Ruck Marching and You
As I have shit-canned all other activities and concentrated on combat fitness this year, I wanted to share a few things with you guys. This subject of fitness comes up again and again, but I think there’s some things you need to know to perhaps spur you on to your own training program.
One of the most important things I discovered was that my running base made a huge difference in being able to switch gears and do serious ruck marching. Your feet, ankles, knees, and other body parts take a serious pounding in this activity. What this tells me is every one who is serious about preparing for uncertain times needs to get out and establish a running-based fitness program. Along with calisthenics, this will prepare you body for the rigors of field work.
If you don’t do this, when it’s go-time, the fitness curve is so steep that your body will inevitably break down, leaving you combat ineffective at the moment you need to be at your best. It’s not just about cardio or muscle strength; it’s also about all that connective tissue being conditioned to take the pounding. Feet, ankles, knees, hips, lower back. This goes double for older folks. All that shit is not as supple as it was before so you have to work harder to make sure you stretch it out and strengthen it to take the load.
I just finished a 12 week block of training that was ruck march centric. It was interesting coming off a previous block of run training, comparing the differences. First of all, obviously, load now becomes the prime variable instead of speed or distance. Secondly, getting off pavement onto trails was a big change. And finally, going up into the mountains was a big wake up call.
So first, you start some run/walks with some added weight. Don’t start with a full load out. Just like any other progressive training program, start with 15 lbs and maybe 2-3 miles. Work up to a goal weight of say 35 lbs. I would take 4 weeks on this. Then get off the pavement onto the trails. This will really start to condition your feet and ankles and lots of other stuff. At this point you would also switch to your trail runners/light hiking boots (duh) and regular hiking clothes. Another 4 weeks here. Then you take it up hill. This will be real eye-opener. You thought you were in shape. Hell you are in decent shape. But this is a whole ‘nother level. Hard to believe you can be breathing hard, close to red-lining when you are just walking up a hill. But you will. Another hard 4 weeks (this is based on fitness level, see below).
At each stage, drop the weight, and lower the distance again, and work your way back up to goal load and distance targets. Speed becomes a relative thing now, because you are moving as fast as you can sustain, for whatever the terrain allows.
When I first started out in the mountains, I could only hump 25 lbs for maybe 6 miles at 17-18 min/mile pace. When I finished, I could do 35 lbs, for 12 miles, at 15 min/mile pace. The progression is amazing, if you stick with it. As an added bonus, you will start noticing the terrain around you. You will start reading contour and notice when the trail is contouring a terrain feature, versus traveling across them. You will notice when you’re going up a draw, versus going up a finger. You will notice when somebody put the trail just above all those fingers and draws and let you stay relatively level, and when they get stupid and make you hop over all of same.
I also really enjoyed being out in the mountains. It was really nice to get out of the burbs and into the back country. If for no other reason, you should throw on a ruck and enjoy a little peace and quiet out in the woods. That would be worth all the effort alone.
Training plans. To get all the nick nook details of doing this, see the MVT Training Plans
. They have a complete progressions, which conditions you up to a 10 mile ruck march. Very good mix of cardio and calisthenics. I use these basic templates as a guide for all my training these days. I base on a 12 week program, with rest or fall back weeks every 4th week, and take a week or two rest in between. That gives you roughly 4 training blocks per year, with some rest time in between.
So what I would do, is start with a plan around your local area. Then take it into the woods. Then take it uphill. As you can see, at a beginner level, this could take up to 12 weeks each, for about 36 weeks total. Intermediate, maybe just 24. And advanced, you could do it all in 12 (as described above), if you have a solid base.
Foot wear. Initially you can train in running shoes, but then you will want to get into some light hiking boots. There is a whole category of these boots now, from beefed-up running shoes, to lightened but stiff hiking boots, made for rough trail work. I have had very good results with the Lowa Task Force Zephrs, but this is a very individual thing. I highly recommend going to a good running or hiking store for a professional fitting. Once you know your foot type, you can then buy on your own as necessary.
Rucks. Lots of choices here. I am partial to military issue, surplus rucks. I am currently using a modified PLCE Long Back Bergen. Other choices might be the jarhead FILBE ruck, the Molle II ruck, and yes even the lowly ALICE rucks, with Downeast polymer frames. At some point you want to be able to integrate this ruck with the rest of your kit. So plan accordingly.
Nutrition and hydration plan. You will be rucking for upwards of 4 hours so replacing fluids and getting some kind of nutrition is a must. Regardless of your personal diet, and beliefs, you are going to need to re-fuel during long training sessions. I carry a minimum of a 3L bladder for longer distances, but starting out, you will need at least 16-32 ozs. I use Tailwind endurance supplement. Its a powder that you mix into your water. I will also carry additional nutrition in the form of Clif bars, shots, chews, etc. And sometimes even a little whole food. Like salami and nuts.
Other clothing. Practically anything will work, if you will work. I like compression fit shorts, like Champion C-9 line. I like rag wool socks. I like light weight nylon hiking pants. I like PCU level 1 t-shirts. I like the 215 Gear Operators cap. I like Mechanixs’ gloves (for rock-hopping in the mountains).
Other stuff. Some kind of body lube or wax. I use Mennen Speed Stick Power in lieu of the more expensive Body Glide. This goes on crotch, pits, and even feet if you are just starting out. Any high friction area needs a dry film lube to keep from being rubbed raw. Also big believer in foot powder to keep the dogs happy. Apply liberally inside boots before hike and anytime you remove boots. Carry moleskin with you, just in case.
I think this is important for us, because I can’t think of any other physical activity that is directly applicable to what we may have to be doing in the future. It is a hell of a lot of work, but it is also immensely satisfying. So get out there and get in touch with your inner Mohican.
On the MVT Tactical Fitness Training Plans page
, there is a *free* basic test of tactical fitness, which is intended to assess your fitness for tactical classes, but which can be used as a general benchmark. It is centered around fire & movement and not rucking / running fitness. Take a look
. The Tactical Fitness page also offers designed Tactical Fitness Training Plans, which is what Diz is referring to, and which you can customize for your own sustainment use once you have completed one or more.
Diz talks about a running basis to fitness, which is very true. I know that many of you will simply not run. Let me offer this simple advice to you if you do not really do fitness training: (All of this will be easier if you have a foundation to your fitness). However, at the very least, you need to train in whatever gear you are planning to wear in a tactical situation. Even if you are not even considering one of the MVT Fitness Plans, you should at least consider walking:
- Start off by getting an idea of what gear you will be utilizing. This will, of course, evolve as you grow both in tactical knowledge / experience and as you use the gear during physical activity. See the links below for advice.
- Start to walk in your gear. Find a place with some good up and down slopes, out in the woods. You don’t need your rifle, particularly as you begin.
- Start off doing what you can do, in partial gear. Maybe walk 2 or 3 miles in your Lite Battle Belt. Distance is not important, it’s more about the time. Maybe start off with walking for 25 minutes at your best pace.
- You are aiming for a fast walk up and down the route. Push it as best you can. You will sweat and be out of breath!
- Add gear / distance / time as you progress.
- If you add weight of gear, this never actually has to become a run, it can just be a fast walk.
- This exercise will help you make decisions about your gear. Plan on wearing plates? Then walk in them.
- This will also inform your gear wear decisions, and help you find issues such as chaffing and banging with your gear.
- You are aiming to end up being able to move yourself across the terrain at a fast / brisk walk for maybe at least 40 minutes in your tactical load out. Add your rifle at times if the environment is permissive. This is not a patrol exercise, it is a ‘move fast’ exercise.
- I recommend a load out of: Lite Battle Belt, Chest Rig / Plate Carrier and Lite Daypack: this will not of course be ‘light,’ if loaded with ammo and gear for basic missions.
You can read more about gear advice in these posts:
Gear System: Philosophy, Set Up, Use, Fitness & Mindset
Gear: Patrol Packs & Sustainment Loads
Remember, when you read the nuance of these posts, it is about going as light as practical, while using your brain to plan missions, and carry what you need. The training suggested above is not designed to work you up to carry heavy rucks, because doing that is in itself not highly recommended. You will not want to be moving about in your ‘Lite’ gear weighing any more than 50 lbs all up, maximum. That would be for the total max load of your Lite Battle Belt, Chest Rig / PC (plates or not) and Lite Daypack, including ammo, water and other ancillary equipment, See the linked posts above for details.
Variety: once you get fit and used to carrying all the gear, change this up with the following suggestions:
- Medium Day carrying your gear (Lite Battle Belt and Chest Rig / PC) + Lite Daypack (the standard, as above).
- Heavy Day carrying your gear + Patrol Pack.
- Light Day carrying your gear + basic hydration pack.
You can set yourself different scenarios, such as with the Heavy Day, the scenario is moving out to a patrol base or lay up position. On the Light Day, the scenario could be a QRF response across your property – if you ever go as far as adding running/shuffling, you could even make this like an MVT ‘2-Mile’ test. Use your imagination, and vary routes, times, loads and speeds of movement.
Final note: I wear my Lite Battle Belt, PC and Lite Daypack as my standard patrol load out. I can tell you that it is not light, but it is a light as I am prepared to go. I don’t weigh it: it is what it is, the gear that I consider best for standard tactical scenarios. You should also do range time in your gear, including any backpack that you are planning on wearing, to figure out how the straps may or may not ‘bind’ your shoulders and impact on how you fire your rifle.