How to Make a Sandbag Pill for Weighted Ruck Runs
How to Make a Sandbag Pill for Weighted Ruck Runs
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.
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
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?
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?
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
- 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.
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!