Find Your Fit: What You Need to Know About Rucking, from a Michigan Resident Who Fell in Love with it

Jake Newby

| 4 min read

Warmer Michigan weather means people can start finding their fit outdoors. Rucking – a low-impact, full-body workout that you can take to the pavement and the terrain – might be a good place to start this spring.
Rucking is walking a set distance with a weighted backpack on your shoulders. But don’t let that simple description fool you into thinking rucking is light work; this activity burns between two to three times more calories than walking without the weighted backpack. That’s on par with jogging.
Reed City resident Donnie Dwyer started rucking with his wife four or five years ago. As Dwyer likes to say, anywhere you can walk you can ruck.
“You can use anything as a weight,” said Dwyer, who has logged hundreds of rucking miles over the past five years. “I have an actual weight, like I have a “GORUCK” pack because I’m in the GORUCK Club. And they make specific weights you can put in backpacks. They’re kind of a small, steel weight. They come in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50-pound sizes, so you can tailor it to whatever your comfort level is.”
If you don’t want to invest in the specially made weights right away, stuff your backpack full of books, bricks, sandbags or even canned goods. Beginners can even load their backpack up with only their water bottle get rucking. This all-inclusive form of fitness doesn’t have weight requirements, nor does it have distance minimums. And the environment you ruck in is flexible, too.
“That’s the good thing about rucking is that it’s very flexible,” Dwyer explained. “If you live in Detroit, I know there are at least three clubs in that area. They do city rucks; they join in different 5K events and different events like that. You can go to a park or you can join in on trail rucks.”

What are the physical benefits of rucking?

A 2019 study found that 10 weeks of weighted resistance walking improved the physical performance and perceived rate of exertion for participants. Perceived rate of exertion is how hard you think you’re pushing yourself while exercising. 
It’s a workout that’s proven to increase the leg muscle strength, power and functional abilities of seniors. The resistance provided by the weighted backpack works these muscles:
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Glutes
“It’s a lot of leg work but it’s more of a core, whole-body workout,” Dwyer said. “It builds endurance, and it builds strength.” 

Rucking advice and recommendations

For first timers with no rucking experience, Dwyer recommends starting at a level you can handle.
“Start lighter. Don’t even wear a backpack the first time, just walk with the group and see what it’s about,” he said. “Then gradually increase your weight and distance as you get comfortable and used to it.”
If you do take to it and eventually embark on multiple-mile rucks, here’s a good checklist of items to bring:
  • Plenty of water
  • Weather-appropriate apparel (athletic footwear, extra socks for fall and winter rucks, etc.)
  • A waterproof backpack/rucksack
  • Ruck plate or other form of weight
  • An external battery for your smart phone
The communal element and mental health benefits of rucking
Dwyer, a mental health professional, gravitated toward rucking originally because he thought it’d be a great way to meet people in his community. And he was right.
“I think from a mental health standpoint, interacting with people is a help,” Dwyer said.
You can ruck, alone, too and soak up the mental health benefits nature has to offer while burning some serious calories at the same time.
“And then walking is a really good way to process your day and get rid of some energy. It gets us off our screens, it gets us moving. Personally, I think we’re kind of missing some of that in society today.”
GORUCK is a nationally branded rucking outfit that hosts events, sells apparel, and launches clubs all over the world. There are more than 500 GORUCK clubs for people to join and connect with others in their community. But even beyond the national group, online communities of ruckers are popping up frequently on social mediums as the fitness form gains popularity. Dwyer launched his own rucking club – the M.O.W. Ruckers. “M.O.W” stands for the Michigan communities it’s comprised of Mecosta, Osceola and Wexford.)
This September, Dwyer and his M.O.W. Ruckers will hit Mackinac Bridge for their third annual “Ruck the Bridge” event. Dwyer will be the first to tell you that rucking did wonders for his physical health, mental health and sense of community.
“The biggest thing like I said, for me, is the mental health component,” he said. “I think rucking is really good for that stress reduction, confidence, self-esteem and community connection. Overall, I think it improves your mood and wellbeing.
More from the Find Your Fit series:
Photo Credit: Donnie Dwyer

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.