Rucking vs Running: Why Rucking Will Improve Your Running

You know you should be cross-training with weekly weight sessions — after all, resistance training has been proven to help improve running endurance, speed, and reduce the risk of injury. If you find lifting weights to be boring, intimidating, or inconvenient (you have to go all the way to the gym, after all), we may have just the thing for you. We’re exploring the newest endurance workout and comparing that with good old fashioned jogging: here’s a look into rucking vs. running.

So, what is rucking? It’s the latest buzzword in the running community. 

Rucking is a way for runners to achieve the necessary strength benefits of a weights session alongside the movement outdoors that every runner loves.

Simply, rucking is walking or hiking with a weighted backpack or weighted vest, which helps to improves your strength. This will improve your running, all while also increasing your endurance

Backpacker at Ornak Peak in Tatra Mountains, Poland to illustrate how rucking vs. running might be similar.

Rucking vs. Running: Will One Improve Your Fitness More?

Rucking is walking with a weighted rucksack or weighted vest. 

Its origins are in military training. Because you’re simply walking, it’s a low-impact exercise that, with the addition of weight, improves both cardiovascular and muscular endurance at the same time.

A 2019 study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that conditioning and doing bodyweight strength training while carrying a load, like with rucking, improved people’s jump force and oxygen uptake.

While the beauty of rucking is that you can do it anywhere you’d like — well, anywhere you can walk, at least – you’ll often find devotees on trails or with a load of added weight for an added challenge. 

Rucking involves a slower pace. Most runner’s will find rucking outside in nature more enjoyable than walking on a treadmill.

As for which form of training improves your fitness more? Running, for all intents and purposes, provides more adaptations to your cardiovascular fitness. Rucking is more of a balance between cardio and strength building.

The real takeaway of our research is that rucking is beneficial cross-training to support your running.

Cross-training helps build cardio and muscular strength. Also, adding rucking to your weekly training schedule helps to break the monotony of your runs. While also ultimately, helping you become a better runner.

Because rucking is a type of cross-training for runners, it should not replace your running.

Does Rucking Build Cardio or Strength?

Rucking builds a mix of cardio and strength. 

It’s a lower impact, full-body endurance and strength workout. It’s a great cross-training exercise for a runner on non-running days.

You’re not going to build big muscles from rucking, but you will improve your muscular endurance. 

This is how long your muscles can sustain exercise vs. the maximum load you can sustain for a few short reps.

Rucking vs. running hikers backpacking through a mountainous area.

What are the health benefits of rucking for running?

Because rucking helps build muscular strength in a similar way that strength training will, it can have all the same benefits.  

Rucking can improve the power of your runs and lower your risk of getting injured while running.

When compared to other types of resistance training, rucking is a more natural type of strength-builder. It’s more similar to the movement patterns of running. 

In ancient times, you’d push carts, carry rocks, and hunt and carry food back to camp. We have cars and other vehicles and new ways to carry heavy items.

It improves active recovery.

Rest days from running are essential. They’re built into every half marathon training plan.

On non-running days as your body adapts to the impact of running, you may want to cross train.

 You’ll find two types of science when it comes to recommended cross training exercises. The first of which come from places like the Journal of Strength & Conditioning which found indoor and outdoor cycling to provide the most effective cross training adaptations for running performance amongst high school athletes. 

On the other hand, you’ll find studies in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise that found that resistance  training provided adaptations that enhanced running economy.

As an exercise, rucking is a combination of both Zone 2 cardio and resistance training for your quads, hamstrings as well as your upper body.

Rucking is a form of active recovery. If you keep the weight light enough that your heart rate doesn’t elevate into Zone 3.

Doing a low-intensity ruck sends freshly oxygenated blood to the muscles to flush out any waste products, improving your recovery for your next run.

You can combine rucking with running and/or another exercise, such as swimming, for a more well-rounded cross-training approach.

It enhances total body strength & VO2 Max

Rucking works the muscles from your calves and quads to your back and your shoulders, and, of course, your core. It’s a total-body workout that combines cardiovascular endurance and strength to improve your overall fitness level.

A small 2019 study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research researched the impact of a 10-week training regimen combining rucking and strength training on 15 healthy, male participants. 

Researchers found this regime lead to significant physiological changes, including improvements in VO2 Max and various strength metrics, including max force of squat jumps, push-ups, and sit-up performance tests.

It reduces injury risk

A 2023 study in PLoS One found that among 225 recreational runners, over 50% had experienced a running related injury. Another study published in 2023 in Sports Medicine Open found nearly the exact same instance rate among its 258 runners.

One thing that may help: strength training. While past research has been mixed on how much lifting weights really helps prevent injuries, a recent study found that runners who consistently adhered to strength training and foam rolling for 18 weeks were 85% less likely to sustain a running injury.

Often, it’s weak glutes, hips, quads, and core that cause you to overcompensate and get injured once you start training at high mileage.

Rucking can help strengthen those weak muscles to reduce your injury risk further.

Additionally, while you only run a certain amount each week before you risk overtraining and overuse injury, you can add rucks to continue building strength and endurance with much less risk of injury (there’s less force placed through the joints walking than there is running).

Like many runners, if your running and fitness goals are to continue running, consider rucking for your cross training routine.

It adds variety to your training.

If you find your half marathon training is becoming somewhat monotonous, rucking can help spice it up.

By slowing down and throwing some extra weight on, you benefit from new physiological responses without taxing your body as much as running.

Trying new things like rucking helps keep the drudge of training exciting and new — meaning you’re more likely to stick to it and achieve better results.

Four hikers hiking in the mountain during autumn on a rucking.

How to Combine Rucking and Running for Max Results

To add rucking to your weekly fitness routine, substitute either a recovery run or a cross-training activity for a ruck. Always keep at least one full day dedicated to rest  per week to ensure proper recovery.

Start slow and build up your rucking duration and intensity as you would with a long run. Doing too much too soon increases your risk of injury. Start with 30 minutes and build up to 2, 3, or even 4 hours. But do this slowly! 

To increase the intensity of your sessions, try to ruck further in the same amount of time (e.g., how far can you ruck in 1 hour). 

Does Rucking Burn as Many Calories as Running?

One of the benefits of running is that because it’s a less intense exercise for impact, you can often go long distances — which is optimal for burning more calories.

Typically, a one-hour ruck will burn similar calories to running (around 600-800 is common). However, you can ruck longer than you can run, and it’s less taxing, meaning rucking can burn more calories with a reduced likelihood of an overuse injury.

Can Rucking Help You Lose Weight?

Yes, just like running or any form of exercise, rucking can help you lose weight — just like running.

As mentioned above, because running is less intense on the joints, you can typically ruck for longer than you can run, making it effective for calorie burning.

Does Rucking Really Build Muscle?

Yes! A weekly ruck or two will help you build muscle mainly in your lower body, but also in your back, shoulder, and core muscles. 

The extra weight carried when walking acts as resistance, forcing your body to work harder than usual.

Are There Any Down Sides to Rucking?

As with any type of cross-training, there is a risk of injury if you do too much of one activity or perform it incorrectly.

In the case of rucking, carrying too much weight may cause additional loading on the lower body, back, neck, and shoulders. This is the same if the weight is distributed unevenly. 

You may also encounter chafing depending on the weight of a heavy backpack or vest. A chafe balm/using the proper gear will eliminate this.

To reduce your injury risk, wear the proper gear — more on this later in this article — and include one to two rest days per week in your training, especially if you’re balancing running, rucking, and a weekly gym session.

Rucking Workouts for Runners

Goal: To Build Endurance

If you’re training for a race and want to improve your endurance, start rucking for 30-45 minutes weekly. If your schedule is full, you can replace a recovery run with a ruck. 

As the weeks progress, add more time to your ruck or try to go for longer or speed up so you’re covering more distance in the same amount of time. 

Unlike running, you’ll be working your muscular endurance alongside cardio endurance.

Goal: To Build Speed

You can perform a mix of ruck workouts if you want to increase your speed either over long distances or for sprinting. You can adapt existing running workouts for rucking. 

For example, the following workouts will help create speed adaptations:

First Workout Option:

  • 0.5-mile fast rucking (more of a shuffle than a walk)
  • 0.5-mile walking (slower pace)
  • Repeat 4-12 times

Second Workout Option:

  • 15-minute warm-up (walking)
  • 30-minute fast rucking (no shuffle, just walking)
  • 15 minute cool down (walking)

Third Workout Option:

  • 10 minute warm-up (walking)
  • 15-minute fast rucking (more of a shuffle than a walk)
  • 10-minute walking (slower pace)
  • 15-minute fast rucking (more of a shuffle than a walk)
  • 10 minute cool down (walking)

The Gear You Need for Rucking

The beauty of rucking is that it can be done with any backpack. Throw in some weights and you’re good to go. 

However, if you want to invest in the proper gear for added comfort, a proper rucking backpack such as the Rucker 4.0 from ROGUE will distribute the weight more evenly to reduce your injury risk. This pack is 25L and can hold a 45lb and 30lb plate at the same time.

You can also add GORUCK weight plates starting at 10lb and up to 40lb. If you prefer a DIY option, add any weight — whether traditional weight plates or sandbags. If using weights, add a towel or other soft items to your pack to soften those sharp edges. Another option — and one that is much more budget-friendly — is the HUNTVP Military tactical backpack. The pack is 25L and can be used with proper weight plates for rucking or alternative weight options.

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