Exercise trends: Rucking

Have you heard about rucking? The word “ruck” is short for “rucksack,” a military backpack that soldiers use to carry supplies on their back. Rucking, or ruck marching, refers to walking over paved or unpaved terrain with a loaded rucksack for the purpose ofimproving your fitness.

The military often uses rucking to measure physical fitness. Many units require a soldier to complete a timed ruck march in order to qualify for the unit. For instance, the U.S. Army Special Forces requires potential recruits to be able to ruck 12 miles in 2 hours with a pack that weighs 65 pounds in order to be eligible for Special Forces Selection. Even after leaving the armed services, some veterans continue to use rucking as a way to remain strong and build social ties while exercising.

Rucking with even a modest pack strengthens the legs, back and core muscles, while improving your cardiovascular health.For most everyone else, rucking is a great way to add diversity to your training, regardless of whether you’re in or planning to join the military. Rucking with even a modest pack strengthens the legs, back and core muscles, while improving your cardiovascular health. And because you’re walking, it’s usually considered lower impact than running. Those who backpack or hunt in the wilderness can also benefit from rucking, as it provides a very functional way to train for such activities.

So how do you ruck? It’s pretty simple: Load a backpack up with some weight (not too much!) and go for a walk. It can be down the sidewalk or along the trails at the local park. Start with short trips — less than 30 minutes — and work up to about an hour. Then slowly increase the weight in your pack until you can do about 30% of your body weight.

The number one concern regarding these types of workouts is overexertion. Even with a lightweight pack and a short workout, this is still a very tough form of exercise.Dehydration can be a factor, as much of the time these workouts are performed in thewarmer months. Lower body injuries are also common with rucking, including such ailments as shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains. And don’t be surprised to you feel soreness in the shoulders and neck, as these muscles aren’t used to carrying a heavy load.

West Point rucking. Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsAs with any form of exercise, it is important to listen to your body. Start slow and build up your “ruck” stamina over time. Add weight and time gradually, and spread out the workouts with other activities — and rest. And if those aches and pains don’t go away within 48 hours of your rucking workout, talk to your physical therapist to discuss your exercise regimen and whether you may have an injury that needs to be treated.

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What is minimalist running? Is it safe?

Trends come and go in fitness, and running is no exception. Minimalist running has been growing in popularity over the last decade, but some runners still question its safety. Barefoot or minimalist running is running that occurs either WITHOUT footwear, or with footwear that lacks high cushioned heels, stiff soles and arch support, a.k.a. minimalist footwear.

Lee Couret, a physical therapist and the owner of Southshore Physical Therapy in Louisiana, says there are many benefits to barefoot running. For example, he says, running barefoot can reduce the impact of the footfall when running. This is because most barefoot runners avoid landing on their heels, because it hurts! Landing with a heel strike is believed to be a potential cause of injury. A study published by the Skeletal Biology Laboratory at Harvard Medical School found that those runners that land on their heels while running were much more likely to suffer injury than those who land on the forefoot, or the ball of the foot. And Lee explains that reducing the impact can reduce running injures, as studies have found that people who run with greater impact often have more injuries.

Barefoot runners may actually be stronger.Aside from fewer injuries, barefoot runners may actually be stronger. Running without shoes can strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot while also stretching and strengthening the calf muscles, notes Lee. It can also improve balance and proprioception via activation of the smaller muscles in the legs and feet. And minimalist runners may experience increased efficiency, he says, as barefoot running requires less energy and oxygen consumption.

But don’t rush to throw out your running shoes without considering the cons. Running without shoes means that your feet aren’t protected, from either the elements, like cold, heat, snow and rain, or the variety of things you can find on the road — glass, pebbles, nails, and more. Barefoot runners will be more prone to blisters, points out Lee, and might be at a higher risk for Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis while transitioning from running in shoes.

Be cautious as you transition from running in shoes to running barefoot.A conscientious uncoupling from your shoes is key to a successful transition, advises AlterG,. If you want to start running barefoot, think about talking to your physical therapist about it. She might be able to do a gait analysis to see whether your gait would need to be improved before you transition. If you run with a heavy heel strike, it may be difficult for you to switch to the forefoot strike essential for barefoot running. Lee suggests following these tips from the Spaulding National Running Center to make a healthy transition:

  • Land gently, with your foot relatively horizontal and under your hips (this will shorten your stride).
  • Transition slowly — see the full running plan from SNRC for guidelines.
  • Stretch your calves and Achilles tendon before and after running.
  • Buy low profile shoes (low heels, minimal arch support, flexible soles) to use when running barefoot is not safe.

And, above all, listen to your body! Don’t do anything that causes pain, and see your physical therapist or doctor if you have pain that lasts for more than a couple of days after running.

 

Lee Couret, PT, MSPT, CSCS Lee Couret, PT, MSPT, CSCS, is a physical therapist and the owner of Southshore Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in New Orleans, Louisiana. A triathlete himself, Lee has served as the physical therapist for the University of New Orleans Privateers, a local triathlon team; the Swamp Dawg Multisport Team; and many local high school athletic programs.
Lee is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and has completed in many triathlons, including the Ironman Florida and Ironman France triathlons. He sends a special thanks to Irene Davis, Director of the Spaulding National Running Center at Harvard Medical School; much of this information is derived from a course he took with her in 2012.

 

For further reading, look through our selection of articles on running, in addition to the below links:

Bernstein, Lenny. Is barefoot running better for you? The Washington Post, May 9, 2014.

Physiquality.

The benefits of barefoot running. AlterG, June 10, 2011.

Reynolds, Gretchen. New York Times.

Crowell, Harrison Philip. Reducing impact loading during running with the use of real-time visual feedback. Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy, April 2010.

Lieberman, Daniel et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, January 28, 2010.

Barefoot running training tips. Spaulding National Running Center.

Milner, Clare E., et al. Biomechanical factors associated with tibial stress fracture in female runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, February 2006.

Proprioception. Physio-pedia.com.


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Preparing for your first race

In theory, running is an easy sport to take up — it might seem that you could simply put on a pair of running shoes and run. But if you don’t take into consideration the proper form, training, shoes and nutrition, you could easily set yourself up for an injury.

While we all may have run around the playground as children, running is not a natural skill for most of us as adults. Many of us sit for hours at a time, in front of a computer at work or at home on the couch. So before you focus on improving your time, make sure that you have thought about your form. If you have tried running already, but have felt pain after or especially while running, consider seeing a physical therapist for a fitness assessment, as well as gait analysis, to determine whether improving your form can reduce pain and the chance of injury.

To stick to your running regimen, sign up for a race.Once you and your PT have come up with a training plan, one of the best ways to stick to your plan to run is to sign up for a race. Most metro areas host plenty of 5Ks throughout the year that may be convenient for you. Having a deadline makes it easier to train gradually, explains Ryan Bozant, a physical therapist at Moreau Physical Therapy in Louisiana.

Ryan cautions runners to think about training without overtraining, which can cause an overuse injury. He points to several online running plans that can help to set running goals and a running schedule. Most will recommend training over a two-month period. Here are a few of Ryan’s favorites:

Be sure to do an active warm-up whenever you run.Ryan also recommends doing an active warm-up whenever you run. This can be a series of running drills or simply walking for a few minutes before picking up the pace. A warm-up can also include simple exercises like squats and lunges, or getting on the ground for some sit-ups and push-ups. Any of these things will get your heart pumping and prepare the body to run.

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How to train safely for a marathon

Running a marathon has become a common goal for even casual runners. Aside from giving runners a goal to work toward (and giving them a reason to continually train), it has become a sign of a Serious Runner, one who can complete the challenge of such a long-distance race. And while some people think training isn’t that important, most trainers agree that it takes months of steady preparation to ready your body for such a rigorous run.

“As soon as you sign up for your first marathon, your running transforms to actual training,” says Heidi Beasley, a physical therapist at Accelerated Rehab (a Physiquality member in Gilbert, Arizona). If you are new to the sport, she suggests, plan at least six months to complete your training; consistent runners should train for at least 10 weeks for a half marathon and 12-24 weeks for a full marathon. And any runner should check with her physician before engaging in training.  Read More