High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been at the top of the fitness food chain for nearly two decades. And for good reason—it provides a ton of benefits and has been shown to be effective for a wide range of people, including older adults and those who have overweight or obesity.

From obstacle course races to competitions that challenge individuals to complete grueling workouts in the shortest amount of time possible, fitness enthusiasts have had myriad opportunities to test their mettle while experiencing the benefits of high-intensity exercise.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of HIIT or enjoys the pressure to push themselves to the limit during an exercise session. If you have clients who desire the benefits of vigorous exercise and are looking for new ways to safely challenge their bodies while minimizing their risk of injury, you may want to consider introducing them to an activity called rucking. 

What is Rucking?

Simply put, rucking is the act of walking while carrying a load, typically a backpack, but in some cases a weighted vest, on your body. Rucking is a major component of military training, as soldiers, Marines and special operators wear heavy packs as they hike for miles while executing a mission. As combat veterans returned home from military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and resumed civilian life, they wanted a way to continue to train with the physical challenge of carrying a loaded pack and the activity of rucking was introduced to the rest of the (civilian) world.

One of the leading manufacturers of packs and other gear for rucking is GORUCK, which was started by Jason McCarthy, a former special operator who wanted to promote the benefits of rucking, both physical and social, outside of the military. The company highlights how easy it is to get started rucking, as it requires minimal gear. In fact, the only things your clients need to start rucking are a sturdy pair of walking or hiking shoes, a weighted backpack or vest and a place where they can go for an extended, uninterrupted walk. This relatively low barrier to entry is one reason why rucking has become increasingly popular in recent years, with devoted rucking clubs, organizations and challenges popping up all over the world.

The Social Benefits of Rucking

As you know, social interaction is an essential component of wellness, and participating in an event or competition can help make exercise a social activity. Although rucking can be done solo, rucking adherents can challenge themselves by entering events and competitions in which people come together as a community to enjoy a challenging ruck. It’s this ability for people from all different backgrounds to gather to enjoy strenuous physical activity in the great outdoors that makes rucking truly unique. For example, GORUCK sponsors regional clubs in addition to organizing challenges and events; the goal isn’t necessarily to compete against others, but to harness the power of being in a group. In this environment, participants might be able to overcome the challenge of maintaining a certain pace, carrying a heavier load or walking a farther distance. An event provides a training goal, which can be an effective way to help a client establish the motivation to adhere to an exercise program. Simply do a search of rucking events” in your area to learn about upcoming activities or competitions. Encourage clients who could benefit from making new friends to enhance their real-life social network by joining a rucking club.

Physical Benefits of Rucking

Rucking combines low- to moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory activity from walking along with muscular strength training that comes from carrying a loaded backpack (or weighted vest). That means this activity has the potential to burn calories, improve aerobic capacity and increase strength in the lower-body and core muscles (from carrying a load). Plus, it can help reduce the risk of age-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sarcopenia and osteoporosis. And, as mentioned earlier, when done as part of a group, rucking offers additional social and cognitive benefits as well.

Walking at a fast pace while carrying a load challenges muscles to produce energy using both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Rucking with a pack should result in a consistent work-rate just at or above the first ventilatory threshold (VT1), the point at which muscle cells begin metabolizing carbohydrates into fuel instead of fat and greater amounts of oxygen are required.

The body requires oxygen to burn calories; the more oxygen consumed during a workout, the more calories expended. When performed using a challenging load and at a fast pace, rucking requires a significant amount of oxygen and individuals can expect to burn almost as many calories as they would while running, making it an efficient outdoor workout. Importantly, the amount of stress on the joints while walking, even while carrying a load, is generally less than that of running because one foot is always in contact with the ground. 

Help Your Clients Start Rucking

As mentioned, getting started is pretty simple: All a client needs to start rucking is to put a weight on their body and go for a walk. Of course, there are a few considerations you and your clients might want to keep in mind that will make rucking more enjoyable.

In addition to comfortable walking or hiking shoes, a backpack strong enough to carry a heavy load is required. Backpacks that include padded shoulder straps, as well as a waist belt, can help to distribute some of the load to the hips and make the ruck less uncomfortable.

Adding weight to a backpack for a ruck could be as simple as loading a couple of full water bottles into a sturdy backpack. After all, a gallon of water weighs a little more than 8 pounds (3.6 kg) and can be used for hydration over the duration of the ruck. Other options for adding load to a pack include special plates made by GORUCK or sandbags such as the SandBells made by Hyperwear. Rucking requires the ability to maintain good posture while walking at a challenging pace—you don’t want your client bent over at the waist from the strain of too much weight on their back. The most important thing is that the weight is evenly distributed so it doesn’t cause overuse or strain injuries.

While rucking is typically performed with a weighted backpack, some clients might do better with a weighted vest. Robert Linkul, a Sacramento-based personal trainer and owner of Training the Older Adult, a studio that focuses on strength training and high-intensity exercise for seniors, recommends a weighted vest for his clientele, as they typically find it more comfortable. Linkul prefers the Hyperwear vest because it is form-fitting and can be worn close to the body, allowing clients the benefits of carrying a load without the discomfort of straps digging into the shoulders.

Linkul is a proponent of rucking for his clients, many of whom are over the age of 60. He has found that rucking helps his clients improve their strength and aerobic capacity and that they enjoy being outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Specifically, Linkul has observed that rucking helps his clients improve core, hip and lower-body strength in addition to the cardiorespiratory benefits from walking. And his clients seem to really enjoy it, primarily because they observe desired changes in their bodies but aren’t experiencing any unnecessary (or unwanted) pain or discomfort.

For adults who weigh less than 150 pounds (68 kg), Linkul recommends starting with a load of 8 to 10 pounds (3.6 to 4.5 kg). Individuals who weigh more may be able to handle a heavier load of up to 20 pounds (9 kg), depending on their fitness and overall level of conditioning. His instructions to clients are simple and straightforward: “Walk 10 minutes in one direction, turn around and walk back.” He urges his clients to maintain the 20-minute limit for two weeks to help them become comfortable walking with a load. After this initial period, he recommends rucking two to three times per week on the days when they are not training with him, and encourages them to add five minutes a week until they’re rucking for 40 to 60 minutes at a time.

The Energy Cost of Rucking

The Compendium on Physical Activities identifies metabolic equivalent (MET) values for a wide variety of physical activities. A MET is the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting quietly at rest, 3.5 mL/kg/min, and can be used to estimate the number of calories burned during physical activity.

While it does not provide a specific category for rucking, it could be compared to several similar activities, such as backpacking (7.0 METs), climbing hills with a 10- to 20-pound load (7.3 METs) and climbing hills with a 21- to 42-pound load (8.3 METs). For comparison, high-intensity circuit training with kettlebells is classified as 8.0 METs, indoor rowing at a vigorous intensity of 150 watts is 8.5 METs and pedaling a stationary bike at a vigorous intensity of 161 to 200 watts is 11.0 METs. These MET values demonstrate that rucking is an activity that can result in effective calorie burning for clients who are interested in using exercise to manage a healthy body weight.

The following formula can be used to determine how many calories an individual might be able to burn during a rucking workout:

METs x 3.5 mL/kg/min x Body weight (kg) / 200 = kcal/min

For example, assuming rucking is 7.3 METs, if a client who weighs 165 pounds (75 kg) goes for a 45-minute ruck while carrying a 20-pound load, they would burn approximately 9.6 calories per minute or approximately 432 calories during the entire workout. Not a bad work-rate while experiencing the benefits of fresh air and sunshine.

How to Incorporate Rucking Into a Client’s Exercise Program

Your goal is to design an exercise program for your clients that helps them develop enough strength to enjoy a ruck, as opposed to becoming overly fatigued and unable to finish. While rucking is essentially walking, clients who are interested in adding it to their exercise routine should take a specific approach to physical preparation. This means beginning with mobility exercises as a dynamic warm-up and incorporating strength training for lower-body and core muscles to prepare for the rigors of walking while carrying a load.

Linkul urges clients to begin with a lighter weight and gradually progress to heavier loads, as carrying too much weight without taking the time to develop a foundation of strength could be a possible mechanism of injury. This approach is supported by evidence demonstrating that heavier loads change gait mechanics, which impacts the ankle, knee and hip joints. Unilateral exercises that use only one leg or arm at a time could mimic the mechanics of rucking and be effective for helping clients to develop the lower-body and core strength required to enjoy a hard ruck.

Additionally, exercises that strengthen the hips and shoulders together are effective for developing the core strength required to carry a loaded backpack or vest during a ruck. Strength-training exercises performed for a greater number of repetitions can be effective for developing the muscular endurance required for rucking; for example, have your clients start with sets of 12 repetitions and gradually progress to doing sets of 20 or more repetitions.

Below is a sample exercise program your clients can use to improve their ability to ruck.




Rest Interval



Warrior 1

Body weight

30- to 45-second hold

Approx. 30 seconds

2 to 3

Glute bridge

Body weight

12 to 15

Side plank

Body weight

30- to 45-second hold each side


Body weight

6 to 10



Suitcase carry


20-meter distance each side

Approx. 45 seconds

2 to 4

Lunge to balance and row

12- to 20-RM

12 to 20 each leg

Approx. 45 seconds

Standing 2-hand (Paloff) press

12- to 20-RM

12 to 20

Approx. 45 seconds

Step-up with w/dumbbells 

12- to 20-RM

12 to 20 each side

Approx. 45 seconds

Kettlebell windmill

12- to 20-RM

12 to 20 each side

Approx. 45 seconds

Note: RM = Repetition maximum. For example, 12 RM means a weight heavy enough to make the 12th repetition difficult and a 13th repetition impossible. For best results, the last rep of a set should cause fatigue, which is an important stimulus for muscle growth.


Daily physical activity is essential for optimal health, yet not all exercise has to happen in a gym or other indoor setting. In fact, it is safe to say that many clients don’t want to spend all their active time indoors. According to the 2022 Physical Activity Council’s Overview Report on Participation, which identifies the physical activities enjoyed by Americans, hiking is popular with all age groups, especially individuals over the age of 40. Rucking offers comparable appeal: Spending time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, combined with the opportunity to connect with others while exercising, are important benefits that can be derived from rucking. Regardless of their age, if your clients are looking for a new, yet fun and challenging activity that gets them into the great outdoors, urge them to give rucking a try.