Rucking: The Weight Loss Strategy You Haven’t Tried Yet


We’re all familiar with the benefits of cardio exercise. But what happens when you add a weighted backpack to the equation? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Rucking, or walking with a weighted backpack, is an age-old practice used by humans for thousands of years.

Rucking elevates your heart rate compared to regular walking and has an effect on your heart that’s comparable to running.  Better still, this practice improves your all-around muscle tone and endurance, and can also help provide you with the ability to cover tricky terrain under load (sure-footedness). 

Injury-Free Weight Loss

Part of the reason many people cannot run or jog is the stress it puts on their body, especially ankles, shins and knees. The sheer force exerted on the joints with each running stride amounts to seven to twelve times one’s body weight. Add imperfect strides or anatomical challenges like flat feet to the mix, and the repetitive impact can lead to significant discomfort.

Unlike the high-impact nature of running, rucking is basically just walking with added weight, which means it reduces the stress on the lower limbs while exercising.

Studies, such as one from the Journal of Fragility and Aging, underscore the effectiveness of wearing weight vests in positively altering body composition and aiding weight loss.

Another research piece emphasizes that weighted vests can enhance training intensity without altering one’s natural gait, thereby reducing the risk of leg and foot injuries.

With a controlled, steady pace, rucking minimizes jarring,  and the extra weight over time actually strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints, which helps support them and reduces the risk of future injury. Rucking also encourages better posture, which aids in even weight distribution for aerobic conditioning.

Child-Carrying: The Original Form of Rucking

Two million years ago, early human mothers crafted the very first “carrying tools” by weaving together baskets and sashes. This allowed them to safeguard their offspring close to their bodies while simultaneously having the freedom to gather food and conduct other daily tasks. These slings not only improved each person’s productivity but also the survival rate of infants – keeping them safe while boosting their physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development.

Fast forward to today, while technological advancements have led to the invention of strollers and other off-body baby carrying products, the essence of child-carrying remains an effective weight loss (and bonding) strategy.

Carrying the weight of a baby over extended durations, is not only healthy and important for the child, it also provides an invaluable workout for mum and dad!

Susie Grace, a mother who started Rucking after her baby was born says “I was astounded at how much weight I lost without actually meaning too. I’ve never been a heavy person, but I lost two sizes, and have never felt better. I don’t feel like I bulked up at all, but my legs are definitely stronger than they were before.”

From the Battlefield to the Fitness Field

Historically, rucking in the military was designed to equip soldiers for the intense physical demands of combat situations. The technique of carrying weighted backpacks over long distances not only built endurance but also closely mirrored the real-world challenges soldiers would face on the battlefield, ensuring they were battle-ready.

The technique utilizes the concept of progression overload, a cornerstone in the world of weight lifting, based on the principle of incremental challenge.

At its core, the idea suggests that when the body encounters increased resistance or load during activities, whether walking, running, or lifting, its muscles and cardiorespiratory system are compelled to work harder.

As the body expends more energy to overcome these challenges, it triggers adaptive responses to better handle similar stressors in the future. This adaptation not only results in the burning of more calories and fat but also  enhanced strength and stamina, preparing the body for even more demanding tasks ahead.

In combat scenarios, soldiers are often required to carry heavy gear, weapons, ammunition, food, water, and other essential supplies over long distances, especially in terrains or situations where vehicles are not feasible to help prepare their bodies to handle the strain of carrying heavy loads over extended periods. This training ensures that every muscle group is conditioned, rendering them more flexible and resilient across varied tasks and terrains. Such benefits make rucking an excellent workout choice, not just for military personnel, but for everyday fitness enthusiasts as well.

The Multifaceted Benefits of Rucking

Engaging in a regular rucking routine offers more than just muscle engagement. There’s a substantial caloric burn involved too. For context, a simple 30-minute walk might burn around 125 calories. But introduce a weighted backpack into this equation, and you’re looking at a burn rate of approximately 325 calories. 

Over the span of a year, this increased burn could equate to shedding around four kilograms of fat. And, for those weary of gym memberships and expensive equipment, rucking is refreshingly straightforward. Grab a backpack, add some weight, and you’re set. The outdoor element offers another layer of benefit: a mental well-being boost courtesy of nature, combined with a diverse terrain that challenges the brain and body differently than predictable gym routines.

Marching Into a Rucking Regimen

For those ready to embark on this journey, start with a weight that’s roughly 10% of your body weight. As you build endurance, you can gradually increase the load. 

While you can employ everyday items as weights, like books or bricks, investing in a high-quality rucking backpack from brands like GORUCK or Camelbak might be worthwhile for the dedicated practitioner. However, like any exercise, rucking demands mindfulness. Monitor your body for any signs of muscle soreness, particularly in regions like the knees, glutes, and lower back.

While rucking possesses undeniable merits, it’s vital to remember that no single exercise is a one-size-fits-all solution. Rucking can result in injuries if not practiced correctly. Therefore, seeking advice from fitness professionals on technique and progression is paramount. 

A Holistic Approach

A commenter on Reddit noted “With Rucking, I’ve noticed some serious leg strength and muscle development despite not doing leg based weight lifting. It also really helped my back, I am even able to do a decent number of pull-ups.”

Still, it undeniably adds a powerful tool to one’s fitness arsenal. Coupled with balanced nutrition and other holistic practices, rucking might just be the refreshing, easy (and cheap) approach many are seeking in today’s sometimes overly complicated fitness landscape. All you need is a backpack, something to weigh it down, and the desire to exercise. It is that easy.