This Exercise Fixes Rucking Shoulder Pain
Shoulder discomfort is common among new ruckers. A simple exercise solves the problem.
You’ll learn: Three variations of the best exercise for relieving all sorts of shoulder pains and how to fix shoulder discomfort mid-ruck.
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Now onto today’s post …
Since writing The Comfort Crisis, I’ve received many messages that go something like this:
“I read your book and started rucking, but my shoulders hurt when I ruck. What should I do?”
Today we answer that question. We’re covering:
Why rucking can sometimes lead to shoulder discomfort
What to do if your shoulders hurt while rucking
The best exercises to prevent and fix shoulder pain (with an instructional video)
On Wednesday, we examined why over-wearing flip-flops can lead to lower-body pain and injury. The wise Dr. Doug Kechijian, founder of Resilient Performance Systems, guided us through that topic.
While I had him on the phone, I asked him about rucking and shoulder pain.
He’s the right person to speak on the subject. Doug is not only a doctor of physical therapy who often treats military members, but he was also a member of the Special Forces as a Pararescueman. Which means he’s thought deeply about rucking and done a lot himself.
The truth about rucking shoulder pain
So long as you stay within smart weight recommendations—using 10 to 30 percent of your body weight—it’s unlikely you’ll injure your shoulders while rucking.
“I doubt most people are really in true pain shoulder-wise after a ruck,” Doug said. “It’s more like discomfort. I think discomfort in the shoulders is relatively normal. You have straps digging into your shoulders and a long duration of compressive loading on them, no matter how well you fitted your ruck. This isn’t bad per se, and your body adapts. But it is fatiguing.”
We see this in research.
For example, scientists in the UK took a bunch of young military recruits who hadn’t rucked much.
They then had the participants do a 45-pound ruck on a fast-moving incline treadmill for two hours straight.
The result: 90 percent of the participants reported shoulder discomfort.
Which, no shit! Doing anything new for two hours straight will make something hurt. If you asked me to handwrite letters for two hours straight, I’d report hand discomfort. I’d report butt and back discomfort if I sat for two hours straight.
The study isn’t surprising—but it can explain why your shoulders might hurt when you ruck.
When we do something physical that our body isn’t used to—in our case, rucking with a heavier weight or longer than usual—it uses the sensations of discomfort and pain to basically ask us “WTF are you doing right now?” It’s a sort of smoke alarm letting us know that there’s a chance what we’re doing could become problematic.
But, as with real smoke alarms, there’s usually no fire. At the same time, ignoring a smoke alarm is dumb. Doug said “typically pain is a warning of some kind that needs to be heeded.”
How to solve shoulder pain as you’re rucking
Just like sitting too long, shifting the location of the weight helps.
Move through these different carrying positions. It changes the location of the load and temporarily relieves shoulder discomfort. Do this:
Tighten or loosen the straps
Hang the weight off one shoulder, switching from shoulder to shoulder
Carry the ruck frontwards
The upshot: Carrying weight in different ways works your body differently, providing more benefits.
For example, hanging the ruck off one shoulder for a while challenges your core to a greater extent, and it may help prevent back pain. Carrying it frontwards challenges your back and core muscles differently.