I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately again about passing the selection course and many of them have to do carrying a rucksack and many of the candidates are worrying about being able to tote the pain pill to the standards in the course.
The first piece of advice I’ll give is to step back and take a deep breath. It really sounds like some of the candidates are psyching themselves out and are hearing the horror stories of many of those (who don’t get selected) and are thinking that the standards are impossible to obtain. Nonsense. Thousands of guys have gone before you and been selected. Is it easy? No, of course not. It is very challenging, but if it was easy than anybody could do it.
You’ll have to work hard and truly push yourself, but if you do that and put the time in, then there’s no reason to believe that you won’t be able to meet the standards. We publish a PT program daily here at SpecialOperations.com and if you follow that, you really shouldn’t have any problems.
I’ve posted some tips previously on here based on my experience that I feel will be of good value to you. I don’t claim to know it all, nor be a personal trainer but after many years in SF, these tips and techniques worked for me and hopefully they’ll work for you as well.
One of the questions I got asked was why was the majority of the days running days instead of rucking days. And it is a good one. If you get into some distance running, especially in soft sand or dirt trails, it will help your rucksack carrying ability extremely well.
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, not to mention it is invaluable when climbing ropes or toting the really heavy stuff during Team Week. But I digress… back to talking about rucking.
The easiest way to get better at it is to practice. Many emails and Twitter messages had the same concern, the candidate has trouble speeding up without taking off in a jog. Nobody does at first, that’s why you must practice, practice, practice. Just like a musician has to practice long and hard before getting to Carnegie Hall, 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 it allowed me to set a good, fast pace that I could maintain over a long distance. But that didn’t come overnight, it took practice. So, my advice is to increase your speed and distance with running and it will definitely help carrying the rucksack.
But with anything else, if carrying a ruck is your weak area, practice with it until it is a strength. There is no magic formula to it, just ensure that you’re stretched out and then just strap it on and go. I will repeat what said in an earlier post about running with a ruck in training.
When it comes to increasing speed, I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back while in training. It puts way too much stress on your knees. There will be times on steep downhill, you can pick up a shuffle for a few steps but as for running a distance with a rucksack while prepping for selection…DON’T.
From our last article 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.
You’ll have to learn to lengthen out your stride naturally and generate power with your legs and then your speed will come without having to resort to running. But in the course…do what you must do to pass.
Adjust your load in the rucksack so that the weight is higher, up between your shoulder blades, 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.
Vary the terrain if you can, and hit the soft sand if there is any in your training area. If you’re attempting SFAS, you become intimately familiar with the soft sand of the trails and it is best to get used to it now.
Don’t get caught up in trying to go too heavy either. The standards will be 45 pounds in selection or the training courses. Yes, once you get to an operational unit, the weight will be much higher. But don’t worry about that right now. Don’t go more than 5-10 pounds more than the standard in your training program. Save your knees and back for down the road…trust me, you’ll need them later.
If you get to where you can easily make the time limits (and you should aim to be well under them) with a 45-pound ruck, then you should have no problems. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you and don’t listen to the all the rumors out there, most of them are totally wrong. The biggest obstacle facing you in the Selection courses is your own head. It sounds too simple but it is so simple that it becomes hard for people to understand.
I got an email from one candidate who was told the horror stories of the first few days of Selection. I encouraged him to bring a good book. And when the cadre didn’t have him doing anything, to read and disregard the murmurs of the “rumor mill”. To quote my favorite coach, “ignore the noise and do your job.”
As always, hydrate well while out training. It is a habit that you should carry over in the course. With the warm weather months here, becoming a heat injury can happen quickly. Don’t let that happen to you.
Photo courtesy of US Army