Rucking can help you burn fat, build muscle, and stay strong as you age — and you don't need a gym

  • Rucking, carrying a weight over distance, is a great exercise for fitness and longevity.

  • Carrying has been a key human behavior throughout history, according to a fitness journalist.

  • Try it to build muscle, burn fat, improve your heart health, and prevent injury.

One of the hottest trends in fitness doesn’t require a gym or fancy equipment, and just about anyone can try it to get stronger and live longer, whether you’re a 70-year-old grandmother or a 21-year-old elite athlete.

Rucking, or carrying a weight over distance, is an exercise human bodies were designed to do to help us survive, according to Michael Easter, a fitness journalist and bestselling author of the recently released book “Scarcity Brain.”

The practice can help improve cardiovascular fitness, make our muscles and bones more durable, and build core and back strength to help us navigate the tasks of daily living.

But these days, tools, technology, and our changing routines have made it so that most of us rarely need to carry things more than a few feet from our cars to our homes.

“We’ve sort of engineered carrying out of our daily lives,” Easter told Insider. “I think it’s very important for humans to do, and we’re doing less and less of it.”

Now, rucking refers to carrying weight for the purpose of fitness, so it’s not quite the same thing as backpacking, he said.

But the weight you carry, as well as how you carry it and how far and fast you go, can be adjusted, which makes rucking an accessible exercise for almost anyone regardless of age or fitness level.

“If you can walk, you can ruck,” Easter said.

Rucking is great for longevity 

From our earliest ancestors hauling game after a hunting trip or gathering natural resources to populations traveling long distances with their family and belongings, carrying stuff (sometimes heavy stuff) is unique to humans, and a foundational behavior throughout history, Easter said.

While we may not need to lug a bison home for dinner, there’s still good reasons to make time for rucking, since it taps into several types of exercises linked to longevity.

“It’s good for everything, in terms of aging,” Easter said.

First, rucking gets your heart pumping, and aerobic exercise is great for cardiovascular health, helping to prevent heart disease which is a major cause of death worldwide.

At the same time, it provides resistance training along with cardio to help strengthen the muscles and bones. Research suggests the combination is key to living a longer, healthier life. Bone density is important as we age because broken bones are a major risk for older adults, research shows.

Even more important, research suggests rucking has a low risk of injury — even more so than common exercises like running — which means it’s a good option for older or sedentary people who want to improve their fitness without getting hurt, according to Easter.

The benefits of rucking include burning fat and building muscle and core strength 

Along with helping you live longer, rucking can keep you feeling good and looking good, too.

Easter said it’s a great exercise for burning body fat — the added weight uses significantly more calories than walking or running alone.

Rucking also builds muscle, especially in your lower body, but also taps into your shoulders, back and core to support the weight.

It may even help with issues like back pain, since the act of rucking creates a counterweight that helps balance out how the muscles of the back are activated, Easter said. Rucking also helps strengthen the core which is crucial to a healthy spine.

a man and a women wearing backpacks and walking on a gravel path through the woods

Rucking can be a great social exercise that’s easy to scale for different fitness levels because each person can choose a weight that’s challenging for them. urbazon/Getty Images

It’s easy to add rucking to your daily routine

Rucking has long been a foundation of military fitness, as soldiers are often required to carry heavy gear over long distances, cultivating a love/hate relationship with the exercise among groups like the Navy SEALs.

Since Easter’s previous book “The Comfort Crisis” explored the benefits and anthropological context of the exercise, rucking has experienced a bit of a renaissance among a broader audience.

“Before, it was just this thing that military dudes did and it seemed really hardcore and really intimidating,” he said.

You don’t need to be in the Special Forces or the CrossFit Games to try rucking. Easter said it’s simple to incorporate into activities you already do, like walking the dog or getting your daily steps in.

“You can just add a weighted pack and all of a sudden, you’re getting more out of every step,” he said.

a man wearing a backpack and headphones walking through a busy city street.

Add rucking to your everyday walks by grabbing a backpack and any heavy household objects, from books to water bottles.Pedro Merino/Getty Images

How to start rucking 

The biggest mistake people make with rucking is overthinking it, according to Easter.

“People tend to get paralysis by analysis. Just throw some stuff in a backpack, go for a walk, and see how that feels,” he said.

You don’t need any special equipment since an ordinary backpack works well for rucking, and you can add weight with household objects like books. Using sandbags or water bottles have an added bonus in that you can empty them (or drink the water) to make it easier as you go if needed, mountaineer Jenn Drummond previously told Insider.

You can also use a weight vest if you have one, or even carry a weight in front of you (such as bearhugging a sandbag to your chest), but a backpack is probably the most convenient.

“It’s more important that you carry weight than how you carry weight,” Easter said. “I think that for most people, most of the time, rucking with a backpack is better.”

Easter said a good starting load is 15 to 30 pounds for most people, but to use common sense.

“I tell people to ease into it. If you find the weight is too low, you can add from there,” he said.

Try to keep the weight close to your body so it isn’t sagging behind you, and cover anything with hard edges in a blanket so you don’t get poked in the back, Easter suggested.

A common mistake is to lean too far forward to offset the weight, which you can avoid by keeping your hips underneath your torso, former Navy SEAL Michael O’Dowd previously told Insider.

As for how long and how often you can ruck, it depends on your fitness level. If you’re relatively new to fitness, start with a short walk a few times a week. Even just 15 to 30 minutes is a good start. As you get more advanced, rucking has a low risk of injury even if you do it every day, but giving your body a chance to recover can be helpful, especially at first.

“Eventually you’ll get to a point where you can ruck every single day. If humans couldn’t carry stuff every day, we would have died off a long time ago,” Easter said.

Read the original article on Insider

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