How to Make a Sandbag Pill for Weighted Ruck Runs

by June 10, 2011 06/10/11
Sandbag Pill

Lately I’ve been going on Ruck Runs to build myself up for the GORUCK Challenges I’ll be doing in Oklahoma and Dallas this year, followed by the GORUCK Ascent in September with Mike.

While I haven’t done many Ruck Runs since leaving the Navy, I still use the construction techniques I was taught at BUD/s to make different weighted “pills” to run with in my pack/ruck.

Pills you say? Yep, that was how we used to refer to the taped up sandbags we’d run with during Second Phase in BUD/s. Primarily because the taped sandbags resemble pills and there’s the whole “take your pills” chant that you’d tell yourself when it was time to go for the Ruck Runs.

Ruck Running

At BUD/s your class inevitably winds up getting a nice “fresh” instructor to lead the Ruck Runs for all the fatigued students and they always suck. I did find they became more tolerable the more we did and the fact they were on sand definitely helps your knees. Soft Sand Running is worse than hard packed, but they’re both better than tearing up your knees on concrete.

I mention this as a warning to those that are out there training with a weighted pack. The added weight will put more stress on your knees, legs, ligaments, tendons, etc.; you should try to stick to grass/dirt whenever possible. When I run distance with weight, it’s been through residential areas and I try to stick to grassy medians or dirt if it’s around.

How to Make a Pill

Sandbag Pill

It’s a fairly simple process, but I’ve made a video of the process below nonetheless. All you need is a bag of Play Sand, commonly available in 50 lb. bags at your local hardware store, a sandbag, 100 mph tape or Duct Tape and a scale. Sandbags can also be found at your local hardware store too, but can be tricky to find.

The construction is just having a buddy hold a sandbag while you dump in the amount of sand necessary (more on that below) and fold over the sandbag. Next, tape it all up because sand does leak from sandbags and over time half of it will wind up in the bottom of your ruck or pack. Once taped your essentially done, unless you want to accessorize your pill with an ITS sticker!

Why Run with Weight?

Sandbag Pill

There’s a couple of schools of thought on this and the one that I subscribe to is what I’ve talked about before in the article titled “Can you Physically Save Yourself?” I want to know that there’s nothing my body isn’t capable of and if that’s running with weight on my back, then so be it. I want to be prepared and continue to challenge myself.

Can you damage your knees by running with weight? You bet, regular running technically “damages” your knees too. You can save yourself from more weight-bearing injuries if you follow a few simple tips. First, get a ruck or pack with an upper compartment like the radio pocket in US Issue Alice Packs. The radio pocket is what we used to put our pills into at BUD/s, as it’s perfect to help keep the weight high up on your shoulders. Keeping the weight high is the second tip, it will allow for the most even distribution across your body when running.

You also want to watch the weight you run with and just like running you don’t want to increase more than 10% in distance per week. This also applies to the weight; don’t increase the weight you’re running with more than 10% a week. In Mike’s write-up on his GORUCK Challenge, he mentioned that his pack weighed about 16 lbs. which is why I made a 15 lb. pill to train with. In Second Phase our BUD/s Ruck Runs would always be with a 35 lb. pill stuffed in the radio pockets our Alice Packs. A buddy of mine in the Teams let me know that 1st Phase is now integrating Ruck Runs with 35 lb. pills too.

Here’s some additional tips for proper form from Navy SEAL and Endurance Athlete David Goggins:

How about Ruck Marches and not Runs?

Sandbag Pill

If you’re not comfortable running with weight, there’s also tremendous cardiovascular benefit with Ruck Marches, or simply a fast paced walk with a weighted ruck/pack. Essentially this is like backpacking too.

My friend and Air Force PJ Nate Morrison has written a great book called Military Fitness: A Manual of Special Physical Training. In it he goes into Ruck Marches and some guidelines on where to start which are listed here:

Begin with 20% of your bodyweight. Stay with that weight for 2-3 weeks. Accomplish 2-3 ruck marches a week on days you are not running. The set distance is 5 miles. Every three weeks increase your weight but maintain your distance of five miles. Just like running you have to build one quality at a time. You can’t run fast AND far at the same time. You get your distance down first, then you work on speed. In rucking, you get your weight bearing capacity down first for a set distance, then increase the distance, then the speed if necessary. If you push yourself properly (fast enough so talking is possible but a bit labored) you should have the speed you need at the end.

Progression is as follows:

  • Week 1-3: 20% bodyweight x5 miles
  • Week 4-6: 25% x5 miles
  • Week 7-9: 30% x5 miles
  • Week 10-12: 40% x5 miles (do not exceed 40% of BW, for me at 175lbs this is 70lbs)
  • Week 13-14: 40% x6 miles
  • Week 15-16: 40% x7 miles
  • Week 17-18: 40% x8 miles
  • Week 19-20: 40% x10 miles
  • Week 21-22: 40% x12 miles
  • Week 23-24: 40% x15 miles

Tips:

  • Use a large ALICE pack, smartwool expedition socks, and Danner Acadia boots or the old basic training boots and take care of your feet!
  • Notice that this is 6 months of training but it should be a solid injury free six months with plenty of time for your nervous system, bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to adapt properly.
  • Do Kettlebell work on days you do not ruck and calisthenics on the days you do ruck.
  • Swim 1-2 times a week and pay close attention to your sleep and recovery.

Notes

Hopefully this article has given you a little exposure to running and marching with weight and the benefits behind it. You’ll also be amazed at the difference after running with weight and running afterwards without any weight. This can also help your regular running, much the same way weighted pullups can help train your regular pullups.

Please do your own research before running with weight and do what feels right for you. There’s definitely a certain amount of suck you have to endure running with weight, but be smart about it and don’t try to push through your body giving you warning signs. Oh, and of course the old disclaimer applies… consult your doctor before beginning. I really hate that disclaimer!

Click here to view the photos on Flickr.

 


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Jeff Morter
Jeff Morter

Awesome video. I'm signed up for a GORUCK and thought this would be the best way to train. I'm currently on DET so I had to modify the supplies with what I could find at the commissary/NEX. Instead of sand and a sand bag I bought a standard size pillow case and three 5 lb. bags of rice. Total cost including duct tape was about $25. I wasn't able to get it as well shaped as yours but it fits in my 511 Rush 24 nicely. Hopefully I'll be back in time to make the challenge. Thanks again for the video!

Edward
Edward

I made a sandbag pill like described here. I weighed sandbag before tape job and weight was 32 Lbs. I found this size to be a tight fit into radio pocket of surplus ARMY ALICE field pack as shown in photos. If you wont your pill to fit into radio pocket don't go any bigger.

andrew
andrew

quick question, is there any particular reason to use a large alice pack over a medium one?

Chris Bingham
Chris Bingham

Followed the instructions in the video and now have 3 different sized and weight pills. Started hiking (not doing the running part) and with just a week I feel a big physical difference. Training for extended backpacking trips. Thanks for the help.

John
John

I have developed a product that you may be interested in. It is called the "Load Trainer". It allows weights to sit higher up and closer to your back. Which makes rucking easier and less strenuous on the spine. You can check it out at http://innovativeperformance.co/page7.php

Thanks

John

Innovativeperformance.co

John
John

I have developed a product that you may be interested in. It is called the "Load Trainer". It allows weights to sit higher up and closer to your back. Which makes rucking easier and less strenuous on the spine. You can check it out at http://innovativeperformance.co/page7.php Thanks John Innovativeperformance.co

Byron
Byron

how do you know how much it weights? is it all estimates or do i need a scale? (when making it you just had a bunch of sand, i never saw u checking the weight)

Grimmly
Grimmly

Mike--

oh my gosh was that fun!!! Class 049, while small in number, was huge in heart. We were six strong and experienced 'good livin' in a way only Minnesota could. 3 trips into the mighty Mississippi, three of our 10,000 lakes, a good midwestern thunderstorm and about 17 miles of fun! What an amazing experience I NEED MORE!!!

Bryan is going to dig it in OKC for sure.

Jack Jalbert
Jack Jalbert

Hey, i ran over your youtube page while looking for how to field strip an m16. im currently enlisted in the army and i leave for BCT at the end of August. About 2 months ago i bought a weighted vest to help in the training so i can get the best score on my APFT. I plan on trying to go spec. ops later in my military career. Would you recommend these ruck runs for someone who is trying to get faster/ and to get into better physical condition?

-thanks

Jack Jalbert
Jack Jalbert

Hey, i ran over your youtube page while looking for how to field strip an m16. im currently enlisted in the army and i leave for BCT at the end of August. About 2 months ago i bought a weighted vest to help in the training so i can get the best score on my APFT. I plan on trying to go spec. ops later in my military career. Would you recommend these ruck runs for someone who is trying to get faster/ and to get into better physical condition? -thanks

Conor Hough
Conor Hough

got to love some Good Livin' GoRuck Style

Grimmly
Grimmly

Bryan--

Are you doing the GoRucks with the Pills, or bricks? Looks like the Pills are a bit bulkier than the brick packages I have made for training and the Minneapolis GoRuck

Grimmly
Grimmly

Bryan-- Are you doing the GoRucks with the Pills, or bricks? Looks like the Pills are a bit bulkier than the brick packages I have made for training and the Minneapolis GoRuck

AF
AF

what kind of running shoes are you using for your ruck runs?

Bryan Black
Bryan Black

You trying to show me up? LOL Thanks for the input brother!

Mike Petrucci
Mike Petrucci

Actually, while the bricks themselves weighed 16 pounds, once I got my ruck all packed with water, and food and some team weight, it was probably closer to 25 or 30. But that's still alright because I was running with 35 and 40 pounds during 'training.'

Mike Petrucci
Mike Petrucci

Bryan is out of town for a few days but he'll be doing the GORUCK Challenge with the bricks because it's in the rules. But I agree, the pills certainly seem bulkier. I haven't run with them and have only used bricks for my training runs (and the Challenge itself) but the one thing the pills might be better for is 'comfort.' I mean, they won't have any sharp edges at all to worry about. Although, there is always a chance of leaking but with bricks you don't have that problem, thus more good livin'! Have fun in your Challenge bro!

Bryan Black
Bryan Black

AF, I'm using Salomon SpeedCross 2's It's my third pair of Salomons and while they seem to wear quickly I love them. Trying to gather my thoughts for a review on them soon.

Grimmly
Grimmly

Mike-- oh my gosh was that fun!!! Class 049, while small in number, was huge in heart. We were six strong and experienced 'good livin' in a way only Minnesota could. 3 trips into the mighty Mississippi, three of our 10,000 lakes, a good midwestern thunderstorm and about 17 miles of fun! What an amazing experience I NEED MORE!!! Bryan is going to dig it in OKC for sure.

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