The military’s practice of marching with a weighted pack on one’s back, or “rucking”, aims to foster the development of a strong and highly desirable soldier. Why not introduce our personal training clients to weighted hikes for health and fitness?

Walking versus Hiking versus Rucking

The lowest-lying fruit for improving cardiorespiratory health is walking. Unless disabled or injured in some fashion, we do it every day. Walking for health requires a little extra intention: 30 minutes of walking a day is the foundational key to aerobic endurance.

Hiking, on the other hand, implies a more rugged terrain, most likely with hills. Consider anything from a neighborhood nature trail to the Grand Canyon.

Rucking takes either of these activities to the next level by adding extra weight. “Rucking” has evolved into a guaranteed method of turning a simple walk into an endurance-boosting, heart-healthy activity. The benefits derived from rucking have been compared to those of distance jogging, only with significantly less risk of impact-related injuries. By encouraging the development in hip alignment and postural stability, athletes usually observe an overall decrease in any typical sports injuries over time.

While personal trainers need not expect clients to hike for 30 miles while donning a backpack upwards of 200 pounds, the premise of this exercise can be accommodated to suit the average gym warrior. Simple in theory as well as in equipment, walking for a mere half-hour 3x/week with some weight in a regular school backpack can work wonders in a variety of health and fitness arenas, starting with the torching of extra calories and body fat!

Rucking Benefits

There are plenty of reasons to include this method of training in any personal training client’s regimen:

Posture and Pain Reduction

From a structural perspective, walking or hiking while carrying a weighted pack forces one to maintain an upright torso, relieving the back muscles from doing all of the supportive work. With less compression placed upon the spine, one can reduce forward flexion, and with this comes a decrease in disc inflammation. Overall daily movement becomes easier in the absence of back pain.

Run Better

For those of your clients seeking to improve their running game, a recent study sought to see how weighted vest training might affect other systems and skills other than mere speed. The scientists determined that training while wearing a weighted vest led to improvements in runners’ blood lactate thresholds. This refers to one’s ability to tolerate running at a greater pace, and for a longer duration, before experiencing total fatigue. Interestingly, these positive data included both sprinters and endurance athletes.

Bone Health

Many trainers work exclusively with an older client demographic. Weighted vests can facilitate gains for these clients as well. Studies reveal how rucking or even just training with a weighted vest may confer a boost to bone mineral density. For clients who present with osteopenia or osteoporosis, this could translate to experiencing fewer fractures.

Brain Benefits

We often overlook —  and underappreciate — the opportunity to encourage our brains to develop new neural pathways. With some planning, personal trainers can easily turn outdoor training into such an opportunity for their clients. Navigating differing terrain and topography, clearly, a shift from walking on a controlled treadmill leads to different adaptations in thinking and gait resilience. Being out in nature, too, can provide a sense of well-being difficult to attain while training indoors.

Safety Considerations

When choosing to train clients in this format, always consider safety. Strike a healthy and comfortable balance between a client’s body weight, his typical training regimen, and the amount of weight added to the vest. While they might find it easy to run a particular distance/speed/frequency in the absence of added weight, trying to sustain these variables while wearing a weighted vest easily leads to imbalances, overworking certain muscles, and a general risk of injury.

Walk before you run, right? Adding rucking to a routine is kosher, assuming you have established a base of general fitness. But there are still guidelines outlined by military rucking experts for those who may be seriously committed to this endeavor.

By starting the client with a lighter load than he may want, you can ease them into the feel of the process and allow their body to adapt gradually.

Pack Options

If we can drum up the willingness to clean out that back storage room in the basement, we stand a good chance of finding a discarded backpack from our college days. Fill it up with as much weight as you wish to tackle —- no need to go overboard on your first day of rucking! — and hike!

Wearing a weighted vest confers the same weighted challenge and can provide options well up to 100 lbs for those looking to test their rucking limits.

In any case, expect that your clients may experience some soreness for a few days in places that may be unfamiliar as with any new fitness endeavor. This DOMS effect is totally normal and should dissipate as your client adjusts to the activity.

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Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!