventionally. Conventional tabbing, walking uphill and running down, is the best way to efficiently get from A to B. But it potentially injures you, and overuse injuries are not good before turning up at selection. So, he had us running UP the hills and walking DOWN. Really hard work, but less stress on the joints.
It is apparent that you need to do some conditioning for rucking. But if you do you must balance that out with exercise that is non-weight bearing. If you run and ruck too much you are headed for injury. So, run a day, ruck a day, then do other stuff like swimming, cycling, rowing. Good hard cardio exercise that reduces the stress on the joints.
Pace: as already shown, some of the paces you see are not realistic unless you are prepared to run and bust a gut to achieve the sort of time quoted. A 15 minute mile pace with a heavy ruck is still achieved only by fast ‘tabbing’ and some running downhill. If I were you, training for SHTF, I would not concentrate on the speed. I would simply concentrate on ‘hiking’. Just being able to carry the ruck for decent distances over hilly terrain. After all, once we move away from the conditioning events, that is what we are actually training for, right? Carrying the ruck on a bug-out or a patrol. I don’t mean dawdle and pick flowers, but I mean set a good hiking pace and just sustain it, taking water breaks every now and then.
Granted, you may have to do a ‘two miler’ when you have to run with your fighting load to relieve another unit in heavy contact. But if you are overall fit, you will do it anyway. The best conditioning with a ruck comes from carrying that load up a hill, not running down it.
Ruck weight: I discussed this concept a little in this post about gear philosophy. You will be making a mistake if you plan to carry too much gear. Notice the weights that I have quoted for the conditioning events above: 35 to 55lbs, no more. UKSF selection weight is 55lb plus food, water and rifle. Even once you have conditioned yourself to carry basic loads by starting off light, I would not recommend that you go beyond 35-40lb for your regular ruck weight that you train with. Yes, that is mostly for those who want to actually tab and get those 10-miler standards that I quoted above, but simply carrying a very heavy ruck has limited utility.
In the Para Battalions, the standard ruck weight for a Friday morning routine 10-miler was 35lbs. That is sufficient. Once in a while, mainly in Support Company, we would do ‘heavy carries’. This meant much heavier loads, mainly achieved by going out and doing the 10-miler carrying the battalion support weapons on top of the 35lb weight. So, support machine guns, mortars, MILAN anti-armor weapons. Carried on top of rucks and shoulders. This was done very much at a walk. The purpose here was to condition troops whose job it was to carry that equipment dismounted. If you are not ever going to do that, why ever ruck with more than 55lbs? Last time I was doing my own ruck training I was carrying 40lbs and I was running the downhills, but I was training for an event.
My point is this: don’t set unrealistic goals and don’t head for overuse injury. It is not so important to listen to what people said they did “back in the day,” but better to worry about what is right for you now. Don’t try and carry too much weight in your ruck, and don’t try too much running downhill to make up pace time. You mostly won’t be doing that when carrying a ruck SHTF anyway, because you will be in a tactical environment. So, get the cardio and muscular system ready to tolerate the load, without breaking yourself doing it.
I followed this up with another post, ‘Operational Fitness‘, as a result of one of the readers updating me on changes to British Army rucking standards.
Live Hard.
Die Free.


  1. Brian from Georgia says:

    Good article and timely considering your upcoming patrol classes.
    I just went through an exercise paring my weight dowm to the mimimum. I ended up with:

    LBB: 20 lbs
    Patrol pack: 27 lbs
    Med. ALICE: 42 lb.

    Add in a rifle w/ mag and optic and you are right at 100 lbs humping it to the patrol base!

    No kitchen sink in there. All told, it included the equivalent of 7 MREs, 8 qts water, and 500 rounds ammo. Cool weather clothes, ponchos/liner, MSS etc. made up the rest.
    So I put on the LBE and patrol pack to go for a quick 3-mile loop last Sunday. I did 3.5 mph avg with the 47 lbs. Minus the rifle, that’s pretty much what I’d patrol with, once I drop the ruck at a patrol base.

    It went real well until I tried a few quick sprints. I wasn’t used to the weight and I ended up with a slight stress fracture in one foot.

    Lesoon learned: work up to the weight and pace as mentioned here. And get some decent insoles:)

  2. F says:

    Back in the day 😉 it generally came easy to me to marach distance with a full load at a decenty speed. I used to love ruch marches as ayoung man bexcause it was just you and your load moving..
    No yelling Seargents etc getting int he way.

    It was fun.
    But i could have NEVER managed a 11 min mile in hilly terrain with such a load I think.

    Even when I was at my peak as a 20 somehting Cadet my best was 7 min miles for 7 miles in slightly hilly terrain.
    And that was pushing myself.

    I do have some overuse injuries from a couple years back when I was already in my 40’s but managed kinda as a last hurrah to get into super shape… we’re talking 58 beats per minute resting pulse etc etc.

    but now I am mamaging overuse injuries and luckily all but one have gone away (feet) these days.
    But I would very much welcome the opportunity to go on a tab with you or a class sometime : )

  3. F says:

    Back in the day it generally came easy to me to march distance with a full load at a decent speed. I used to love ruck marches as a young man because it was just you and your load moving..
    No yelling Seargents etc getting in the way.

    It was fun.
    But i could have NEVER managed a 11 min mile in hilly terrain with such a load I think.

    Even when I was at my peak as a 20 something Cadet my best was 7 min miles for 7 miles in slightly hilly terrain.
    And that was pushing myself.

    I do have some overuse injuries from a couple years back when I was already in my 40′s but managed kinda as a last hurrah to get into super shape… we’re talking 58 beats per minute resting pulse etc etc.

    but now I am managing overuse injuries and luckily all but one have gone away (feet) these days.
    And I would very much welcome the opportunity to go on a tab with you or a class sometime : )

    • F says:

      Just a clarification to my previous post.

      That 7 min/mile time was WITHOUT any load and in running shoes, so I know I could not have made 11 min miles with a load in boots.

  4. SP says:

    Also takes months of training to get to those levels as well. Not something your average Joe Bloggs civvie can do in a couple of weeks. If anyone is thinking of getting up to those sorts of phys levels, plan well ahead and prepare for a long hard painful haul to the top. But once you achieve that level, the rewards will far outweigh all the effort to get there.

    I’d say preparing for 2 miler battle runs with kit is probably a more reasonable objective.

  5. Bergmann says:

    So what are ppl doing these days to prepare and maintain an active and healthy metabolism for the NOW? I just turned 41 and the fight to stay fit isn’t getting any easier. Have so many let lard and laziness take them over as time passes in front of the computer and Tv?? How many out there are truly serious about being ready for the hammer to drop? Lots of stories coming from the dust bin of time regarding what was and what never will be again so I’ll save mine and speak for the now.

    What I do:

    I just weighed my main ruck in winter mode a few days ago in anticipation of such a post by Max, it was 67lbs as a crow flies. I do intentionally overload it a bit to account for LBE weight because you cant look like you’re tooled up for war rucking past bus stops full of kids, even in Alaska, so the LBE stays home. I take it 2.0-2.5 miles in about 45-50 minutes, sometimes an hour, round trip on street marches in the winter. (Streets covered in ice and snow with ppl and wildlife that will kill you). Terrain dictates tactic so sometimes i move slow & steady and sometimes i do a fast walk depending on ice and snow. Foot wear is usually Hikers, though in the mnts i use Vapor-bar bunny boots, but the traction sucks on them and they need snowshoes. Snowshoes aren’t practical on the roads.

    Yesterday Olaf and I were charged by a bull moose that pined us behind some cars for a bit. It was nice to know i could still haul ass like that with a load on my back. Generally i do not run, ever..

    In the summer I do 4.2 miles each morning (or there about) with a bit less in it because there is a thin line between summer and winter kit for me here. It takes almost 2 hours at a steady fast, to very fast walk. More miles in the summer because my morning route is not under feet of snow.

    The other person posted about how good it feels. Its does and you age slower and feel much better. I try to do it every day but I do take breaks. Today was one of those days. I also like to take time off after fall ends and then pick back up after Yule (Christmas for your Christians).

    Carrying a monster load for resistance in the street translates into handling rough terrain in the mountains. I cheat in the winter sometimes i use a pull sled for my ruck and other kit. But the weight resistance still translates into coping with terrain by pulling this things like a mule..

    Looking at the below pictures I know If i cannot do this here, I’m no good…I gotta train. Anyone that is serious should be doing something.

    My biggest issue is motivation. Sometimes I cross the same terrain over and over and over, and it absolutely BORES me to the point I have no energy to function. Ive also noticed that when i got in my 40s i couldn’t jump out of bed and hit the ruck as fast as I use to. I just dont wake up as fast as I use to but its still relatively fast or so my wife tells me..

    I dont pay much attention ruck weight. I need what I need and there’s no way around it. I do like to pay attention to distance and times. Nor do i follow pulse rates or other medical type details. My Dr says she can tell when I’m active so that’s a good thing. I do like when clothing gets loser and i see the physical changes after a break. Many people really struggle with PT and so much that they just wont get into it. I sincerely feel for these people. Fighting ones body is probably the hardest fight anyone can fight. It takes time but once you see you have gained traction you’ll not want to let it go.

    My ruck is pretty much my biggest adversary in the area of PT. Fortunately Its pretty much works everything i need to have worked to operate here. Id love to hear what others are doing to get with it, make the “getting with it” easier or what ever.


  6. […] …My point is this: don’t set unrealistic goals and don’t head for overuse injury. It is no… […]

  7. Roadkill says:

    Bergman, since you sent your Alaska weather to Michigan we have had multiple feet of ice and snow and sub zero temps. I ruck and walk my dog about 3 times a week on a 3 1/2 mile loop. I do tree work as a secondary business and part of my gear is caulk boots. These are boots used by tree guys with the 1/2″ spikes, or caulks on the bottoms. You should check them out, they make them in all styles from pack boots to leather work boots to hiker style boots. On ice and snow it’s like having four wheel drive with positraction and studded tires all in one. In winter I won’t be without them.

    • SemperFi, 0321 says:

      Good point on the corks(caulked logging boots). Wore them logging, and on rainy/snowy days, wore them hunting too. They bite like nothing you’ve ever seen, but do pick up a stick or two as you walk. They will slide a bit on smooth rock, but again, most of the time you’ll swear you’re chained up.
      Many of the popular shoe packs (Whites, Schnees,etc) are available with screw in corks of different length, just like golf cleats.

    • Bergmann says:

      Yes you do have my winter. I have rain and 40 degrees. I want my global warming back!

      Thank you, Gentleman..

  8. Michael says:

    One way I found in Boy Scouts while backpacking was when going downhill at a run, I just used my legs to push forward, away from the slope. I didn’t resist gravity, and as a result, I could go very fast downhill with minimal effort, and my legs could still steer with practice. I frequently carried 60 lbs on these trips. Maybe not a good technique for training/conditioning, but an interesting trick to try.

  9. idahobob says:

    I am one of those that are aged between 50 and 70. And yes, my knees and back are shot from many miles of rucking, humping the bush and running, being as I spent 10 years in the US Army (Infantry).

    But there is hope for us broken down horses. I have come across a product from Vibrant Health, called Joint Vibrance. The first review that I read about it was by a doctor that was a runner and had torn cartilage in his knee (been there done that). He stated that after using this product for a while the cartilage in his knee was re-built and he was running without any pain, again. So, I have been using this stuff for about a month now, and I am realizing positive results. Amazon has the best price on it.

    Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Vibrant Health nor do I receive any compensation for what I have just said about there products.

    I am just trying to get in better physical condition and improve my training and lifestyle. Hope this give some hope for those that need it.


  10. […] well as their load bearing ability. Ruck it now or pay later. 40 pounds is max for me, with water. Tactical Training by Max Velocity | Real Rucking – Tactical Training by Max Velocity I'm far more afraid of not living, than I am of death. Reply With […]