3 Common Athlete Types and How Each Can Improve Their Ruck and Run

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(U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Harlow)

If you have ever served in a U.S. military unit for which rucking was its primary method of transportation, you may have noticed three different groups: One that could outrun everyone but only ruck at a mediocre pace, another that could out-ruck everyone but ran at a mediocre pace, and a third for hybrid guys who are just above average in both.

These groups tend to align with three common athlete types, which are best conceived of as vehicle classes. Here's how those vehicle classes break down and how members of each can improve their rucking and running over time.

The Groups as Cars, Trucks and SUVs

Cars: Runners and Endurance Athletes

The lighter you are, the easier it is to become a great runner for longer distances. Just look at the fastest long-distance runners. They're super-skinny and built to run, but not much else.

However, if you were a sprinter, you most likely have a completely different body type and a combination of strength and power to produce more speed, but distance running is likely foreign to you. Many sprinters (race cars) think anything more than 100-400 meters is long-distance running.

When joining the U.S. military, the timed runs will take some time to master for the sprinter, but rucking may not be an issue when progressing to the front of the pack. The fastest runners in the military tend to come from endurance athletic histories like cross country or triathlon events and have a host of upper- and lower-body strength issues that they need to improve to become a better rucker.

Trucks: Strength or Power Athletes

The bigger guys are typically former strength athletes and may have run for speed and agility, but over the years, they have built a solid cardio base to handle running a few miles at a time. Putting on a ruck for this group typically is an easy training day, and they do well in timed load-bearing events.

You want these guys under the boats and logs as they are comfortable there. They are the trucks in the analogy. They are not the fastest running on track, but off-road carrying a load will always be up-front. Getting out of the weight room and into more calisthenics and cardio programming is a logical step for this group to train before serving.

SUVs: Hybrid Athletes

These multi-sport or multi-discipline athletes might have experience with strength training and endurance sports and tend to find both running and rucking a natural progression to their athletic history. Some of the best hybrid athletes I know were late bloomers and participated in endurance sports like swimming, rowing or running when younger. They hit a growth spurt and decided to play sports like lacrosse, wrestling or football, where lifting for more strength and power was required.

They tend to maintain the ability to run fast (under six-minute miles) and are strong and durable with a lean body mass for their frame. Think of hybrid or tactical athletes like the versatile SUV; a mix of both of the abilities of the car and truck. Though not the fastest without a pack nor with a pack, they are always in the top 20% of the unit in any physical moving, PT or lifting event.

We all have weaknesses and strengths when we decide to serve in tactical professions. Acknowledging these weaknesses requires honest assessment and significant time, either putting on mass or strength to handle the loads better or dropping the weights and adding more cardio and calisthenics (endurance and muscle stamina) to your training cycles before serving.

All groups have unique skills that make up a diverse group of operators. Of course, these comparisons are stereotypical, and there are absolutely unicorns that are naturally big and can run fast, just as there are small and strong people who can run, swim and ruck fast.

To perform optimally as a tactical athlete, learning to get good at everything requires a system that forces members to acknowledge and work on a weakness until it is no longer a weakness.

Important Takeaways for All Groups

If you want to be a durable runner who rucks, can carry equipment or people and does not break under the load, you must also be stronger. Not only the knees and shins, but the hips, butt, lower back, spine and shoulder girdle with all the surrounding and supporting muscle groups getting stronger. That usually comes with some added mass compared to the typical running-only athlete.

A foundation of strength will be required for the tactical athlete. But you must also maintain your endurance and slowly progress with weight and distance when adding weight to your backpack.

If you are a stronger athlete, you should focus on improving your endurance and muscle stamina in your pre-military training. See Improve your work capacity for more details on adding more calisthenics, high-repetition lifting and multiple forms of cardio (run, ruck, swim or bike). Getting in more non-impact cardio initially is logical for the non-running, bigger-strength athlete, versus just jumping into a running plan.

The hybrid athlete needs to find a program that offers a way to improve incrementally but mostly maintains what he or she has created over the years. Staying good at everything requires training like the above athletes with diverse training cycles, so you leave nothing undeveloped.

If you are doing more tactical professions, you need to be just good at running, not great, so your volume does not need to be as high as most running coaches would recommend. You must be stronger and not crumble under backpacks, boats, logs and other equipment loads.

Running, rucking, lifting, swimming with fins, treading and calisthenics all build durability, but so do flexibility and mobility.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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