I’ve been getting messaged again lately and once more, many of the Special Operations Forces (SOF) candidates’ questions center around rucking and being able to tote the big pain pill. Several have made mention that they are a bit shorter than the average candidate and they have issues with maintaining their speed without running.
So, let’s take a step back in time and get back to the basics and start from there. First, and most importantly… Ignore the noise! I can’t stress that part enough. Don’t worry about everyone else’s horror stories. I’ve said this countless times and so we’ll throw it out there again. Thousands of guys before you have made it through the course and being one of them, I wasn’t Johnny Rambo and McGuyver all rolled into one.
Was it/Is it easy? No, of course not. It is very challenging, but if it was easy then anybody could do it. That is why they call it Special Operations. You will have to work hard and push yourself, but if you do that and put the effort in to properly prepare for the courses, then there’s no reason to believe that you won’t be able to meet the standards.
First, most of the workouts are distance running based rather than rucking. Why? Because running and building up your endurance on dirt and soft sand trails will ultimately help your ruck times.
A few months ago, I wrote that our PT preparation work focuses a lot on shoulder work, and for a good reason. That is one spot that you’ll find as a novice that will be really sore, perhaps even sorer than your feet. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to pass selection but if your shoulders are strong, it will take a lot of the stress and strain off when carrying a rucksack.
The easiest way to get better at it is practice, practice, practice. Rucking is just like shooting. You’re not going to be shooting tight shot groups on Day 1. It takes learning the fundamentals and putting a lot of lead downrange. The Special Operations trooper has to learn to handle the rucksack like it is an extension of his own body.
I personally found rucking a bit easier for me, being over 6 feet tall, I learned quickly to lengthen my stride and did it without using my calves too much. Otherwise, they’ll quickly tire and get tight. I’d lengthen my stride using more hamstrings and hip motion, those are bigger muscle groups and with a bit of practice pushing off with your hamstrings and thighs. This will get your legs stretched out to a good length and really allows to push off and keep a good pace over a long distance.
Speaking of hips, this next part is particularly important. Your hips will generate a lot of power…if they are stretched out properly. If your hips are tight, it will affect your gait, your stride and put too much pressure on your calves. Because I found, that once I started doing the rucking again while writing these columns, that my calves were tight and my times slower. I didn’t realize how tight my hips had gotten until I began to stretch them out again. Your hips put everything in good working order. Do some really good hip stretches, (here are some good ones) and not just before a ruck march but daily and you’ll notice a big, big difference.
Practice, practice, practice… again it is much like shooting. Learn to do it right and the speed will come. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Once your technique is down, you will find that the speed will come naturally but there isn’t a trick or magic formula you can take, it is just practice and putting the time in.
From one of our articles on rucking, “They’ll be times in your selection course or the qualification course that you’ll have to make up time or want to pick your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must,” Learn to increase your speed without running. Running with a ruck will hurt your knees and back…take it from the guy with two arthritic knees and an arthritic back to boot.
Being stretched out, especially in your hips will definitely help to lengthen out your stride naturally and generate power with your legs. Then your speed will come without having to resort to running. But while in the Selection course…do what you must, to pass. Just don’t train that way.
Adjust the fit of your ruck ensuring that it fits snugly but with a limited amount of rubbing, because those will quickly turn into sores. Then adjust the load and this is something that will require practice as well. Learn to pack your ruck not just for ruck marches but all the time so that the weight is higher up between your shoulder blades. Ensure that the waist strap is buckled and nothing is rubbing either on your back or shoulders. Have a couple of pair of boots broken in and ready to go and get out and hit the trails.
Always try to vary the terrain, and find the soft sand trails, I guarantee that you see them again during Selection. Hit the hills with a vengeance, learn the best ways to climb and descend those while picking up the pace. We have some good trails in the area where the steep rise and fall helps getting you prepared for those later on during the course.
Another word on your rucking. Too many young guys are putting the cart before the horse in terms of weight. Yes, there will be times (many times…trust me) that you’ll be carrying a lot of ‘light-weight’ gear on your back in Special Operations. It is the nature of the beast. But as candidates for Selection, you are a long way from worrying about that.
So, don’t weigh yourself down trying to ruck 80-85 pounds in preparation training before you’re even ready for that yet. Stick to what the workout programs call for, and that is a 45-pound ruck.
Once you get to where you are easily making the time limits (and you should aim to be well under them) with a 45-pound ruck, then you should have no problems in meeting the criteria in the course. And only then, add some weight. But for preparation, don’t go higher than a 55-pound rucksack.
The monotony of carrying a ruck for miles can be daunting. So, while your training, bring along your I-pod and listen to some good music that will motivate you while walking. But why would you do that if you can’t have it in the course? Because once you get to rucking in the course, put your favorite music or song on in your head. Hum if it helps. I’ve always been a big fan of Metallica and will rock out in my head to “Sand Man” or “No Leaf Clover” while hitting the trails or even hiking with the family. It helps as does every little thing. My bulldog and I were bopping down the railroad tracks this morning in the dark with some Metallica….it helps. Not so much for the dog.
And like a nagging old wife, I’ll repeat this again. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate constantly while out training. It is a habit that you should carry over in the course. With the summer months here, becoming a heat injury can happen quickly. Don’t let that happen to you. C-ya on the trail. “Boots, boots… there’s no discharge in the war”
Photo courtesy of US Army