Rucking Victimhood; A Deep Dive

Many people leave the military “broken”. Broken physically, broken mentally, broken emotionally. I’m not one to downplay how real this is. I specialize in the physical fitness and preparedness realm, and won’t pretend to be an expert in fields such as mental health and PTSD. Therefore, although I create content about basic mind-set strategies for success in SOF (and beyond), most of my content is centered on the physical.

I’ll be the first to admit that It’s not possible to spend several years in a military combat arms unit and leave completely unscathed. I understand that it's not a longevity friendly job, and that physical degradation of one's body will inevitably occur to an extent.

There are a multitude of factors outside a soldier's control that can contribute to this. But in a recent reel on Instagram, I proposed the idea that although many people blame “the military” or “rucking” for their post career woes, in almost every case, there’s something they could have done to, at minimum, mitigate it. 

In a job like this, “damage control” is far more realistic than complete avoidance. Because I’ve seen first hand what lack of damage control can result in, one of my main objectives is to provide information for the masses regarding proven strategies for general physical upkeep. Having the humility and self awareness to reconcile that throughout your career, you’re presented with many decisions that can determine whether you mitigate the damage or exacerbate the damage is something many of us struggle with. 

For some examples - the humility to acknowledge that:

There were more nights you could’ve gone to bed when you were supposed to instead of getting carried away by binging Netflix, partying, scrolling social media or playing video games.

There were fewer days you could have decided to drink alcohol. Furthermore, on the days you did drink, there was an option to drink less. 

There were workouts that you could have done but decided to skip. 

There were times when you could’ve eaten eggs, fruit and oatmeal for breakfast instead of 3 tornadoes and a can of Green Monster (of which a 16 Oz can contains a measly 58 grams of sugar) from the shoppette. 

There were times where delayed gratification was the answer, but you chose immediate comfort for future pain. 

I’m not delusional enough to think I’m not guilty either. I made countless decisions throughout my career that weren’t favorable to my physical well-being. But I’m also not going to blame anything or anyone else besides myself for them. I decided to learn from these mistakes. Even if it required 25 times of making the wrong decision, eventually, I began to make the right decision. 

And that’s the thing - making these decisions once or twice (or 20 times) is not going to make a big difference. However, making these decisions habitually over months, years, decades, and ultimately an entire career in the military will inevitably result in less than favorable outcomes. The key is being aware enough to identify what isn’t serving you and to then put the work in to break such habits. 

This post, as is the case with many controversial takes, was met with a lot of support, but also a considerable amount of pushback. In today’s world, it’s totally fine to disagree with others. I personally enjoyed reading some of the well-thought-out rebuttals.

On the other hand, many of the disagreements were laughably ironic, and perfectly illustrated the victim mentality I was aiming to convey in the post. In any case, I figured I’d take this opportunity to further explain my intended message for those who care. 

First off, the video in question was a 90 second summary of a 6 minute video I originally recorded while doing a zone 2 rucking workout, which I habitually do 2-3x/week. For those who aren’t familiar with daily content creation, sometimes it takes a very long time to create posts.

From thinking of a topic, to deciding how to convey it, to editing, to writing the caption. It’s not usually a quick, 10 minute ordeal. This post in particular took me close to 3 hours in total. It’s very difficult to edit a longer video to make it short enough for an IG reel without leaving some important parts out. In an effort to alleviate this, I spent close to an hour writing the caption to further illustrate my point and make sure I covered many of the caveats. 

That being said, I know many people will watch a reel they disagree with, immediately become triggered, and prior to reading the caption, disclose in the comments section exactly why they were triggered and how wrong the content creator is with their take.

I can confidently say that many of the comments made it abundantly clear that this is exactly what happened with this particular post. This isn’t a “social media etiquette” lesson, but if I were to give one piece of advice to you when navigating social media posts, it’s this: before commenting on a reel or any post, read the caption. It may result in you looking less foolish with your comments.

Second, my intention was to use rucking as more of a metaphor than a specific example. Rucking is just one of many things about the military that veterans tend to blame for their post-career physical degradation. But admittedly, it wasn’t easy to infer I was using it metaphorically, and some of the responses made it clear that many people still think that rucking is inherently dangerous.

Although most well constructed studies show otherwise, many people in the comments section assured me that plenty of “peer reviewed” studies state otherwise. Despite my requests, not a single one of them was able to provide a link to one of these alleged studies, nor were they able to explain what “peer reviewed” meant. 

Although I think decades of personal experience trumps literature in many cases, I’ll happily take this opportunity to provide a couple of studies that show rucking to be safe when executed appropriately.

This Study from the University of Pittsburgh followed 451 soldiers from the 101st airborne division at Fort Campbell, KY for 1 year. Throughout this time, there were 133 injuries reported, 30 of which from exercise. Of the 30, the specific training modalities culpable for the injuries were as follows:

Running: 18

Lifting: 7

Rucking: (drumroll please) 5

These soldiers were over 3.5x more likely to get injured running than under a ruck. If you still think rucking is unsafe, fine - but you’re also succumbing to the fact that lifting and running are even more unsafe. In this case, you may as well just avoid any risk whatsoever for the rest of your life.

Study # 2 was more of my bread and butter - SFAS. The study followed 800 SFAS candidates throughout the entirety of the 3 week selection process (over several classes). If you’re unaware, the volume of rucking conducted at SFAS is astronomical. You’re basically living with a ruck on the entire time, especially in weeks 2 and 3. 

Guess what they found? 36 (4.5%) were injured from rucking. Sure, that’s not an insignificant number, and at face value, one might say that it proves rucking to be at least somewhat dangerous. But I’m not one to take things at face value - there’s usually more to the story, to include looking into the types of injuries that occurred. 

The vast majority of them were blisters (avoidable with proper foot care/preparation). Others included sprains and strains (a combination of bad luck, lack of situational awareness, and sometimes poor preparation), tendonitis (poor preparation), or generalized pain (also poor preparation or looking for a way to get med dropped). 

So after a closer look, these injuries were mostly mitigatable or even completely avoidable. Additionally, there were a total of 12 strains and sprains that occurred during an activity involving rucking (land navigation, road marches). 

12 out of 800 is a measly 1.5%. I don’t know about you, but if I had a 1.5% chance of getting a non-preventable injury from doing an otherwise beneficial activity (like rucking), I’d take that chance. I’m also not encouraging people to go out and ruck in the woods at night time (land nav - where 8 of the 12 injuries occurred).

To add a final cherry on top, the researchers took it a step further to account for the significantly higher percentage of time spent rucking than any other physical activity at SFAS. They broke down the injury rate per hour of each physical event or assessment at selection: Running, rucking and the obstacle course. The O course and running caused 2-4x more injuries per hour than rucking did.

So again, if you think rucking should be avoided because it’s unsafe, you better also avoid virtually all other physical activities. 

In an effort to avoid cherry picking accusations, I searched far and wide for studies or arguments depicting opposing results so I could steel man my own argument. I typed in the following prompts on Google and Chat GPT:


“Studies proving rucking is unsafe”

“Studies showing rucking causes injury”

“Studies showing rucking causes (spine, leg, lower body, foot, unavoidable) injury”

Chat GPT

“Tell me why rucking should be avoided”

“Explain to me what injuries I can expect from rucking”

“Formulate an argument as to why I should avoid rucking”

Google Results: The only study I was able to find suggesting that rucking may increase injury risk was conducted on (a whopping) 14 ROTC cadets who were asked to ruck 4 miles despite not being accustomed to rucking. Even in this study, the results were inconclusive at best, in that they determined that excessive muscle fatigue (anterior tibialis), decreased dorsiflexion (which will happen when you’re fatigued and unprepared) and increased bone loading (NOT bone injury) occurred.

Funny enough, repetitive and progressive impact on lower body bone structure will result in IMPROVED bone strength over time. When done excessively (aka, not prepared for), it can cause injury. This also further supports my point in a roundabout way - if you ruck without preparing for it, you’re going to feel it afterwards. This is not rocket science. It’s the case for any physical activity.

The other studies suggesting rucking to be unsafe all included participants with one thing in common: lack of preparation. If you’re not strong enough to support a ruck while walking long distances, or you haven’t spent the time adapting to the load, ABSOLUTELY, rucking is unsafe. But again, this just further bolsters my argument that if you fail to prepare, you’re more likely to hurt yourself. 

Chat GPT results: all included examples of why rucking was unsafe, but EVERY SINGLE one of them also stated the reasons for which stem from LACK OF PREPARATION. You’re welcome to copy and paste these prompts in yourself if you’d like. You can also prompt it a different way if you’re not convinced. I’d love to find a rebuttal that states rucking is inherently unsafe, no matter how much you prepare and build up to it. But so far I’ve come up empty.

All this being said, I must provide some more caveats.

Sure, some military units perform “forced marches” in a way that isn’t longevity friendly. Excessive loading, emphasizing ruck running, lack of recovery, and just overall poor programming are all big issues in the Military. But rucking isn’t always the only thing blamed. A lot of people will just blame “the military” in general for how messed up their joints, hormones and physical health are once they get out. The main rebuttal I have for that is twofold: 

  1. In almost every single case, there were decisions made or not made that ultimately lead to further enhancing the physical degradation of a soldier’s body. There were opportunities to prepare better, or further mitigate potential damages. The average person who plays this blame game decided to forgo these opportunities instead of accepting agency and bettering their situation. 
  2. More importantly, even if you did mess yourself up, even if you made terrible decisions throughout your career, even if you drank like a sailor, lived off of dip and caffeine, wore your ability to get by on little sleep as a badge of honor, didn’t take physical preparation or recovery seriously, etc. OR, even if most of the reason’s you’re banged up are completely outside of your control; e.g. you had multiple combat deployments, you were wounded in combat, you spent 6 months at Ranger School (partially in your control), you were in motor vehicle accidents, you were forced to do excessive, poorly programmed PT, etc. you are NOW responsible for the physical state you’re in. You now have the ability to sit idly and feel sorry for yourself, OR you can play the hand you were dealt.

The main message is this - instead of blaming the military, or specific aspects therein for your current situation (even if it’s less than favorable), assume responsibility and do what you can. Playing the victim gets you nowhere. It leads to a life of misery.

Sitting on social media and searching for ways to get offended is in no way improving your life. It’s important to always remember that someone out there has been through worse than you, is worse off than you, was dealt a less favorable hand than you, and yet they’re not complaining and still doing more than you are. 

Agency means doing what you can with what you have, no matter the situation. Victimhood means wallowing in self pity and blaming other things or other people for the reason you’re in such a state, and putting in no effort to change it. 

Those with agency succeed. They get up when they get knocked down. They make the decision based on right and wrong, rather than how they’re feeling. They keep moving forward, regardless of the conditions. Those with victim mentalities continue to sink lower and lower, and as a hallmark sign, they try to bring others down with them. 

A final word of advice is that unless you can tell yourself you did 100% of everything you possibly could have to mitigate the damage done…

Unless you made only perfect decisions and put yourself in the best possible situation you could have throughout your entire career…

You cannot blame the military as a whole for your state of brokenness. You can not blame rucking for your bad back, bad knees, or lack of general physical fitness.

Hint: no one fits this category. We all make these decisions throughout our career. I made them all the time. My body is more degraded than it otherwise could have been had I not spent 12 years in SOF. Some of the reasons are beyond my control and not my fault.  But here I am - life goes on, and although I’m not fully at fault, I AM now fully responsible. 

If you’re a former military member sitting on your couch blaming the military for all your struggles, you have the ability to change now. You could reply with a negative comment to an IG post and explain how your own unique situation is different. Or you could use it as fuel. Do some deep introspection. Exercise some humility. Accept responsibility. Play the hand you’re dealt. it’s up to you.

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