Prepare for a Ruck March

Since a few of our Soldiers are planning a Ruck March this very weekend, we thought a re-post of this article was in high order. The goal of this weekend's 22 Ruck Event is to raise awareness for the approximately 22 veterans, per day, who attempt suicide.

Rucking is one of the military’s ultimate tests of strength and endurance – but civilians can challenge themselves as well. You can go it alone or form a team, like in the GORUCK Challenge, explained later.

While traversing 12+ miles of tough terrain in under three hours with a heavy pack and often a rifle at the ready may be an easily understood directive, it’s no simple task. Military men and women often choose to jog throughout the march with a heavy ruck sack. Ill-prepared G.I.s are prone to dehydration, massive blisters, and joint injuries.

Regardless of what your branch calls it: a ruck march, hump, foot march, or, if you’re from across the pond, a tab or yomp, you need to be aptly primed for it. Failure to prepare now, means pain later.

BEFORE THE RUCK: TRAIN HARD

Your average physical training (PT) program will not be sufficient when it comes to preparing you for a ruck march. Many times, newly enlisted or recently commissioned service men and women will rely on a little PT and their “push through” attitudes. However, doing so can leave your body wrecked and your spirits low. Weeks before the hump, train with intention, gradually adding weight to your pack to condition your muscles and joints.

Pack your sack

Before stepping off for your first training march load your pack correctly, no matter how much weight you plan on carrying:

  • Pack heavier items, like SAPI (Small Arms Protective Inserts) plates, close to your back.
  • Make sure the heaviest items are placed in the middle to upper part of your back and across your shoulders.
  • Avoid packing bulky or pointed items where your back meets the pack. If you must, wrap these items in lighter cloth items first.

If the ruck is purely for conditioning, you won’t need to fuss with ordering your packed items for ease of use. Focus mainly on proper weight distribution.

Condition yourself

Proper conditioning will get your feet, your muscles, and your mind right before a long foot march.

  • Week 1: Walk or jog 1-2 miles in PT gear and boots
  • Week 2: Load your pack with 10 percent of your target weight and ruck 10 percent of your target distance. For example, if your ruck sack target weight is 50 pounds of total weight and your target distance is twelve miles, you should pack just 5 pounds of weight in your pack while training the first week and march about 1.2 miles. Aim for a 15 minute mile throughout the training.
  • Weeks 3 through 11: Increase the load by 10 percent of your target weight each week. Continue to increase your target distance by increments of 10 percent each time.

Adjust these figures if you are experienced when it comes to ruck marches. However, be careful not to increase the weight in your ruck sack, the mileage, or intensity by more than 10 percent per week. You’re trying to build up, not break down.

Along with building your mileage and rack sack weight, add in exercises to strengthen your hamstrings, quads, and calves. Start with:

  • Squats - 30
  • Lunges - 20 per leg
  • Calves (heel raises) - 30 per leg

Break in your boots

This tip is key: Don’t rush into even a practice ruck march with fresh-out-of-the-box boots. They will likely tear your feet up before you’re through the first mile. Break in your boots thoroughly before marching in them.

One of the quickest, most effective ways to break in new military boots is to soak them in water and walk around in them as they dry. Be sure to switch out your sopping socks every 30 minutes or so.

Build your endurance over time (conditioning ruck)

During foot marches, your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves take a beating. Integrate squats, lunges, and calf raises into your training program to strengthen these muscles as well as to protect your bones and joints.

Toughen your feet

Your feet will begin to toughen as you complete the conditioning exercises prior to the actual hump. If you’re not sure this will be adequate preparation for your piggies, start walking around barefoot in your house, yard, or anywhere you’re sure is free of glass. You can also wear minimalist shoes during your regular weight lifting workouts

Some military pros suggest swabbing your feet daily with rubbing alcohol. The alcohol dries out your feet to encourage calluses to form.

1-2 DAYS BEFORE THE RUCK

Carb up

Beginning a couple days prior to a long foot march, your meals should consist of mainly carbohydrates. About 60 to 70 percent of your daily calories should come from quality carbohydrates – not sugars or heavily processed foods like white bread. However, be careful not to “carbo-load” the night before. Eat your normal portions at regular intervals while replacing some of the proteins and fats with carbohydrate-rich foods.

Hydrate

Start drinking at minimum a gallon of water each day for 2-3 days prior to the road march. To ensure your electrolyte needs are met, drink one sports drink during the day. 

IT’S TIME TO RUCK: PREPARE YOUR BODY

Fix your feet

Somewhere around mile five or six, you’ll be really glad you took the time to protect your feet. Your pre-ruck routine should include:

  • Moleskin or duct tape: If you have existing blisters, cut a hole in the moleskin the size of the blister to keep if from rubbing. You can prevent blisters during your ruck with moleskin (or duct tape) as well.
  • Pantyhose: Men and women can both benefit from adding a layer of pantyhose between the bare skin of their feet and socks. The pantyhose reduces the friction between your skin and your socks. We do recommend cutting them at the calf or using the knee-length variety – unless you would benefit from the control-top feature, in which case, we strongly recommend doubling up on PT.
  • Quality Socks: Avoid thick socks. They tend to make your feet sweat, creating a moisture-rich environment perfect for breeding blisters. Invest in high-quality, thin, moisture wicking socks and use them both while training and during the actual ruck.
  • Powder: lightly sprinkle absorbent powder on your barefoot before sliding on your socks. After putting on your socks, sprinkle the outside with the powder as well.
  • Body Glide: In place of powder, you can also try Vaseline or Body Glide to reduce chaffing. Roll it on anywhere you anticipate skin rubbing together like your armpits, inner thighs, and nipples. If you’ve seen The Office, you know what a catastrophe nipple chaffing can be. If you haven’t, this clip will explain it all.
  • Inserts: While orthotics aren’t for everyone, inserts can help you remain comfortable during the foot march. However, wearing the wrong type of shoe insert can lead to pain or injury. It’s best to consult a physical therapist before adding anything extra to your shoes.
  • Broken-in boots: Again, unless you want your new boots to be tinged red by the end of the ruck march, break them in ahead of time.

Hydrate: Don’t begin hydrating the morning of the ruck. Hydration should start in training and peak the day before the foot march. The morning of the ruck march, sip slowly on a sports drink while you head to the start point.

Energy before you step off

Your start time will dictate when you should fuel your body. Regardless of your start time, you should eat a breakfast high in carbs as soon as you get up. To top off your glycogen (energy) stores, you’ll need about 500 calories. Try wholesome breakfasts including:

  • 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly, a banana, and a glass of juice
  • 1 cup of oatmeal with almonds, fruit, and yogurt
  • 1 sports bar, a banana, a handful of nuts, and a glass of juice

If your ruck begins in the early morning, this will probably be all you eat before you step off. If your start time is later, add a high-carb energy bar about 60 minutes before the hump begins.

Caffeine can also energize you before a ruck march. You can stick to your everyday cup of coffee, or take a pre workout supplement like NFP’s IC Red. Whatever you prefer, the morning of the ruck march should not be the first time you experiment with coffee or pre workout supplements. If you’re interested in improving your finish time or boosting your energy, test out some supplement options during your training runs.

Pack a snack of quick-digesting carbs like an energy gel or a simple sugary candy for a pick-me-up throughout the hump. During intense physical activity, your body’s glycogen stores will become depleted. Quick carbs like energy gels replenish your energy stores.

Warm-up

Before you cross the start line, prepare your muscles and joints with a good warm up and stretch. Jog without your pack for a few minutes, then do some dynamic stretching to focus on your quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves. The stretches you might use for a run like these would also be appropriate to complete prior to a ruck march.

RUCK RECOVERY

Blisters:

If you sustain blisters during the ruck march, address the injury to avoid further pain and possible infection. If the blister is intact and not hindering your daily activities, avoid the urge to pop. The skin covering the sore acts as a natural barrier to bacteria. Simply cover the area with a bandage.

Sore Muscles:

Immediately following the ruck march, replenish some of your lost energy stores with more carbohydrates. Pack a banana, bagel, or sports bar to eat as soon as you ditch your pack. Another option for the sweet-tooth are gummy bears, an Air Assault Soldier favorite.

If you can, lower your bottom half into a cold tub of water (about 55 degrees).The theory behind ice baths is that the cold water constricts blood vessels to flush out toxins like lactic acid. The rewarming process is thought to increase blood flow and speed healing to overworked muscles. While research results on cold water healing varies, it certainly won’t hurt.

For the next few days, you can ease sore muscles by:

  • Soaking in the tub
  • Warming up your muscles and stretching
  • Fill up on fruits, carbohydrates, and protein. Carbs and protein will give your body the tools to repair your muscles and the fruit will provide Vitamin C and antioxidants to boost your immune system.

You can also try NFP’s Unbreakable Amino Acid Blend (BCAAS) and Complete Protein to optimize muscle growth and speed recovery following a march.

NOT IN THE MILITARY?

Are you a civilian or veteran that is no longer required to ruck, but want a taste of the task? Find an event near you using Facebook or check out The GORUCK Challenge is a team-based ruck led by former military who were trained in special ops.