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5 Rucking Challenges
You’ll learn: Five rucking challenges from the military that’ll make you feel unfit—and give you a good goal to work toward.
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I spent Friday doing CHAD1000X with Don Faul, a former Marine and current head of CrossFit. You’ll be pleased to know that the head of CrossFit is very fit.
Saturday was Veteran’s Day. Thanks to all who served.
That morning, I went for a ruck and began thinking about how rucking is the foundation of military fitness.
It always has been. As I wrote in The Comfort Crisis:
Prehistoric cave art depicts warriors heading into tribal battles with crude shields and spears. Together these items could weigh between 10 and 20 pounds. Thousands of years ago Greek Hoplites, Roman Legions, and Byzantine infantrymen all marched with around 30 pounds of gear. Fighters in all regiments around the world until the mid-1800s carried between 20 and 35 pounds.
Then British Soldiers in the Crimean War began carrying 65 pounds. Loads crept successively higher in World Wars One and Two, and in Korea and Vietnam. By the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the average soldier was marching with about 100 pounds.
This is why all militaries worldwide have developed different tests to ensure their soldiers ready to ruck into battle. Soldiers’ lives depend on their ability to carry heavy loads swiftly.
When I got home from my ruck on Saturday, I dug into old military data on how militaries throughout history have tested their soldiers.
I found a handful of fascinating rucking tests going back thousands of years.
Big Warning: I’m not suggesting anyone do these rucking challenges. As you’ll soon see, they’re tough. Really tough.
The military focuses on the health of the nation. These rucking challenges were designed to take soldiers to the edge so they could ruck when their lives (and, sometimes, the fate of the world) depended on it.
They display just how fit soldiers throughout history have had to be. And how, when your life depends on it, you can do far more than you might think.
We’ll dive into the challenges and explain how you can adapt them for your own goals.
Let’s roll …
1. The Roman Legionnaires Challenge
Distance: 22 Miles
Weight: 45 Pounds
Standard: Finish in 7 hours, 20 minutes
The Roman Empire became one of the greatest in the world—expanding across Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia—thanks to the fitness of its soldiers.
In 1921, the military historian S.E. Stout wrote of Roman training:
The greatest advance in warfare in that time was in tactics, in the methods of organizing and ordering bodies of men so that they could be directed and maneuvered more effectively. The decision of battle lay in the hand-to-hand fighting with the sword.
In other words, the military units that could quickly and tightly move themselves and their heavy gear from point A to B—and still have enough energy to fight face-to-face—won wars.
To that end, Roman soldiers loaded 45 pounds into their rucksacks and marched on dirt roads throughout the empire. They’d cover 22 miles at a speed of about 3 miles an hour. The challenge took about seven hours and twenty minutes.
A funny aside: Roman “recruiters” preferred to draw soldiers from the country, not cities. Vegetius, a great military tactician of the time, said:
The youth of the country is better adapted to arms, for it is reared under the open sky and occupied in labor; it is trained to endure the sun and to spurn the shade; it knows nothing of baths nor of delicacies; it is simple-hearted and satisfied with little; its limbs are hardened to endure all kinds of toil; and it has grown accustomed in the country to handling implements.
In other words, country people were tougher than city people (which, anecdotally, still holds true for modern militaries.)
How to use it
Walking for 7 hours and 20 minutes across a single day is a remarkable and challenging way to get yourself outdoors for an extended period of time. Consider doing it once in your life or even annually.
And, no, you don’t have to use 45 pounds. Use a weight you’re comfortable with or no weight.
2. Cromwell Readiness Ruck
Distance: 15 Miles
Weight: 35 Pounds
Standard: Ability to finish at any time
Oliver Cromwell was a British politician and military leader who came to power in the 1600s. He led savage military campaigns across the UK. Churchill called him a military dictator, while others like John Milton and Thomas Carlyle called him a hero.
To understand just how loathed this guy was, consider this: Cromwell died of illness. After a power shift after his death, his enemies dug up his body and chopped off his head. Then, they displayed his head on a spike outside of the Tower of London for 30 years.
His military prowess lay in his vicious tactics and insistence on having a fighting force that was prepared to move and strike at any moment.
He required his soldiers to be able to ruck 15 miles with 35 pounds anytime he asked them. If they couldn’t finish the march, he wouldn’t pay them.
How to use it
Cromwell’s Challenge is an excellent test for the average person.
Depending on your size, you may not use 35 pounds. But most relatively fit humans should be able to ruck for 15 miles straight on a whim (even if it takes awhile).
3. The German Onramp
Distance: Up to 12.5 Miles
Weight: 57 Pounds
Standard: Slowly work your way up to 12.5 miles
In the run-up to World War I, the German army needed to recruit and train as many soldiers as possible.
But soldiers at the time weren’t coming in as fit as they had in the past. The Industrial Revolution had led the average German to be less physically active.
German military leaders needed to get their soldiers up to fighting fitness.
So they built an onramp program. They’d load their soldiers down with about 57 pounds. They’d then have them ruck about six miles, or 10 kilometers.
From there, they’d add one kilometer to the ruck each week until the soldiers could ruck 20 kilometers, or about 12.5 miles.
How to use it
You don’t need to use 57 pounds. But there’s deep wisdom in adding a kilometer to your rucks each week when you’re trying to build mileage.
In my opinion, most marathon running programs end in injury because they ask people to increase their mileage too quickly. In my own rucking and running life, I’ve stayed injury free by adding just half a mile (or roughly one kilometer) to my longer rucks and runs each week if I’m trying to increase my distance.
4. The Lion March
Distance: 140 Miles
Weight: 75 Pounds
Standard: Finish once, go to war
The Chindits—Burmese for Lions—were British special operations units that fought the Japanese in Burma in World War II.
Roughly 3,000 of them rucked deep into Burma on Operation Longcloth. Their goal was to destroy railway and communications lines. One historian explained what they did like this:
They were loaded with huge 75-pound packs and marched unmercifully through man-killing terrain.
Oliver Wingate, their leader, knew his troops would be marching long distances through some of the most savage jungle on earth. He required intense and long training, capped off by a final challenge before deployment.
The final challenge: a 140-mile road march.
How to use it
It’s smart to work up to a big “test” to ensure you’re ready for a big event.
The military has done this for years to ensure that its soldiers are physically prepared. Consider the Army’s ACFT or Navy’s Physical Readiness Test.
If you have a big event coming up, what’s a physical test you can create to ensure you’re ready?
For example, I know my cardio is solid, and my legs are strong if I can run up a particularly steep mountain near my house without stopping. But you might consider rucking a certain distance to ensure you’re ready for a big backpacking trip or vacation.
5. 10th-Mountain Division Quarterly
Distance: 25 Miles
Weight: 94 Pounds
Standard: Done quarterly
The 10th Mountain Division began during World War II to conduct mountain warfare. They had to be fitter than most soldiers.
The division had to climb at high altitude, cover jagged and snowy ground, and even ski—all while carrying rucks loaded with gear that allowed them to fight and survive in extreme conditions.
This is why, every three months, the division would load their rucks with their issued gear, which was heavier than most other military gear. Their clothes were more insulated, and the unit also carried weather-resistant tents, stoves, skis, and more.
Then they’d cover 25 miles at a fast clip. One study said they held an 11-minute/mile pace, but I think that’s probably incorrect. Let’s just assume they were moving fast.
Then, once every year, the division conducted a 100 mile march in five days.
How to use it
A series of days of long rucks is a great idea. Go backpacking. Toss what you need to survive in a backpack and hit the mountains for a few days.
Every year, I spend at least three days in the backcountry on a dedicated backpacking trip. It’s one of my favorite things I do each year.
It not only packs in a ton of rucking, it also leverages the three-day effect. That’s the “3” in the 20-5-3 Rule.
Have fun, don’t die, and thanks to all those who served.
Sponsored by GORUCK
When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker 4.0 and Ruck Plate.
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