Training for Army Special Forces with the GoRuck Challenge

Training for Army Special Forces with the GoRuck Challenge

There are many military related fitness events these days.  The GoRuck programs teach valuable lessons such as team work, persistence, and require a never quit attitude pulled from an untapped reservoir of your own mental toughness.  These can be great schools for your own personal growth, a corporate team building exercise, or actual Special Ops preparation.  The GoRuck Challenge (www​.goruckchallenge​.com) is one of those events taught by former Army Special Forces soldiers than can teach you to engage your mental toughness through a challenging 10–12 hour event.  The cadre have performed hundreds of these 10–12 hour Challenges all over the world.  The highly professional cadre let you see a city like you never imagined!  Now there are other options for you to progress no matter what fitness level you are:

Go Ruck Light, Go Ruck Challenge, Go Ruck Selection, Go Ruck Heavy.  Each progress logically

My Army SF buddies from Go Ruck recently asked me how I would train someone for a Go Ruck event.  Since there are several events with differing levels of intensity and time of struggle, it all depends on the event as well as the person’s fitness level for how we get started.  the question is — How do you train for a GUT CHECK?

Mental Toughness – A Must

There is an element of mental toughness that has to be discovered by the participants.  Can you train for this?  It is debatable, but I do think you can train to engage mental toughness.  What you need to do though is be fit enough so you do not injure yourself with some common overuse injury.  If you are very fit your joints will not be “overused” during the training.  They will still hurt – but not get injured due to simply running or rucking.

The Mental Toughness Moment usually arrives several hours into the event when you feel like you cannot move, but you mentally will yourself to take another step, lift another log, or crawl through another frigid puddle.  Your fitness level always plays a hand in your performance.  Your ability to recover from running, then rucking, then lifting, and crawling will be beneficial to how much it personally sucks for you.  It is all relative; relative to how much training you did to prepare for this event.

The secret is that we all have this survival /​ fight mode in us and you will tap into it at some point and when you do you can learn how to manage it and control yourself.  It makes you realize that your body is ten times stronger than your mind will let it be.  By disengaging the mind (I can’t /​ I quit /​ not me phrases), you can realize your full potential.  This is usually the challenge and the moment of self-​​realization that people seek when they choose Special Ops professions or want to train like Special Ops Warriors.

For this article, we will assume we have someone who works out regularly – maybe a Crossfitter, powerlifter, avid runner, or triathlete.  Basically, someone who is considered fit, but has never rucked before and now needs a plan on how to add a new layer of fitness to their routine and weekly schedule. Someone with roughly an hour a day of fitness on average is what I would consider a solid foundation on which to add a layer of rucking and more running.

Warning – to be honest, there is no one hour workout that truly prepares you enough for a day of Special Ops training.  So you have to put in the time.  An hour a day will not prepare you for a 10–12 hour Go Ruck Challenge or a Selection.  You simply have to put in the extra time or running more, rucking more, or just carrying around an extra 30–40 lbs all day in a back pack.

About the Go Ruck Challenges

Using backpacks with weight as well as any heavy objects in their path, the training cadre will take several individuals and make them a team in a few short hours.  GoRuck design their own military special forces grade back packs. Their rucks are designed and built in the United States, and abused worldwide. All GORUCK gear is tough enough for Special Forces and adheres to the highest standards of functionality, durability, and style.  But GoRuck is obviously much more than a tactical gear company!

Some of the training you should consider doing is what the military calls Ruck Marches.  Also known as “forced marches” or “humps”, these events are basically walking at a fast pace over rough terrain with a weighted backpack. Rucking takes some time to prepare for so progress logically and you will have less chance of getting injured.  If you do not run regularly, do not start rucking immediately.  Build a foundation of running, then start to add weight over several weeks.

Preparing for a Go Ruck Challenge, you need to train the major muscle groups of the body — legs and back to prepare for the rucks and runs. BUT, your upper body (core, shoulders, and arms) comes into play carrying the backpack as well.   You will get most of your exhaustion from the legs and lower back. So, training your legs in running, leg PT, and rucking will build stamina and endurance you need for any type of land navigation training.  Since you are being taught by former Army Special Forces soldiers, it will help you to train as if you are going through Special Ops training programs.  This means lots of upper body PT (pullups, pushups, situps, flutterkicks — and more pushups!!), running, some swimming (getting wet through surf torture), walking lunges, squats, and of course RUCKING!

There are many ways to develop the endurance needed for the GoRuck Challenges. Here are some sample workouts pulled from the Army Ranger /​ SF Prep Workout

The Run and Leg PT Workout:

Repeat 4–5 times

Run 1 mile at your goal pace (6–8:00/mile) (no ruck sack)
Squats — 30
Lunges — 20 /​ leg
Calves (heel raises) — 30 per leg
Plank pose 1 min

Bike and Leg PT:

Repeat 4–5 times
Bike 5:00 at increasing levels per minute on a Life Cycle type stationary bike
Squats — 30
Lunges — 20 /​ leg
Calves — 30 per leg
Plank pose 1 min

*You can use woodchopper squats /​ lunges or kettlebell swings for a harder version that these non-​​weighted exercises if this is too easy — See link demonstrating Woodchopper Squats

Long Distance Bike /​ Leg Workout — good for non impact aerobic /​ leg conditioning (if you need a break from impact of run /​ rucks)

(Life Cycle Pyramid) — On a stationary bike with manual mode and levels of resistance:

Start at level 1 for 1 minute; increase resistance level by 1 level each minute until you can no longer pedal in between the 80–90 RPM zone. Typically, people will do this workout for 20–30 minutes depending on the bike they have. Some bikes will max out at level 12 and some will go to at least 20 levels. Both are tough to get to the top of the pyramid levels. Once at the top, repeat all levels in reverse order and work yourself down the other side of the pyramid. Usually by the end of the pyramid, there is a puddle under you and your legs will be exhausted.

Training for Log PT:  It is not a bad idea to add in some weight training when training for these programs, as log PT is painful and can be very painful if your team is not working together under that log.  Prior to BUDS, I did a lot of military press — BUT not heavy — just lots of reps to build endurance/​ muscle stamina.  A log may weigh 200 lbs but when you have 8 people under it you only lift 25 lbs or so — many, many times.  Grabbing a set of 15–25 lb dumbbells and lifting overhead presses will work fine.  There are many other options too:

You can use a barbell for overhead presses or grab a partner and each of you hold one end of a barbell and press it together with 50-​​75lbs on it so you start to understand that this exercise is ALL about teamwork.  

There is a way to do overhead or push presses with a log by yourself as often many of us lack a buddy who wants to do these type of workouts.  See the Winter Workout video from my Youtube channel.  If you can get your team under the log all doing a Push Press at the same time Log PT is A LOT less painful!

You have to love burpees, 8 count pushups, and pullups as a tool to prepare for these type of courses.  See the Obstacle Course Simulator workout using these exercises in a very tough upper body pyramid 

For more information on preparing for the Special Forces Assessment Course or any course with long ruck marches and land navigation, see the Army SF Guidelines (USAREC Pam 601–25). It is a free download you can get at SFAS Course link: http://​www​.stewsmith​.com/​s​f​g​u​i​d​e​l​i​n​e​s​.​pdf

Here is a run and ruck program that is recommended if you are going to do the Go Ruck Light or Go Ruck Challenge.  This is best performed after you have built up a base of running for at least a 3–4 mile run with little or no effort and absolutely NO PAIN totaling at least at 12–15 miles per week.

This is a SUPPLEMENTAL Run/​Ruck Progression Chart done in addition to your normal workout:

13 miles3 milesoff3 miles2 mile3 mile RUCKoff
24 miles3 milesoff3 miles3 miles3 mile RUCKoff
34 miles2 mile ruck paceoff3 miles3 miles4 mile RUCKoff
44 miles2 mile ruck paceoff3 miles3 miles5 mile RUCKoff
55 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCKoff6 mile RUCKoff
65 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCKoff7  mile RUCKoff

 *Pace days (Tuesday) work on your pace so you are able to get a mile well under 15 min.

** add weight as you wish but start out with 25lbs in a back pack or weight vest.  If you are training for military rucks I would recommend a back pack as you need to get familiar with the load /​ how to carry weight in it and what works best for your body type.  Typical weight gain is 5–10 lbs a week. So by week 6 you should be in the 30-​​40lb zone easy.

Here is a run and ruck program that I would recommend if you are going to do the Go Ruck Selection or Go Ruck Heavy where you will be moving with weight for 24–48 hours and putting in some higher miles than you normally train for.  You need a solid foundation for this one if you want to graduate these programs so it is recommended to complete the shorter programs first and then be fully prepared for the harder /​ longer events:

Here is a run and ruck program that I would recommend if you are going to do the Go Ruck Selection or Go Ruck Heavy where you will be moving with weight for 24–48 hours and putting in some higher miles than you normally train for.  You need a solid foundation for this one as this preparation program starts off at a high progression.  Do this chart below if you have a solid base of at least 20 miles a week of run /​ ruck mix.

This is a SUPPLEMENTAL Run/​Ruck Progression Chart done in addition to your normal workout:

14 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run6  mile RUCKoff
24 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run7  mile RUCKoff
34 miles2 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run8 mile RUCKoff
43 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run9 mile RUCKoff
53 miles2 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run10 mile RUCKoff
63 miles3 mile ruck paceoff3 mile RUCK5 mile run12  mile RUCKoff

*If you want to give yourself a gut check test add in another long ruck during the week or weekend as long as you are not feeling any overuse pain.

Remember — do the time if you want to be properly prepared for these events — especially the 12+ hour events that will push your body beyond its “mental limits”.



  1. Mark Czartoryski says:

    15 of us have been doing this type of training since Nov. 2012 for the Pittsburgh Goruck Challenge in May.

  2. Andy GRT 086/269 says:

    Well put sir. Id say that about does it. Might I add, respectively, that even a moderately fit person take a solid 3 months to propertly prepare for their first challenge. A good final test before the challenge would be to go out rucking, mix in core exercises and running , for about 6 hours. But at the end of the day, its all mental. Ask yourself how bad you really want it.

    • Mark Czartoryski says:

      We are heading out for some Good Liv\‘n Friday night at 2300 hrs to about 0200 through the trails.

  3. Paul says:

    I lost parts of my soul on the tank trails at Bragg during their heavy. I witnessed many VW simply because they lacked the PMA and had a real goal in their head.

    It\‘s great training and an even better community.

  4. mka says:

    These young sf\‘s have it a lot harder than us old timers.
    During the vn war,if you could stand airborne\“which was a lot harder then than now,thanks to the politically correctness) and the ftx end of it,your physical
    torture was pretty much over.
    I do not have to mention the problems gps cause the young troops to stop them from coping some zz\‘s
    We would find our first objectives during ftx,then hit it for the main road and find the others by shooting an azmuth. Airborne was harder,but hats off to you young-uns,the training looks much more difficult.

  5. Chris says:

    You\‘ve switched, in the progression, Heavy & Selection.

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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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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