Some notes from a presentation I gave about ruck marching prior to the 30 kilometer Norwegian Foot March:
We all know that placement of the ruck is important and placement of the weight is important, but first I want to talk about what you’re doing with that weight. As we get tired and posture starts to deteriorate, that puts us at risk for a couple of key things…there’s back pain, neck pain, but also the potential for nerve irritation down the arms as we get hunched over and the straps increase stress on the nerves around this part of the body.
Here's an interesting nugget, there’s a lot of research out there on the factors contributing to injuries related to ruck marching, but one finding has been the effect of visual stability or gaze particularly during night time when a lot of these movements often occur. As we lose visual cues to orient ourselves when they get hidden by the dark, our gaze will tend to shift downward, which can pull our posture forward.
There’s also evidence that your ability to visually orient yourself can have a meaningful effect on trunk stability, which in turn has an effect on both joint health and performance. Fortunately, we’re only dealing with 25lbs, not 60-70 or even more, but this is all a nerdy roundabout way of saying your ability to maintain situational awareness can affect your posture. Or quite simply, remind yourself to maintain solid posture even when it really starts to suck in that 14-15 mile range. Obviously easier said than done, but every little bit counts.
Another key strategy is cadence. As we get tired, especially when running, the tendency for many people is to lengthen their stride in an attempt to stride it out. Which, if it gets you from point a to point b fastest then you gotta do what you gotta do. BUT along with this idea of mindfulness, monitoring your cadence so that it doesn’t drop. Because we know that with running, in general, a quicker cadence and shorter stride length will result in lower impact forces, which will ultimately decrease the risk of injury.
Final during event strategy is to be mindful of the slope on the side of the road. This can be a significant issue since the right leg ends up being higher than the left if we’re walking into traffic. If we have the whole road to use its not as big of an issue, but be aware that the repetitive stress of that slope will accumulate and can potentially cause some issues, maybe not during the event but quite likely afterward
A big part of avoiding injury actually has to do with what you do after the event. Theres a saying motion is lotion. Try to get some movement in the day after. That could be walking, bike elliptical are both good options. The pool as a zero gravity environment is possibly the best option, or a hotel pool if you’re headed out for the weekend.
It is important to recognize that depending on your fitness level and how fast you go in the event, your body may feel recovered before it is actually recovered. Let’s say you feel normal after 4-5 days, your muscles are still in a state of damage and need more time to repair. Still keep moving but just because you feel great doesn’t mean its time to go squatting heavy.
Massage is one of the best things you can do, but this isn’t the time to go super deep and aggressive. Same applies for self massage like theragun or foam roller.
Spinal decompression, whether on the inversion table or hanging from a bar, although I wouldn’t get carried away with those if you haven’t done the inversion table before. Regardless, because there a more compressive forces applied over the course of 18 miles the spine does need an opportunity to decompress.
Probably one of the most overlooked and underrated recovery techiniques is legs up the wall. So basically you’re on the ground, and prop your legs straight up against a wall and just lay there for 5-10 minutes. It’s very relaxing and soothing both for the tissues and the nervous system as a whole.
Allan Phillips, PT, DPT is owner of Ventana Physiotherapy