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.
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.