What Is Ruck Training? A Path to Resilience and Strength

You've probably heard the term "rucking." But do you understand its true power?

For those who actively participate in it, they understand it's more than a fad and certainly not just a buzzword. To the dedicated, rucking is a highly effective tool to enhance strength, endurance, and mental toughness.

The clear physical benefits, in combination with a hefty cultural push ("The Comfort Crisis", Tough Mudders, TikTok trends, etc.), has led to a significant surge in its popularity inside and outside of the fitness world lately.

It's close to reaching zeitgeist-like levels of popularity, and its impact now stretches from its historical roots in military training, all the way to the remote corners of outdoor fitness and backcountry hunting.

But what exactly is rucking? And how can you build it into your workout regimen?

Ruck training, or ‘rucking’, at its core involves walking or hiking with a loaded backpack (‘ruck’). The added weight provides resistance, making the exercise more challenging and beneficial. It's a low-impact, full-body workout that improves cardiovascular health, strength, and endurance.

In simpler words, moving and exercising with a heavy pack in addition to your body weight.

But this doesn't mean all ruck training is identical. Far from it.

In this article, we'll zero in on three of the most powerful forms of rucking related to hunters, military personnel, and general fitness enthusiasts. We'll examine the benefits of each and tie it back to what type of athlete benefits the most in each style of rucking - aside from the rucking namesake.

So whether you're training to pack out an elk, preparing for an Army ruck march, looking to push your fitness boundaries, or you fit elsewhere, you'll gain valuable insights on how to kickstart your rucking journey. This includes a top-line of each form of rucking, the pros and cons of each, and who would benefit the most from each type of training.

3 Common Types of Rucking and How They Differ

This high-benefit workout can be tailored to suit anyone; comfortably stretching across the diverse needs and goals of fitness novices, seasoned athletes, backcountry hunters, active duty military, and anyone in between.

Rucking sounds simple enough, but don't be fooled into underestimating its potential.

This powerhouse workout has the ability to forge strength, endurance, and mental toughness in one fell swoop. It will wipe you out along the way, push you far out of your comfort zone and leave you wondering what happened.

That's why we incorporate rucking into MTNTOUGH training programs.

We champion the idea of constantly expanding our tolerance for discomfort. Not just for the physical transformation, but also mental fortitude. That's all baked into the MTNTOUGH Mindset; it's the jet fuel that carries our entire community to the finish line of every MTNTOUGH training program.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a MTNTOUGH workout that doesn't hinge on functional fitness. We believe in training with a purpose, whether that's for backcountry performance or a quicker pace on the frontline.

Rucking is about as functional as they come, and highly versatile to boot. This has allowed us to create completely different tracks to suit the varying fitness goals of our athletes. But even if you decide to train from home on a whim, you have the ability to customize a rucking workout to fit your needs perfectly.

There are several layers to help you do this - adjusting your movements, the weight in the rucksack, the distance covered, and the speed at which you move. Depending on how you stack the equation, the intensity and functional purpose of each workout can change dramatically. 

It's important to note that anyone can approach any style of rucking workout, in fact, all three styles we'll review shortly are best approached as a mix to your workout routine.

Meaning, depending on the goal of a program, you might have the same individual rucking more like a backcountry hunter, yet at a different time and with a different purpose in mind, they might be rucking more like military training.

Keep this in mind as we take a closer look at the differences across 3 popular workout routines among MTNTOUGHers: ruck training for hunting, military rucking, and casual rucking.

1. Hunting Ruck Training: Functional Fitness for the Outdoors

Rucking for the hunt goes well beyond physical discipline; it's a lifestyle commitment that the hunting fraternity lives by. It's about crossing rugged terrain, bearing a loaded pack, and moving at a heart-pounding pace.

It's a simulation of the real hunt, where the path ahead doesn't exist and the load on your shoulders is your means of survival.

Rucking for hunters is more than building strength and endurance. It's also about honing balance, agility, high mobility - skills needed to navigate uncharted landscapes with a full pack on the way in, and potentially a heavier pack on the way out, with a bit of good fortune.

This specific training can help hunters avoid injuries during the pack out and ensure they are physically prepared for the challenge.

That's why we designed a heavy pack workout routine called 'The Devil's 55'. This intense routine will challenge any hunter's mental toughness and test their strength, endurance, mobility, and coordination.

It's just one of many pack workouts we've created for backcountry hunters, but it definitely checks all the boxes for an effective, functional workout.

The Benefits of Rucking for Hunters

  • Functional Fitness: Ruck training for hunting directly ups your performance in the wild. Every movement you make in practice translates efficiently to the game. It's great for cardiovascular endurance and leg strength, but it also has the ability to improve your bone density, a particularly helpful outcome for preventing injury in the wilderness. Specifically, rucking with heavy weight can prepare you for the pack out if you harvest an animal, ensuring you're strong enough to carry the load and reducing the risk of injury. It's the perfect bridge from your backyard to the backcountry, where every movement translates to the field.

  • Skills Sharpening: Again, hunting the backcountry requires a lot more than strength or endurance. Anyone who's crossed through deadfall or found themselves on a never-ending sidehill will you tell you that balance and agility are just as important for punching your tag as they are for staying safe. Rucking is the Swiss Army Knife for building your body and mind before your mission ever begins.

Others Who Can Benefit from This Type of Training:

Aside from the obvious - backcountry hunters using a rucking workout as part of their pre-season training - others can feel the benefits of rucking like a hunter.

  • Outdoors Enthusiasts, Backpackers, and Hikers: Ruck training, tailored to mimic the functional needs of backcountry hunting, is a boon for outdoor enthusiasts. It not only enhances wilderness performance but also prepares hikers and backpackers for real-life challenges. By simulating treks with a loaded pack, it readies them for steep inclines and uneven terrains. The balance and agility gained from this training are invaluable for navigating diverse landscapes.

  • First Responders: For firefighters, paramedics, and search and rescue teams, ruck training is a powerful tool. Rucking like a backcountry hunter builds the physical and mental resilience needed for such demanding roles. It not only aids in working through unknown terrains but also develops skills for carrying heavy loads over long distances, a critical aspect of their job.

2. Military Rucking: Battle-Marching to Toughness

Military rucking is not just a fitness regimen, it's a testament to resilience and mental fortitude. It's about carrying a full gear load, pushing your limits, and embracing the elements of tactical training.

This form of rucking is a staple in military training worldwide. Soldiers are required to carry heavy rucksacks over long distances, a practice known as ruck marching, loaded marches, or forced foot marches.

This is not your average stroll – it's a trial by fire where fitness meets mental mettle, grit, and performance under pressure. It's a way of simulating the endurance and resilience needed during challenging physical conditions.

MTNTOUGH Military Pack Programs

We understand the unique demands of military service, which is why our rucking and pack workouts were specifically designed to build physical strength and aid development of greater mental toughness.

To give a sense of the range of programs for military readiness, let's look at the HP45-70 and the Pre-Deployment programs. .

  • HP45-70: This is a 45-day weighted pack training program initially designed for active-duty military personnel. It's tailored to prepare you for rugged terrain and high elevation operations under the load of heavy packs. This program is a testament to our commitment to delivering workouts that are not only challenging but also relevant to the demands of the field.

  • Pre-Deployment: Our Pre-Deployment program is an elite, 12-week system built with the help of active members of US Special Operation Forces. It's designed to meet their specific needs and has shown incredible results in both our operator friends testing the program and our local lab members.

Any of our rucking and pack workouts will rewire your brain to overcome challenges and overachieve under immense pressure.

Each a workout designed to supercharge overall military readiness. You don't have to be in the military to benefit though. Anyone craving an intense challenge in the form of a functional workout will find either programs incredibly valuable.

The Benefits of Rucking for Military Personnel:

  • Rugged Workout: Military rucking offers a gut-punch of a workout, dialing up the intensity to deliver phenomenal strength and endurance. It hones mental toughness for when the going gets tough.

  • Full Gear Fitness: Throwing on your complete gear load and a weight vest, and military rucking prepares you for the authentic physical demands of the field.

  • Resilience Booster: More than muscle, it's the will that breaks or makes a warrior in combat. Military rucking fortifies mental resilience, getting you battle-ready for the frontline and everyday life.

Others Who Can Benefit from This Type of Training:

  • Military and Emergency Services: Ideally designed for military personnel, law enforcement officers (LEOs), and firefighters, who know what it means to walk into the storm with an extremely heavy load on their backs. Fully kitted, this heavy pack training will make their next mission more achievable.

  • Hardcore Mountain Athletes: For any athlete looking for a challenging, full-body workout, military rucking is a solid choice. It can be easily incorporated into a regular fitness routine and requires minimal equipment.

3. Casual Rucking: A Fitness Regimen for All

Casual rucking, the most adaptable form of ruck training, is characterized by its simplicity and flexibility. It takes the concept wearing a weighted backpack and incorporating it into either daily routines or as part of other workout regimens.

The levers of weight and distance can be pulled to match each person's fitness level and objectives, and since it requires minimal equipment (backpack and weight) and prep, it's easily the most accessible type of rucking.

Casual rucking makes it easy to plus up your fitness, an important driver behind the recent fascination with rucking in the civilian world.

Although the intensity, purpose, and implementation of casual rucking varies widely compared to hunting and military rucking, its general benefits are still worthwhile.

Benefits of Ruck Training for Hunting:

  • Simplicity and Adaptability: Casual rucking is a straightforward exercise that can be adjusted to suit a wide range of fitness levels and goals.

  • Minimal Equipment Needed: You only need a sturdy backpack and some weight, making this a relatively inexpensive fitness routine.

  • Improves Health: Casual rucking contributes to better cardiovascular health, builds strength, enhances endurance, and can help improve posture.

  • Versatility: Casual rucking can be done anywhere, anytime, making it suitable for those with busy schedules.

  • Low-Impact: As a low-impact exercise, casual rucking is suitable for people of all fitness levels and those recovering from injuries.

Ideal Person for This Type of Training:

Casual rucking is an excellent choice for a wide variety of individuals:

  • Beginners: As a simple and low-impact exercise, casual rucking is a great entry point for those new to rucking or to fitness in general.

  • Recovering Individuals: The low-impact nature of casual rucking makes it suitable for those recovering from injuries.

  • Busy Individuals: The versatility of casual rucking, being able to be done anywhere and anytime, makes it ideal for those with busy schedules.

  • Variety Seekers: Casual rucking can be easily integrated into any fitness routine, making it a great choice for those looking to add variety to their workouts.

7 Benefits of Rucking

While each style of rucking brings its unique set of benefits to the table, there are some shared advantages that make rucking a powerhouse of fitness.

  1. Strength Amplified: The principle is straightforward - carrying extra weight demands more from your muscles. Rucking takes this concept to the next level, pushing your body to engage more muscle fibers due to the additional load. This ramps up the strength development in your legs, core, and upper body. Essentially, the extra effort in a ruck workout paves the way for enhanced muscular strength and superior toning.

  2. Endurance Unleashed: Rucking isn't just about building strength; it's a titan of cardiovascular fitness. This dynamic fusion of resistance and cardio pushes your heart and lungs to work harder, leading to improved endurance. Rucking essentially turbocharges your walk or hike, morphing it into a heart-healthy endurance activity.

  3. Elevated Fitness: This full-body workout boosts your overall fitness level by working your entire body in harmony. The holistic approach of rucking to fitness is what sets it apart in the fitness universe.

  4. Low-Impact Power: Rucking can be seen as the more mindful sibling of running. It offers a cardio workout that's equally intense but puts significantly less stress on your knees and joints, making it a top choice for low-impact exercise. This positions rucking as a safer alternative to high-impact exercises that often lead to injuries and present serious issues in the backcountry.

  5. Mental Strength: Rucking extends its benefits beyond the physical realm; it's a mental workout too. It can enhance mood, improve sleep, and the act of immersing oneself in the outdoors amid fresh air and sunshine can significantly boost mental well-being.

  6. Versatility Unmatched: Each step you take while rucking can enhance your performance in a host of other activities and sports. Whether you're an ambitious hiker, a dedicated runner, a heavy-lifting gym-goer, or a martial arts student, rucking has something to offer everyone. Rucking serves as a solid fitness foundation that translates to numerous physical activities.

  7. Accessibility: Rucking simplifies the entry into the fitness realm. All it asks for is a sturdy backpack and some weight, marking it as a low-cost and easy exercise to start with. The allure of rucking lies in this simplicity and accessibility with a reasonable outcome of increased performance.

With its wide range of physical and mental benefits, rucking is a comprehensive and effective workout for individuals at any fitness level. It's a brilliant blend of strength training and cardio, providing a time-efficient method to bolster your physical fitness and overall well-being.

In essence, rucking offers a challenging and effective workout that can benefit people of all fitness levels. It combines strength training and cardio, making it a time-efficient way to improve your physical fitness and overall well-being.

Additional Pack Workouts with MTNTOUGH+

We're big proponents for the power of resilience. With the backcountry close to our hearts, we know the importance of strength, endurance, and mental toughness to thrive in the wild.

Our ruck training programs are designed to help you embrace this mindset and prepare you for any challenge that comes your way. Also of note is our self-assessment workout and our programs for pack training from just about anywhere.

MTNTOUGH Military Pack Test (MMPT)

The MMPT is a challenging workout designed to test your physical strength and mental toughness.

It's not a program, but rather a benchmark that you can use to measure your progress and improvement.

It involves carrying a heavy pack over a set distance, pushing through the pain, and proving to yourself that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible.

HP20 - At-Home Pack Training

We also understand that not everyone has access to a gym or training facility. That's why we've developed home-based training programs like the HP20, which only require a pack.

The HP20 is a 20-week program designed to build strength, endurance, and mental toughness. It's a home-based program that requires minimal equipment, making it accessible to anyone, anywhere.

The program includes a variety of workouts, from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to rucking, all designed to push your limits and improve your fitness.

MTNTOUGH workouts always lean into the concept of making the most of what you have and finding ways to push yourself, no matter where you are.

It's not about where you train, but how you train. It's about adopting a mindset of resilience, strength, and endurance.

Rucking Is a Journey of Strength, Endurance, and Resilience

Rucking uniquely simulates the physical demands of a hunt, mirrors the rigors of military training, and provides a full-body workout that combines cardio and strength training.

It's for the seasoned hunter, military professional, fitness enthusiast, first responder, or anyone who wants a ticket to a stronger, more enduring version of themselves.

Equal parts mental and physical, ruck training is about pushing past the pain. That's the kind of workout MTNTOUGH proudly endorses.