When it comes to actually carrying a large load, long distances, quickly, as most tactical operators are wont to do, there are a few factors to consider to do so as efficiently as possible. If rucking is in your job description, or if you just like to do it for fun, then there are a few factors you may want to consider before your next time under the ruck.
You can do it wrong…
Yup, just like running, biking, swimming, and weightlifting your number one priority should be to dial in your mechanics and practice the skill of anything you are participating in. Does gear selection come into play? Absolutely. However, the fanciest gear in the DOD budget won’t keep you from breaking down as fast as having shitty mechanics and inefficient movement patterns. In the CrossFit Endurance seminar, I teach three keys to mechanically correct running: Pose (or posture), Fall, and Pull. Each of these things will make or break you as a runner (literally), turns out it is the same in the rucking world.
Posture is an incredibly important part of human movement. As we get older and our bodies adapt to the patterns and positions we put them in (i.e. sitting, shoulder hunched forward, etc) many common pains and injuries will begin to pop up. Learning how to properly align your body and stabilize your midline will almost immediately improve your performance and significantly reduce your chances of injury. I talk about mid-line stabilization being a major key to success and this is especially true for weight bearing athletes (Military, Fire, Police). It turns out that if you can’t brace yourself under a load of a barbell your chances of being able to brace under the load of a pack or body armor for an extended period of time are greatly reduced. Proper body position is the key to safe and efficient athletic movement and it all starts with the mid-line. Proper posture will also allow you to move more efficiently as this is where falling can being.
Falling & Perception
Gravity is free and we can use it to propel ourselves in the horizontal direction (via the redirection of gravitational torque). The more you lean, the faster you fall. The faster you fall, the faster you go. However, you’ll need to maintain proper posture while you lean in order to propel your general center of mass (GCM) forward. Unfortunately, this can become a problem when you artificially change the location of your GCM (i.e. Rucking). When you put a pack on your back your GCM is shifted back and up which does screwy things to the brain. When your GCM is shifted backward and you maintain proper posture you’ll probably fall over backward.
Good news: Your brain figures this out before you realize it.
Bad news: Your natural instinct will be to bend forward to counter balance.
This, if you’ve read the paragraph before, is no bueno… So what do you need to do? Just lean forward enough to find your new neutral position without changing your posture. Although this probably isn’t going to feel very natural at first your brain and body will quickly adapt.
A walk in the park
I’ll keep this short…The mechanics of walking (rucking) do indeed differ from the mechanics of running due to the fact that one foot is always on the ground while walking, however, not much else changes.
Okay so since I’m going to be required to walk loooong distances with a pack on my back I must have to just go out and walk long distances with a pack on my back, right? Turns out, no, you don’t. Oh and don’t just take my word for it, the NSCA agrees with me. Check out their article titled Physical Training to Optimize Load Carriage in the Tactical Operator.
…the higher intensity, lower volume groups improved the greatest in the progressive load march test compared to the lower intensity, higher volume groups. In addition, the higher frequency (once per week) training groups made significantly greater improvements in the physical performance outcome measures than the lower frequency (bimonthly) groups. These findings suggest that improvement in load carriage performance is highly dependent on training intensity (load), followed by training frequency (sessions per week), and then by training volume (distance).
Bottom-line: High intensity (load and pace) low volume training protocols are superior to low intensity high volume training. Now if you’re following the training on this site or if you’re familiar with the CrossFit Endurance methodology then this may not be a surprise to you. If you were on the fence about whether or not high-intensity interval training could improve your ability to go long and slow then hopefully, this has helped sway you to the dark side.
Now, this isn’t to say that going out long from time to time is a bad thing. There is a ton of value in a nice long ruck from time to time in your training as it gives you time to test your gear, your pacing strategy, your nutrition, and just get some experience under the load. Just make sure you understand why you are doing each workout, there is no point in doing more work if it isn’t going to help you improve. Since each training session you perform is going to withdraw from your recovery bank you should always be seeking the minimal effective dose.