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How to Not Hate Exercise by Mary Hogan

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with exercise since high school.

As a tired teenager who wanted to lose weight and be stronger, I turned to the most boring and standard method of fitness: exercise machines. Every day after school, I’d retreat down to my musty basement and go on my family’s elliptical machine for hours. I’d watch Seinfeld episodes and sweat until I reached a calorie count that I designated as acceptable for the day. Then, I’d hop off and do the same thing the next day. I was bored. Lacking motivation. I also wasn’t getting stronger, and that’s what bothered me the most.

In addition to waning motivation and frustratingly stagnant progress in building strength, I, like all high school seniors, faced many quickly-approaching changes on the horizon. I had a close and tight group of friends in high school, and as graduation drew nearer, the thought of leaving my pack to venture into the unknown was understandably scary. I was moving four hours away from a busy suburb/metropolitan area to go to school in a small college town in the mountains of southwest Virginia. In this phase of my life when soon all I would have to face everyday was the unfamiliar, I realized that something had to change. If I launched into college with this low confidence and a fear of exploring the unknown, there was no way I could be successful or happy. 

With these thoughts bouncing around my head and senior final exams happening, GORUCK entered into my life and started me down a new path.

This began when I asked my high school physics teacher about his weird shirt that read, “Log Relocation Team.” After explanations about coupons and log carries and nearly indestructible backpacks, he told me that to start, you just needed to put weight in a backpack and move with it. I thought that sounded too easy to count as exercise. I was of the horrifying mindset that if you weren’t running and/or strapped into some exercise machine, you weren’t really working out. However, he explained the physics of the rucking: the more weight you carry, the more you have to work to accommodate the extra weight while moving. That includes stabilizing forces, the extra force needed to push up under the weight with each step, the stress on the shoulder muscles under the surface area of the straps. I came to realize that this may be the new form of fitness I had subconsciously been hoping for. After coming to terms with the fact that I loathed exercise machines at that point, I decided to give it a try. After feeling the burn that resulted from the first ruck, I knew I was hooked.

I started rucking with a freebie backpack filled with 25 pounds’ worth of old yearbooks. Once that fell apart mid-ruck and left me with a few more “coupons” than I had intended, I got a used Bullet Ruck and a 20 pound ruck plate.

Next, as college drew closer, I realized a Jansport wasn’t going to cut it with a fragile laptop and heavy textbooks to lug around campus everyday.

Enter the Women’s GR1 with curved straps. After reading the reviews about how comfortable the higher weight pouch in the Rucker was, I decided that it would be my event ruck and the GR1 would be my school ruck. With these three rucksacks and a Kit Bag, I never have to go back to the world of ephemeral backpacks that are good for a year before they fall apart.

After a couple of years of GORUCK fitness, it has morphed into my way of life. In my opinion, one of the best aspects of rucking/GORUCK fitness is the strategy of hiding your miles. After reading many of Jason’s posts touting the benefits of fitting in a ruck while doing something else,

 

“Hide Your Miles” has become my mantra. I wear a weighted ruck while walking to the grocery store, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, walking my puppy, and all around campus.

 

My GR1 and MACV-1s go with me everywhere on campus, usually with a 10 pound plate thrown into the ruck with the rest of my books for some extra weight. The ability to multitask with  a workout is invaluable to a college student. I never got the Freshman Fifteen because, while most students were pulling their hair out with stress about just getting in a walk to their mailbox, I was able to keep up this non-time consuming hobby and keep building my fitness. By keeping up my rucking and rucking-based fitness, I had finally found a fitness plan that didn’t leave me burnt-out and lethargic. My deadlift PR doubled. Now, I’ve done a Star Course 50 miler, a couple of Heavy Challenges, some Toughs, and a handful of Lights.

I’m currently in my Junior year of a Mechanical Engineering major and an Engineering, Science, and Mechanics minor. With studying, homework, school, and a social life, I don’t have an enormous amount of time for my training. Because of that, I value any training that yields large benefits in a small amount of time. My event training currently centers primarily around Aerobic+Alactic (A+A) programming, endorsed by Pavel Tsatsouline and Al Ciampa. A+A is meant to increase one’s aerobic capacity/endurance without sacrificing strength. It consists of performing repeated, high-power movements (usually kettlebell swings) in small sets. After each set, there’s a break that lasts long enough for the body to regain its ability to work with maximum strength again. These rest periods work the aerobic system, and the explosive swings increase strength and ability to generate power. I usually do three days of this training a week: 20 sets on Monday, 30 on Wednesday, and 24 on Friday. Each set is 5 one-handed swings with a 20kg kettlebell. 

In addition to the A+A training, I like to train in ways that tax the glycolytic system. This usually includes one of the GORUCK-provided WODs, or adapting almost any Crossfit WOD to be ruck-centric (I usually substitute the running portions with rucking, because running sucks!) One of my favorite ways to train is with sandbags (cleans, overhead presses, tosses, etc.)

Of course, any GRT knows that the best way to get endurance training in is to toss a plate into a ruck and just put one foot in front of the other.

I tend to ruck heavy (40-50lbs in plates, or ruck with a coupon) so that I can get more training out of fewer miles. The Rucker is my go-to training ruck; keeping the weight up high and tight with a chest strap eliminates the rucksack from bee-bopping around and creates a nice shelf for sandbags to sit on during coupon rucks. 

When I think about how I’ve changed in the past two years, I can pinpoint rucking as a catalyst to my journey to becoming more confident and self-possessed. I left high school feeling somewhat aimless, and not happy with who I was or my abilities. Since then, I’ve reframed the way that I look at progress and growth, and I came to realize something: you’ve known yourself for your whole life. This seems obvious, but it’s not something that people think about as often as they should. When you see someone every single day, it’s hard to see changes in them. You grow used to recognizing yourself daily for your insecurities or weaknesses, because that’s how so many of our brains are wired. What we aren’t inclined or likely to see are the little daily changes and bits of progress that we accomplish. I understood this recently, when I was perusing the pictures that my friend took of me for this blog post.

The picture of myself doing a ruck high-pull caused me to do a double-take.

I felt like I wasn’t looking at myself. The person whose muscles and obvious determination that I was seeing couldn’t be me. But of course it was. It was the same person who used to hate-exercise monotonously every day because they felt weak and hopeless. There was indisputable pictorial evidence of my progress. This, finishing events, or doing a hard workout are the ways that we show ourselves the evident progress we’re making that we’re otherwise struggling to see. 

 In preparing for GORUCK events, I am always able to find a new challenge to train and strive for. A Light. A Tough. Star Course. Heavy Drop Training. A Heavy. When you’re pushing yourself past your previously conceived limits so frequently, it’s imperative that you have a strong community to fall back on.

The GORUCK community has provided me with the best teammates, friends, and support group that anyone could ask for.

Even more than that, it’s helped me become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Frankly, when you’re constantly pushing yourself into uncomfortable zones, you realize what a badass you are. And that confidence and strength is vital for dealing with the uncertainties in life that we all inevitably face.

 

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