For the past month I’ve been reviewing GORUCK’s Sandbag & Ruck Training Program.
Here’s a typical workout, and it shows the role the ruck (rucksack aka backpack) and sandbag play:
Working out at home (or anywhere but the gym) is now all the rage.
But, truth be told – working out on your own has always been a great option – but where do you start?
This simple and scalable program is a great option for minimal equipment workouts – keeping you near your home and not in the gym.
Here’s what we are reviewing, and some of the gear you need to make the most of it:
How Does It Work?
This is a WOD (Workout of the Day) style program.
You are one of many – so you have to join the program mid-stream.
You’ll be intimidated by some of the workouts – and certainly not able to complete many of them “as prescribed” (Rx’d) in the initial stages.
(Well, I couldn’t complete many of them – you might be starting in a better spot.)
But, they offer scaling options – that’s where you dial back the intensity, duration, rep count, etc. to be a better match for your current fitness level.
It’s also possible to substitute one exercise for another.
This is possible on two levels – for example you might substitute planks for push-ups if you lack upper body strength, or maybe you don’t have a sandbag – you can do quite a bit with just the weighted backpack.
How do you know what to do? Every day there will be an update via the smartphone app – BTWB (Beyond the White Board.)
There’s a written description – and even better – a short video clip where the workout is described and proper exercise form is demonstrated.
(There’s no super-technical moves in this program – anybody can do this stuff after understanding the terminology.)
If you do have a question, you can contact the instructor in a variety of ways.
Workouts can be scored and logged, but that’s totally optional.
A Typical Workout on “Meatgrinder Monday”
Get ready to be humbled.
Here’s a typical workout for Meatgrinder Monday – this WOD is called “Demented Dime”:
(All these video clips are time lapses – so you don’t die of boredom watching me flail around. These are not intended to be form demos either.)
It’s 10 rounds for time of :
Ruck, 30/20 lbs, 100 m
10 Ruck Push-ups (with the weight on your back) 30/20 lbs
10 Ruck Get-Ups (Ruck on back) – 40/20 lbs.
I made a “few” modifications – I stuck with a single 30 lb plate for all 3 movements, and I only did 5 rounds (Demented nickel?).
I really didn’t want to have to swap weight in the middle of the workout, so I used the same 30 lb ruck plate for all 3 movements. Here’s where I think a 40 lb filler bag (and a second rucksack) would come in handy.
I finished in about 25 minutes, and probably would’ve needed an hour and 15 to finish all 10.
I liked this workout – I could do it all in one place, without going too far ( I used my GPS to determine about 6 trips around the pool is 100m).
And at the same time, this was TOUGH.
Some Mondays are not as bad.
“Par Four” consisted of AMRAP Ruck Squats/Ruck Overhead Press/Ruck Swing/Ruck Push-ups – 4 reps of each with 30/20lb for five 3 minute cycles.
In between you “recovery ruck”.
Hey! I was able to do this one as Rx’d.
But admittedly “AMRAP” for me was only 2 rounds.
It’s a start, and this training is fun and engaging. The variety helps keep it exciting.
I feel that is a great full body workout too – the overhead press and push-ups were tough – and the swings and squats are a great combo as well.
Another Sample Workout – with Sandbag
This was the 2nd workout where I was able to use my new sandbag – with 60 lbs of pea gravel.
This was basically 16 rounds of 3 cleans/front squats/press and then “ruck” for the remainder of the 90 seconds left.
The handles on the GORUCK sand bag make it great for cleans.
But, I did nearly get a blister on my right hand, on the web between my thumb and index finger – those handles are pretty abrasive. They are 1000D Cordura, so that is not unexpected.
Overall I was pleased to be doing this with the sandbag and not trying to substitute in a ruck – which would had much less weight – and wouldn’t have been as delightful to clean.
Wednesday is usually makeup day (do a workout you missed), or repeat a favorite.
In the initial stages, I was a bit bummed – I was ready for a fresh new workout.
But honestly, having a repeat day is a better choice.
You WILL miss a day (due to work, family, injury, illness, weather) and having Wednesday gives you that chance to catch-up without feeling like you are missing out.
Sundays are recovery days – as long as you consider 10,000 steps (that’s 5 miles) a recovery day.
This is a good idea. Beginners often jump into the deep end, head first. That’s not the best approach for longevity (as I now know at age 47.)
So take Sunday on in the spirit intended – and use it to recover.
Why Do I Need This Program?
Ok, at this point you might be wondering – can’t I just string together my own randomly chosen near-bodyweight exercises?
Sure, but I’ll be honest I found it especially motivating to have “orders” to be followed.
Maybe a program is what you need.
Having a program helps motivate you.
Call it “Fear of Missing Out”, or maybe that twinge of guilt when you are tempted to skip a day’s workout.
Secondly, you will be challenged – and I found that very compelling.
You can see the leader board – how the hell are they doing so much better than you?
Or maybe it’s just having a real world metric to tell you where you stand.
Everybody thinks they are the best in a vacuum.
It takes the cold hard light of numbers to help you see that you do in fact, suck.
It sets a higher bar – something to strive to achieve. Something to make you WORK.
And quite frankly, it gave me the motivation to get off the keyboard, out of the house, and sweating.
A goal, a purpose, something to shoot for.
Waiting in anticipation for the next day’s workout – ooh, that’ll be a fun one (Not).
You’ll know you are hooked, when you can’t wait for the next day’s WOD to drop…
What Equipment Do I Need?
What equipment do you need? Here’s what I used.
A rucksack (backpack) is a necessity with this program.
Something from the GORUCK line is going to be your best bet, but you could test drive the program with a regular backpack.
But, don’t use your kid’s school backpack – it is going to likely get destroyed.
I did most everything with a GORUCK 15L Bullet, but the Rucker would’ve been a better choice.
The Bullet will carry the weight needed, but it doesn’t have a “frame sheet” inside which overall improves comfort. It isn’t compatible with a hip belt (which means the pack slides up and down your back when you are getting into push-up/plank/bear crawl position), and it only has a top handle.
In contrast, the GORUCK Rucker improves upon all those things. It has a top and bottom handle – which is great for the overhead press. It can be used with a hip belt, and it has the frame sheet. As an added bonus, I believe the top handle is wider, so you might be able to get a two-handed grip on it when doing ruck swings.
What about weight? You can use anything that will fit in the backpack.
I used a GORUCK 30 lb ruck plate for most everything.
I also used a 60lb GORUCK sandbag, filled with pea gravel.
Brute Force and Rep Fitness makes sandbags that are approximately in the same class as the GORUCK model – but good luck finding one in stock!
Regarding size, I went 60 lb, roughly double the ruck weight (most workouts recommend 30 lbs for men.)
My heavy lifting days are over, and I wanted to be able to get quality reps in – so 60 lbs feels right.
The sandbag is much more versatile than the rucksack – with all those handles and the soft shape there are all sorts of ways to carry this and fling it around.
Bear hugs, suitcase carry, on one shoulder, across the back, in the “rack” position after cleaning it, etc.
This program opened my eyes to the fitness magic that is the sand bag.
(You could try to create your own sandbag. It’s gonna be real tough to replicate what you get with the GORUCK bag on your own – and I prefer to spend my time working out, not repairing home-grown workout gear or sweeping sand and pebbles off the pool yard.)
If you want to know more about the quality of this sandbag, read my GORUCK 60lb Sandbag Review.
(Because I was testing them, but also because I’m a human walking billboard for GORUCK.)
All are highly recommended.
Where’s All The Distance Work?
Before I started the program, I though it would be a lot of rucking for distance.
It’s not. There is some. For example, ruck for 400m, ruck for 100m, etc.
This program is more focused on the general PT (physical training) aspects of ruck fitness.
Many, but not all, of these workouts could be completed within the confines of my pool yard – as shown by the video clips. Some required a short rucking circuit of 100m – 400m.
Want to scratch the rucking for distance itch? Use the recovery day, or do some long rucks any day of the week.
Once, the workout required a 5k run (un-weighted). Yuck. I subbed in 5K of weighted ruck march.
Scoring & Logging
You can score your workouts.
I have mixed thoughts on this.
Before I was set to finish a WOD as prescribed (Rx’d) I figured there wasn’t much point.
So I spent the first 2 weeks days just getting into the swing of the program – and doing as much as I could.
(Bear in mind this was August in Florida – that is a significant performance impact because it’s the hottest and most humid month of the year).
You could do this program and get a sense of improvement even if you never logged a single workout, or calculated a score.
Keeping count can be a challenge. I like to let my mind wander during physical exertion – especially all those laps around the pool, or anywhere else.
Some workouts are easy to keep track – some were more complicated.
In the longer run, the scoring and logging will be important, because it helps you progress through the program.
About a month in, I found one I thought I could SMASH – the WOD was called “Flamethrower”. It required descending sets of ruck push-ups and 200m rucking in between, for time
I excitedly undertook this one – because I figured I could finish in some time range that would give me a reasonly decent “rating” in the Workout Percentiles.
I did the ruck push-ups as fast as I could. I even did “ruck running” – something I’d swore I’d never do to shave some time off.
I finished in 24:59.
I dialed that number into the “Workout Percentiles” section of the BTWB app – for “All Ages” that put me in the 22 percentile. Ok, not good, let’s click it over to “Masters”.
No better. Had I cracked the 23:00 mark, it would’ve pronounced me as “Fitness” (breaking 20:00 would have been “Intermediate”, and 17:00 “Advanced” and so on).
Damn it. Must work harder.
And that’s how motivation works.
GORUCK Sandbag & Ruck Training Versus GORUCK Tribe
GORUCK has something new for 2021 – the GORUCK Tribe program.
It’s quite a bit different as compared to SRT.
Firstly, there’s more of a rucking mileage focus. For the first month you’ve got to do 1 mile per day (and a 5 mile penalty ruck for each day you miss.)
There’s still a tough WOD – but you only have to complete once in the month.
The Miller Hero WOD for the first month is a 3 mile ruck, 12 rounds of PT, and another 3 mile ruck.
But perhaps most importantly, Tribe stresses the community building aspects of the program.
There’s a reading assignment and a discussion every month.
Improve your body and your mind with GORUCK tribe.
GORUCK Sandbag & Ruck Training Program Review – Long Term Update
I’ll repeat a workout (probably “Piedmont Posterior”) in a few weeks time, and hopefully show some improvement.
Check back here for results – probably in October 2020.
GORUCK Sandbag & Ruck Training Program Review – In Summary
A daily workout program like the GORUCK Sandbag & Ruck Training Program is an excellent option for home fitness in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
It is simple, scalable, and motivating.
Anyone can do the movements associated with this program – and you can substitute for exercises you can’t do (perhaps because of injuries, etc.)
I recommend you give it a try, I hope you find it as enjoyable and productive as I have!
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Tim is the founder of FitAtMidlife.com – an avid gym rat for 30+ years, he’s a reviewer of many, many shoes – and founder of the Speed Bag Gathering – the world’s only gathering of speed bag punching enthusiasts. See more gym reviews at Tim’s YouTube channel.