Anyone looking for a way to get out and exercise while still being able to spend time with friends and family should consider rucking, a form of urban hiking which allows people across all skill and fitness levels to work out and train together.
“You can put in a good hard workout, and then the next day, instead of killing yourself with another one, you can go for a walk,” says Dave Miller, a Southern Arizona resident who has been rucking for years. “Rucking is like going for a walk, but upping it a little bit. You put a little weight on your back and you burn some more calories, get your heart rate going a little more, but you’re not hurting yourself as much.”
Not a lot is needed to start rucking: a good solid backpack or rucksack (the namesake of the activity) is key. After that, load it up with weight. The amount of weight used in the bag is the great equalizer.
“If someone is extremely fit, they can just add additional weight and still get a workout going at my pace. The good thing about rucking, all fitness levels can do the same ruck,” says rucker Kevin Maestri. “If you find it easy, add some weight. If it’s too hard, you drop some weight. It works both ways.”
After loading up a pack with weight (don’t forget the water!) all that is needed to start rucking is somewhere to walk. Head to a local park, or just around the neighborhood. Many have found rucking to be easier on their knees and other joints than running or other workout regimens.
The activity is very popular with service members and veterans, with many rucking clubs being made up of former military members, although anyone can do it, regardless of background.
A group called Lost Dutchman Rucking Club based in Phoenix has helped others discover rucking. That group is part of a national organization, GORUCK, which puts togethers challenges and events for ruckers all over the country, and also produces packs that can go the distance.
Maestri has been rucking for several years and started up the Lost Dutchman Rucking Club about a year ago after participating in several GORUCK events. He’d been competing in 5Ks, obstacle courses, Tough Mudders and other events, sometimes having a hard time because of the impact on his ankles and knees. Rucking provided a new option with a workout that’s not so hard on the body.
“You’re just walking around, wherever you want to be,” he said.
Maestri started the Lost Dutchman Rucking Club as a way to get the word out and let people know folks are out there rucking and where to find them.
Rucking groups also often incorporate charity into their events in creative ways.
Both men recently participated in a ruck where they packed their bags with dog food and other pet supplies and hiked a few miles to a shelter to donate them.
More than a walk
Although casual rucking is easy and has almost no barriers for those interested, the intensity level can also be taken up a notch. Or 10.
Maestri explained how GORUCK does “callouts” to clubs, challenging them to achieve a certain task to gain recognition. Recently clubs were tasked with an elevation quest.
“You had to do 1,000 feet of elevation change, go up 100 flights of stairs, or go up 1,500 stairs,” he said. The amount of weight you carry for the challenges is determined by your own weight, he added.
The Phoenix Lost Dutchman club had to ruck the Tempe Butte near Arizona State University to achieve their elevation change. Not once or twice, but four times.
The prize for putting their bodies through such a grueling physical endeavor? A patch.
“We have a joke, ‘what kind of stupid stuff will you do for a patch?’” Maestri said. “We will do some pretty stupid stuff.”
Besides the call outs, some rucking clubs also organize grueling endurance rucks, where they will load up their packs with 40 pounds or more and hike 20 miles. One such event was done to symbolically recognize and shoulder the weight carried by those who serve in the military.
“When we got to about mile 13 or 14 until the end, it starts to suck, your body just wants to give up,” said Miller, who served in the Navy for 6 years. “It was hard, but that was the point.”
Both Miller and Maestri point to the social aspect as a big factor in choosing to invest so much time in rucking over other sports or training.
“Rucking together with other people is more fun, it’s more social,” Maestri said. What’s unique about rucking is people from all different fitness levels can go at the same pace and still get a workout, he added.
Miller said it was a great way to get away from other distractions.
“You’re just walking and talking with friends, getting a good workout, getting away from the phone,” he said. “You’re just hanging out and walking, so the benefits are two-fold.”
A previous version of this story first appeared in the Sahuarita Sun.