Are you a backpacker of the digital nomad variety? A traveller who wears a heavy pack outdoors? How about someone who wants to get ready for military life? Man, have I got a program for you. It’s a weighted backpack/rucksack march program from the US Naval Special Warfare Command courtesy of USAF spec ops, Nate Morrison. In the military, we carry heavy rucksacks and even march for miles in Iron Man-esque competitions. I don’t consider wearing heavy loads for duration to be the healthiest of activities for your joints. I don’t recommend doing it unless your ‘Amazing Race’ trip overseas or occupation demands it, e.g. firefighters. The following program was designed for newbies to get them ready for the rigours of military training safely and progressively. It can be adapted to the traveller who wears a heavy bag.
Rucksack training combines aspects of load bearing and cardio – you need to be good at both aspects. Troops in my past platoons who were ‘built’ for running – the skinny, lanky type didn’t do too well once they packed weight into their rucks and onto their backs. On the other hand, heavier guys tended to do well in rucksack marching as they can leverage their weight, but their speed and endurance was dependent on their level of cardio. Regardless of your physical state, here’s a six-month plan to safely build up your neuro-muscular system, bones, ligaments and tendons. In my experience, my cardio under heavy loads became progressively better. I did enjoy the stares of passerbys as I marched through the streets of Toronto performing the first couple of weeks of this program back in 2007.
The US Naval Special Warfare Command (USPWC) studied rucksack marching and concluded their way to be the smartest, safest way of rucksack marching. The USPWC says to begin by building your distance and then after, your speed. You can’t build both qualities at once. Your speed will come naturally to you anyway as I experienced back in 2007.
Start off with 20% of your bodyweight when loading your backpack and remain with the same weight for 3 weeks. So if I weighed 200 pounds, I will carry 40 pounds initially. Perform 2-3 ruck marches a week. You can do running on days you don’t ruck, as well, as specific kettlebell exercises to help you with bearing weight, see below. Always do your joint mobility before a ruck march and on your days off. I find that your joints will hurt less. Also, if you save your static stretching till after, you’ll feel much better and stronger. Back in 2005, I stretched my hip flexors (pommel horse-styled backbends) before wearing a ruck. I felt like I had no strength in my core, hips to bear weight because my muscles were too loose.
The US Naval Special Warfare Command Ruck Plan:
Week 1-3: 20% bodyweight x 5 miles [Stick with 5 miles till week 12 and only then can you increase the weight. Do not become overzealous by increasing the weight too quickly.]
Week 4-6: 25% x 5 miles
Week 7-9: 30% x 5 miles
Week 10-12: 40% x 5 miles
Week 13-14: 40% x 6 miles
Week 15-16: 40% x 7 miles
Week 17-18: 40% x 8 miles
Week 19-20: 40% x 10 miles
Week 21-22: 40% x 12 miles
Week 23-24: 40% x 15 miles
Progress to the distance, weight requirements of your battle fitness test or your expeditionary trip. If your trip to the jungle requires you to go up to 8 miles, then progress to week 18. Throughout, your breathing should be comfortable enough to ‘just talk’.
Kettlebell Training for Rucking:
Here are some Pavel Tsatsouline-approved drills to assist with rucking. My comments to Pavel’s are in the bolded brackets below.
- “Do kettlebell swings. 24kg and 32kg are optimal for the bulk of the training. [In my experience, only when I entered the realm of ‘heavy’ kettlebells, the 32kg, did I feel I have strength, springy power in my hamstrings and in my strides. For women, work up to 24kg, as per Simple & Sinister.]
- Occasionally use a kettlebell or a pair of kettlebells which weigh as much as your kit. Special operators with 120-pound kits need to get to know the Beast (106-pounds) or a pair of 24s. [I would make heavy, SINGLE, kettlebell training my main program. I do NOT recommend double kettlebell training until you have enough experience, strength to perform these drills safely; this goes for myself.]
- Stretch your hip flexors [Agreed, whether it be sitting, running or rucking as we are a seated culture who have tight hips. But do it after for reasons already mentioned above.]
- Strengthen your midsection—a lot. One-arm farmer’s walks, see-saw presses, heavy get-ups, etc. [Agreed, your core plays a role in how much you can load-carry and in your gait. You can perform Simple and Sinister for heavy get-ups.]
- Mobilize your feet, ankles, knees, neck, and upper back [Agreed and mandatory, do them as your warm-up, right after and on days you don’t ruck. Intu-Flow is good for the warm-up and a deeper release such as, Recuper8, is needed after rucking or on days off.]
- Do some barefoot running on uneven surface (trails)” [I haven’t run barefoot before, but I’ve heard that it strengthens the ankles, especially after my injury.]
There you go. You’re welcome. I only ruck when I have to and I suggest that you only do it to prep yourself for heavy loads on your expeditionary trip. You can even eschew the ruck plan and stick with the kettlebell drills alone. Do it, they’re good for you and swings will prepare you for a wide array of activities. The kettlebell Turkish get-ups are great because they teach you to breathe under load and build shoulder strength for carrying things. While swings, in my experience, have improved my jumping, sprinting, running, kicking and punching power. Don’t forget to hydrate, sleep well, monitor your rest/recovery, distribute the loads properly in your pack, wear quality merino wool socks and broken-in boots.
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