Ruck training without the soul crushing volume


Almost 5 years ago I participated in my first GORUCK Challenge.

For those of you who still don’t know what GORUCK is you should check out the videos on their website and you’ll get a decent idea.

But basically…

The GORUCK Challenge is a team event, never a race. Think of it as a slice of Special Operations training where – from start to finish — a Special Operations Cadre challenges, teaches, and inspires your small team to do more than you ever thought possible. Leadership is taught and teamwork is demanded on missions spanning the best of your city. The hardest part? Signing up.

When I originally wrote about my GORUCK experience back in 2013 I noted 3 key points:

  1. This is a team event, not a race.
  2. This is not a fitness challenge. Sure you should be in shape, but the mental game is what will make or break you.
  3. It sucks, but in a good way.

Here’s another interesting fact about my first GORUCK event…

I didn’t put a ruck on my back once to train for this.

Now was that the smartest move?

Probably not, but that’s not my point…

The point is, spending all of your training time rucking IS NOT the only way to train for ruck-based endurance events.

If you’ve spent any time on this site reading my other posts, many of which are running focused, it won’t surprise you to hear me say something like this.

I also don’t think your need to run a million miles per week to become a decent endurance athlete. Which I’ve written about time and time again.

Sure, you CAN train that way, but it’s not efficient, not optimal if you have a life, family, and job, and will probably end up with you either overtrained or injured.

As I’ve written about before (here):

non-battle injuries, due to overtraining and repetitive use (i.e. running & running & running & running), have been reported to have resulted in more medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan than any other combat related injury

And guess what?

Just over 11 years ago I broke my left foot, in ten places (9 stress fractures & 1 fracture), from repetitive long slow distance ruck training, so I’ve actually been part of that statistic above…

Which really started me down this path to optimal vs volume based training.

To date, I’ve completed 17 GORUCK events (From Light to Heavy) and only once have I met a person who could honestly spend 20-30hrs per week training.

Which is what a lot of these high-mileage and high-volume rucking programs expect out of you.

In fact, many prolific “ruckers” I’ve met have specifically told me that they tried to complete a high-milage program and just didn’t have the time or energy required to do it.

Which is kinda of important if you’re going to dedicate yourself to training for 12+ hour event right?

Rule #1 might be to always look cool but Rule #1.1 is to have fun.

And if your training program is sucking the life out of you and leaving you more stressed and worried about how you’ll perform at your event, because you couldn’t get all the work required done, then what are you doing?

And that’s why I’m here…

To hopefully shed some light on a more efficient method of training that follows my “minimal effect does” training methodology.

Stronger is Better

Over the years, I’ve worked with and trained a ton of military athletes and one thing is for certain, the stronger ones were typically more useful when it cam etc real world tasks.

In fact, getting stronger has a whole bunch of other benefits as well, like staying in the fight.

In that same post (mentioned above) I also noted:

In a study by Hoffman, Chapnik, Shamis, Given, and Davidson (1999) it was found that recruits who were stronger were 5 times less likely to suffer an injury (specifically stress fractures). I think this information can be safely used to support a notion that individuals who are stronger are typically much less likely to get injured during training. It was also noted that recruits in this study who reported a high level of physical activity prior to their induction into basic training sent significantly fewer days on light or limited duty.

When it comes to real fitness in the military (not the stuff promoted by getting a high score on these silly PFTs) strength training has got to be a major part of your training.

Which is information should also be super useful to other endurance athletes as well since I’ve seen time and time again that introducing a structured strength and conditioning program into a runners program has pretty incredible results!

Avoid injuries & don’t be a one-dimensional athlete

We all probably have that friend that can run super fast.

Or the one that can run forever and never seems to get winded during workouts.

I bet you also have a friend who is super strong.

And one that could walk on their hands forever.

But how many people do you know that can do all of that stuff reasonably well?

In the circles I’m in I know a ton of ” weightlifting, gymnastics, sprinters” or people who are just incredibly well-rounded athletes.

And that is what you need to be.

Which is why I’m a fan of the CrossFit methodology (Although I tweak it to fit my goals quite a bit).

As you probably know, I’ve trained a ton of runners.

People whose training basically consisted of just running an ever-increasing number of miles each week in a linear, periodized, manner.

And while all of these folks became constant runners, most were basically useless at anything else.

Mobility sucked, couldn’t back squat their own body weight, couldn’t jump on a box.

But man they had a great aerobic engine.

Unfortunately, they also had a shit ton of repetitive use injuries.

And that is what you should be striving to avoid with your training.

If you hammer one movement pattern and one energy system over and over and over and over again you are going to eventually run into a wall — Where you won’t get better and where you’ll likely get injured.

I’ve seen it probably 10,000 times by this point and it can be avoided with smarter, more optimal training.

So if you’re training for a GORUCK event (or anything really) you CANNOT neglect all of the other aspects of your fitness. You need to train to be a complete athlete that has the strength, conditioning, endurance, mobility, balance, coordination, speed, and agility you need to complete any task (because who knows what may pop up in that Cadre’s head).

Some things to consider

Are you already scared shitless of what might happen to you at your next event?
If so, then you’ll want to make the time to get out there, under a heavy load (preferably heavier than you’re required) and log some miles. Your goal here is not to train your body to ruck better but it is to train your mind, help you understand what it may feel like, and build your confidence.

Longer workouts aren’t evil, just make sure they have a real purpose
As I mentioned above, you don’t need the soul-crushing 5 hours ruck session every weekend… But, if you feel the need to put one into your training make sure it has a specific purpose. Some examples: Build your confidence, break-in or test your new shoes/boots, break-in or test your new ruck / ruck set up, have fun and build your local rucking community, test out your hydration/nutrition strategy, etc.

There are no hard and fast rules, just ideas and concepts that have been tried and tested, adjust your training accordingly
Seriously, that extra mile or missing a training session isn’t going to kill all your gains and make you quit. Unless you’re training for a career-changing event (i.e. A real selection), you should stop stressing and sweating every little detail. Just go out, put in work, and be as consistent as you can. Oh, and have fun.

Developing a training program

So I spent a whole bunch of time telling you that rucking and rucking and rucking is not the optimal strategy to build up your ruck prowess…

So I’d like to show you how I structure my training to not just survive but thrive during GORUCK events and other silly ruck style things I do like the 27-mile, 11,000 ft elevation gain Cactus to Cloud trail my friends have convinced me to do.

So if you’re worried about you next GORUCK event and wondering if you’re going to be physically and mentally prepared to handle whatever the cadre throws your way then you should check out our Strategic Ruck Training Programs

In this course, you’ll learn the fundamentals of building a well-rounded training program geared towards any rucking event. Including, the strength & conditions exercises you NEED to be doing to prevent yourself from breaking down after 12+ hours of torture fun.

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2 thoughts on “Ruck training without the soul crushing volume”

  1. I could never run a sub-18 minute 3 mile but was always great at humping and general fitness. This sort of training speaks to me.

    1. Awesome dude, I was the exact same way… No issues with humping and general strength, but that 18-min 3-mile was a unicorn until I learned how to start training differently!

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