Does Rucking Build Muscle? Here’s What the Research Says 

 June 25, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

When it comes to getting in shape and getting fit, there are plenty of workout options out there. From classic bodybuilding and weightlifting to modern CrossFit and HIIT, there's something for everyone. But what about the lesser-known form of exercise known as rucking? 

Yes, rucking can help you build muscle, depending on the intensity and duration of your workouts. It is important to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine to make sure that it is suitable for you.

You may have seen people walking around town with weighted backpacks. This type of activity is called rucking and is becoming increasingly popular as fitness enthusiasts look for new ways to get fit. But what is rucking? Does it really build muscle mass? Let's dive into the research and find out.

What is Rucking?

Rucking is a type of resistance exercise where you carry an external load while walking for an extended period of time. This can be done with a backpack designed for rucking, weight vest, or sandbags. It is thought to be an effective way to build muscle and strength. While the concept of rucking is simple, its potential benefits as a functional activity are not yet fully understood.

Proponents of rucking point to its ability to improve strength and muscular endurance while burning calories and building muscle mass. It also has the advantage of being easily accessible with minimal specialized equipment. They also argue that rucking can strengthen muscles that are not addressed in traditional gym exercises such as squats and deadlifts, making it important for balance and overall fitness.

On the other hand, opponents claim that while rucking may burn intensely in the moment, there is little evidence that it increases muscle mass more effectively than other forms of physical activity such as running or weightlifting. In addition, some health experts believe that overloading joints with heavy weights carried on the back can lead to injury if done improperly or without proper medical supervision.

Both sides have good arguments for the merits of rucking. Ultimately, more research needs to be done to see if it can be an effective form of strength training and physical activity for people who want to build muscle and increase their overall strength. But even then, it's clear that proper technique is essential to minimize the risk of injury during any type of weight-bearing exercise like rucking. Let’s take a look at what the scientific literature says about whether rucking actually builds muscle.

  • A 2015 study found that one session of recreational long distance walking was enough to increase strength and muscle endurance.
  • In a study conducted at Stanford University, older adults participated in a 10-week exercise program, which included either walking only or walking combined with strength training. The results of the study showed that both groups experienced an increase in thigh muscle mass.
  •  A study published in the Military Medical Research Journal in 2018 examined the effects of load positioning on the human body during marching. The results showed that soldiers who spread their equipment over their bodies used more energy, had a higher respiratory rate, and an increased heart rate.

Key Takeaway

Rucking is a form of resistance exercise that is considered an effective way to build muscle and strength. It is easily accessible and can target muscles that are not usually engaged in traditional gym exercises. However, there is debate about its effectiveness compared to other forms of exercise such as running or weightlifting, and some health experts say it should be done under proper medical supervision to avoid injury. More research is needed to see if rucking can be an effective form of strength training and physical activity for people who want to build muscle and increase overall strength.

Does Rucking Build Muscle?

Rucking is a form of exercise that combines walking with carrying a weighted backpack or bag. There are a number of studies looking at the effectiveness of this type of exercise for building muscle. On the one hand, some studies suggest that any type of physical activity can lead to an increase in muscle mass, whether it is endurance training such as running or rucking, or strength training such as lifting weights. On the other hand, more intense and varied exercises are associated with greater muscle gain than others.

According to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the study found that significant improvements in training volume and the ability to carry heavier loads, specifically in the context of rucking, were observed in participants when resistance training was performed progressively and combined with aerobic exercise at a frequency of at least three times per week. This suggests that moderate intensity rucking may provide benefits to muscular strength development when combined with other forms of physical activity.

Regardless of personal opinion about the effectiveness of rucking for muscle building, there is evidence that it is more beneficial to incorporate it into a training program that includes different types of physical activity. These studies highlight the importance of factors such as exercise intensity, duration and frequency, as well as individual preferences, when it comes to achieving fitness goals. Consideration of these elements is essential in designing a tailored exercise routine. In the following discussion, we will explore other factors that influence muscle development to help you create a program that meets your specific needs.

Factors That Influence Muscle Development

When examining the argument of whether or not rucking builds muscle, it is important to consider several factors that influence muscle development. The first factor is the intensity of the workout and how hard a person exerts themselves when rucking. If one does not push themselves to the limit, it is unlikely that they will experience a significant increase in muscle mass. It also depends on how often one does rucking. Frequency plays a role in muscle development as it allows more time for the muscles to break down and rebuild to become stronger and bigger than before. Other factors associated with muscle growth from rucking include versatile exercises, good form/technique, adequate rest and recovery periods, and proper nutrition to keep the body energized during exercise.

Another factor to consider  is whether your goal is to specifically build muscle mass, which requires consistent resistance training along with proper nutrition. This type of specific training for muscle building often involves heavier weightlifting or powerlifting techniques with slower movements than with fast movements such as rucking.

Regardless of the various aspects that may contribute to muscle building through rucking, it is clear that modest gains in strength and muscle size are possible when performed correctly and frequently with appropriate intensity. To explore this topic further, let us discuss the intensity of ruck activities and what impact they have on overall muscle development goals.

Intensity of Ruck Activities

When considering the intensity of rucking activities, some of the important factors to look at are the amount of weight used and the frequency of use. Adding a heavier load to a ruck can significantly increase the challenge and potentially lead to increased muscle growth. Higher intensity is associated with greater muscle growth. Experts recommend performing ruck training with weights along with traditional strength exercises such as squats and lunges for optimal results.

However, it is important to exercise caution and not always burden oneself with heavy loads. Care should be taken to avoid excessive weight to prevent fatigue and injury. Long-duration rucking, where participants carry a heavy weight for an extended period of time, can pose a higher risk of injury due to the intense physical strain. In addition, excessive loading can cause fatigue, affect form, and possibly aggravate existing injuries or cause new ones. It is important to ensure that the weight you are carrying is appropriate for your experience level and comfort.

In summary, the intensity of a ruck activity depends largely on the individual’s goals and needs. However, caution should be taken when deciding how much weight to use and how often to perform ruck activities to avoid injury or fatigue. With all this in mind, it becomes clear why it is so important to understand muscle recruitment during rucking in order to achieve the desired results.

Muscle Groups Used During Ruck Activities

Rucking usually involves the use of various large muscle groups of the body, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles, especially in single-leg squatting movements. In addition, core muscles such as the rectus abdominis and latissimus dorsi often come into play during forward swings..

The urgent intensity of walking or running with a weight on your back compared to normal walking or running can have benefits for developing muscle strength. Conventional exercises such as weightlifting are characterized by their high loads and low speeds, i.e. they require a high effort but a low range of motion. In contrast, increased speed in rucking produces more reactive forces that can significantly increase muscle strength at higher speeds. This effect is called “ballistic action” and is often seen in dynamic sporting activities such as sprinting, throwing, and jumping.

While ballistic movements contribute to muscle growth, when rucking is compared to traditional exercises such as weightlifting, debate arises. Some argue that traditional exercises stimulate greater muscle growth than rucking due to the greater overload forces that occur in weight training programs, while other researchers have found that greater hypertrophy (muscle growth) can be achieved through lower relative loads at higher velocities, such as those found in ballistic exercises like rucking. A definitive answer to this debate has yet to be found, but it is clear that both methods serve their purpose and offer different benefits depending on the goal of the individual.

Debate aside, we can all agree that the intensity associated with ruck activities can certainly help build muscle strength in several major muscle groups and increase power and speed — benefits we will discuss in more detail in the following section.

Benefits of Rucking For Muscle Development

In my personal experience as an active backpacker, rucking provides a variety of benefits for muscle development. This activity effectively works various muscles throughout the body, including the legs, glutes, upper body, and core. In addition to building strength, I have found that rucking can help reduce body fat and improve overall fitness levels.

Rucking has the potential to effectively train both the lower and upper body while working multiple muscle groups with a single exercise. Incorporating rucking into a fitness routine can be beneficial for individuals looking to improve their muscle strength and definition and potentially accelerate progress towards their goals. In addition, rucking is thought to increase resting metabolic rate, which can promote calorie consumption even during periods of inactivity. This aspect of rucking may also contribute to weight loss goals.

However, remember that when you’re rucking for muscular development, you should still take the necessary precautions by not training too hard or too fast. Overtraining can quickly lead to muscle pain and fatigue, which can adversely affect physical performance. Start slowly, keep the load low for the first few workouts, and gradually increase the intensity. Maintain proper form when rucking to ensure safety and maximum results.

Like any other form of exercise, rucking is not free of potential dangers or issues if done incorrectly. However, if done right, it has the potential to produce greater physical gains than many may expect. As such, rucking can be a viable option for people looking to tone and build muscle — or potentially replace traditional strength training sessions on days when they are unable or do not have access to a gym or weight machines. Given the clear benefits for muscle building and overall fitness, it’s no wonder that rucking has become increasingly popular over the years among both athletes and general fitness enthusiasts.

For those looking to spice up their workouts, improve cardiovascular health, and boost fat loss while effectively building muscle, combining ruck activities with cardio exercises such as running or cycling can offer a more comprehensive approach to good health — one that could ultimately prove more beneficial than relying solely on traditional weightlifting or aerobic exercise routines alone.

Increased Cardio and Fat Loss

Although rucking offers many benefits for muscle development, the impact of carrying a weighted backpack on cardiovascular health is perhaps its most impressive benefit as rucking can help you burn fat quickly and efficiently while improving your overall cardiovascular health.

The benefits of increased cardio are not limited to improved fat burning either. Long-term results include lower cholesterol, controlled blood sugar, and improved heart rate. In addition, better cardiovascular health leads to greater endurance during physical activities like running, cycling, and swimming. Ultimately, this means that regular rucking will make you healthier and more resilient.

From this information, we can deduce that carrying a rucksack has numerous benefits beyond muscle building and helps in achieving long-term fitness and health goals. In the next section, we will explore how using different weights during rucking can lead to optimal results.

Building Muscle With Rucksack Weight

Rucking, or carrying a weighted pack on your back, is a popular activity that can provide extra resistance and a total body workout. As rucking with added weight also takes cardio to a new level, many people are interested in how they can use it to build muscle. .

To train effectively and stimulate muscle growth, progressive overload is important. This principle involves gradually increasing the frequency and intensity of your training sessions and constantly challenging your muscles. In rucking, the inclusion of heavy loads can be a means of implementing progressive overload, resulting in remarkable growth of the upper body muscles.

Interestingly, some of the gains are comparable to those seen with lower-body exercises like squats and deadlifts, although the arms don’t take the brunt of the work during a rucking session. This could be due to the increased metabolic load caused by high-intensity intervals and long bouts of walking with the extra weight on your back. This type of training can also build extra lean muscle mass.

However, if you are serious about gaining strength, incorporate traditional methods such as lifting weights into your routine rather than just rucking. This adds an extra component to your training session, which should boost muscle growth even more efficiently.

In summary, incorporating rucksack weight into your exercise routine can be a rewarding way to push your physical limits and potentially promote lean muscle development. However, for individuals seeking significant gains in size and strength, it may be beneficial to supplement backpack training with traditional weightlifting techniques for optimal results.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does rucking compare to other forms of exercise for muscle building?

Rucking is an effective and efficient way to build muscle compared to other forms of exercise. It uses a large number of muscle groups in the upper and lower body while providing an intense physical challenge. It also increases lean muscle mass and can strengthen the core and arms. Rucking is particularly beneficial because it is a low-impact way to build muscle as it does not require running or jumping. Furthermore, rucking can help improve muscular endurance, strength, and motor coordination when done consistently over a long period of time.

How much weight should I carry when rucking to maximize muscle gains?

The amount of weight you should carry when rucking to maximize muscle building depends on your fitness level. Research suggests that beginners should start with a lighter weight, such as 10-20% of their body weight while they develop coordination and strength for the activity. As your coordination and strength improve, you can gradually increase the weight. However, it's important to listen to your body and not overdo it—don't push yourself beyond comfort. Good form when rucking can also help maximize muscle gains. A straight back and upright posture will help activate your core muscles and help you find the right form with every step. Also, if you focus on targeting the right muscles when carrying a heavy load, you can get the most benefit from the activity. Set realistic goals and experiment with different loads—this will help you find the right combination of weight and intensity that works for you.

What types of muscles does rucking target specifically?

Rucking is an effective form of exercise that can target all muscle groups, but is especially good for the muscles of the lower body. In particular, the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and hip flexors are areas that can benefit from rucking. Other muscles such as the abdominal muscles and lumbar muscles can also be targeted during a rucking workout.

For example, when you do the traditional ruck march, you use your core muscles while carrying a backpack full of weight. Similarly, the uphill ruck march or power strides ruck march is great for strengthening your leg muscles as it requires quick and powerful steps while your back is loaded with weight. This can be a great workout for your core and gluteal muscles.

Rucking, if done correctly, can also improve balance as you carry unstable loads when walking on different terrain. Balance exercises and functional movements develop an important motor skill for athletes but can also help prevent injuries in daily life.

Overall, rucking is great for strengthening all muscle groups, specifically working lower body muscles such as glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and hip flexors. It’s also good for improving balance and stamina.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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