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6 Tips for Recovering After a Ruck March

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There’s perhaps nothing more grueling than marching long distances with 50 or 60 pounds of gear strapped to your body. Ruck marches are routine in the military, and increasingly common in the endurance sports world, where several one-day events give athletes a small taste of what soldiers encounter throughout their careers.

Whether you’re ruck marching for one day or over the course of a long military tour, the strain on your body is considerable. It’s crucial to implement recovery strategies to keep you poised for maximum performance. After a ruck march, it’s tempting to collapse and fall asleep immediately. But taking just a few minutes to expedite recovery will pay huge benefits. Here are six ways to do just that.

1. Take a cold plunge.

Nick Winkelman, director of education and performance systems for Athletes’ Performance, recommends getting in a 50- to 55-degree cold plunge for 10 to 15 minutes from the neck down. Cold therapy decreases natural inflammation in your muscles. Ruck marching creates tiny microtears in muscle fibers, which your body repairs in between workouts, leaving your muscles bigger and stronger. The cold plunge jumpstarts this process.

No cold plunge available? Brett Barthlolomew, performance specialist at Athletes’ Performance, suggests filling Dixie cups with water and keeping them in the freezer. Peel back the paper and apply, especially to the back, hips, and calves. “Those areas really take a beating during a long march,” Bartholomew says.

2. Hydrate and fuel.

Ideally, you’ve managed to meet your hydration and fueling needs throughout the march, though that’s not always possible depending on what you’ve encountered along the way. Drink plenty of cold water and eat within 30 minutes of the end of the march, preferably within 10 minutes. After a ruck march, your cells are wide open and screaming for nutrients. The quickest and easiest way to replenish them is with a post-workout recovery shake made with a protein powder or supplement such as EAS Recovery Protein. By drinking a shake right after the march, you stop the stress hormone cortisol secretion, and start the positive hormones and nutrients to expedite the recovery process and maximize lean muscle growth. Whoever recovers the quickest and most effectively has a competitive advantage.

3. Pull your shoulders back and down.

Our natural instinct is to drop our shoulders forward, especially after long periods humping a pack. But you ought to do the opposite. “Elevate your sternum and let your shoulder blades hang back and down, which will give you proper posture,” says Mark Verstegen, founder and president of Athletes' Performance. “Imagine yourself 'feeling tall,' as if there’s a fishhook inserted under your sternum, pulling you up.” This improves your long-term shoulder health and is something that you should do over the course of any day, not just following a ruck march.

4. Grab some tennis balls.

This isn't the time to play a few sets. Instead, work on your thoracic spine mobility by taping two tennis balls together with athletic tape to form a peanut shape. Lie on your back, knees bent and heels on the ground with the balls under your spine just above your lower back and your hands behind your head. Perform five crunches, then raise your arms over your chest and alternately reach over your head for five reps with each arm. Move the balls up your spine 1 to 2 inches and repeat the crunches and arm reaches. Continue moving the balls up your spine until they're just above your shoulder blades and below the base of your neck.

During the crunches, hinge on the ball rather than rolling over it. Think about keeping your ribs pushed down toward the ground during the arm reaches. An immobile thoracic spine and poor alignment between the rib cage and the pelvis causes dysfunctional movement patterns and affects everything connected to that area. Ruck marches contribute to this condition. Creating proper thoracic spine function is the foundation to long-term shoulder health.

5. Use a mini band.

Carrying heavy packs create muscle imbalances since the extra weight compromises proper movement. Reset your body by performing Mini Band Walks. Performing Glute Bridges with a mini band is also effective in reactivating your glutes and get them firing properly once again.

6. Hit the trigger points.

Carrying heavy loads puts tremendous stress on your body, especially your chest, shoulders, and lats. Use a foam roll to open up your tissue. Trigger point exercises work similarly to a foam roller, but they make it easier to isolate and release deeper tissues. Use a foot roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or other hard ball to perform self-massage exercises that work areas such as your IT (iliotibial) band, thoracic spine, and the bottoms of your feet.


Looking to gain more knowledge on how to improve your performance as a tactical athlete? Check out our Tactical Education courses offered at EXOS facilities and on-site to your unit.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Tightness, Stretching, Soreness, Trigger Points, Mini Band, Military

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