Up next in our coffee with a BEAST is an interview between Lisa Stephenson (LS) from Ruck Strong and Derek Hill (DH).
Lisa is the founder of Ruck Strong. She’s been featured on the All Day Ruckoff podcast and you should really listen to that great conversation. I wanted to catch up with her to see how things were going and what had changed since Ruck Strong had started. If Ruck Strong is something that you’re interested in then it’s worth noting that a new training cycle is starting on 1/1/2022. If patches are your thing then it’s worth noting there will be a special edition 2-year anniversary patch available for everyone completing the program requirements.
Lisa knows endurance events and continues to push herself every year. She has previously finished multiple Ironman events, GORUCK HTB’s (Back when they were HCL’s) and all kinds of other awesome endurance events. Most recently in 2021 Lisa completed the Ironman Wisconsin.
DH: Can you tell me a little about your background. How did you decide to launch Ruck Strong?
LS: I have spent a lot of time over the years observing how people train and helping them train for rucking events. We do a lot of PT and a lot of rucking, both of which are necessary in training for events. However, it’s really important that we do all of that work on a foundation of strength and movement quality. Serious athletes, whether they play a sport or are tactical athletes, do strength training because it increases sports performance and makes them more resilient. I really felt that strength training, in a way that is meaningful for making us better athletes in our ruck-based sport, was missing. This has always been my focus as a coach – helping people move better, move faster, perform better, and reduce their risk of injury by developing sport-appropriate strength.
One area that especially concerns me is that we have a lot of people that are new to exercise jumping into rucking and doing PT. They’ve never worked with a coach and learned to move properly or developed the underlying strength that will help support their new fitness goals and help them avoid injury. I think it’s fantastic that people are finding rucking and it’s helping them embrace new goals and challenges but I want to do my part in helping ensure that they get the training they may need to help set them up for long-term success.
DH: What is Ruck Strong? What do people do in the program?
LS: It’s a strength training program that focuses on building strength in ways that will help enhance performance and reduce potential injury in rucking athletes. We do the big lifts to build raw strength and we do accessory movements to help address weaknesses that are common in athletes and so that we become more durable and don’t leave potential performance gains on the floor. We work on coordination, posture, balance and mobility under load. We don’t do any rucking in Ruck Strong. It’s a program that can easily be integrated with the rucking and PT that someone is already doing, whether they are doing PATHFINDER Ruck Training, training with their ruck club, or training on their own. Ruck Strong doesn’t take a ton of extra time. It’s only a few hours a week.
The amount of weight you lift or number of reps you do for each movement in Ruck Strong is based on RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Essentially, you determine the appropriate amount of weight to lift/reps to do based on how you feel. This helps to make sure that Ruck Strong is something that gives you a performance-enhancing and restorative effect rather than pushing you into overtraining with all the other activities you do. For instance, each month you start the workouts at a RPE of 6 – you do the movements at what feels like a 6 out of 10 effort, taking into account all your recent training/events, life stress, lack of sleep, etc. that may impact how hard a movement feels that day. Each week, we repeat the same 3 workouts and increase the RPE, eventually to a 9 out of 10 effort the final week of the month, always making sure that we push ourselves at an appropriate level for you. By repeating the same workouts several times but at a harder level, we are using the tried and true concept of progressive overload, in which we increase strength as our body adapts to the repeated stimulus. The next month, you start with new workouts back at an RPE of 6 and build up again.
DH: Was it hard to shift during COVID?
LS: It was because I really wanted Ruck Strong to initially be a barbell only program. That’s where my mind was when we started. We were in the middle of a Ruck Strong cycle when all the gyms started closing. Just adding in sandbag training wasn’t easy. People have different weights of sandbags relative to their strength and some barbell movements don’t translate well to sandbags. Positioning becomes compromised and some movements become less effective with lighter weights. I couldn’t just tell people to do the same movements but use a sandbag instead of a barbell. If you have a 300-pound deadlift, you won’t build much strength doing 3 sets of 5 reps of deadlifts with your 80-pound sandbag. So now, each movement in Ruck Strong that is done with a barbell has a modification for people that are using a sandbag to ensure that sandbag strength training is equally effective as barbell training. Ultimately, I’m glad that I was pushed to include sandbags as an alternative to barbells because it gives people more access to the program. There’s no reason you can’t strength train with a sandbag. It’s turned into a really positive change.
DH: Other than that how has the program evolved?
LS: I’m always learning – whether it’s staying on top of research into how to enhance athletic performance through strength training or learning from the people in the program and I incorporate those learnings as I program for each cycle. It’s been interesting having people in the program and learning what movements they struggle with, what they like and don’t like, etc. We do a lot of weighted mobility exercises as part of our accessory movements and I’ve been surprised at how challenging and helpful those can be for people and I have plans to further progress that part of the program.
One key part of the program that has been there since it started is that for every movement I explain why we are doing it, provide step-by-step written instructions and an instructional video. They can see it, read about it and understand the why. I also provide the option for people to send me videos if they’d like me to do a form check. I know not everyone likes to make and send me videos of themselves so I’m planning to go deeper into providing resources for people so that they can do some self-assessment of their movements.
DH: What kind of results are people having?
LS: I’m most proud of people that have had an event and maybe didn’t feel like they performed their best so they signed up for Ruck Strong. I’ve heard multiple times that at their next event they are able to carry things longer, feel better, feel stronger, and be a better teammate.
It’s also rewarding to see people improve in different ways over the course of the program. Sometimes it’s setting a PR on a lift, sometimes it’s noticing the effects of better balance, posture and bodily control or moving with less pain. Having that carry over into their training and events in the form of rucking faster or performing better, makes me really proud as a coach.
The funniest result that I didn’t anticipate people mentioning so much is that they are loving that their butts are getting nicer.
DH – Thank you so much for your time today. What else should we know about Ruck Strong?
LS: The next Cycle starts on January 1st and registration will open on Black Friday. This will mark the 2-year anniversary cycle of Ruck Strong. We’ll have some special deals on registration and an exclusive Finisher’s patch color to celebrate – olive green!
Winter is a great time for strength training. A lot of people don’t have as much time to get out and ruck over the winter – snow, lack of daylight, etc. gets in the way. It’s also a slow season for events. Ruck Strong workouts take about an hour 2-3 times a week and can really help you build a foundation to start training for next years’ events. Strength training can also allow you to reduce some mileage and still increase your rucking performance. You get a lot of bang for your buck and you’ll see a lot of improvements in your fitness. I encourage people to try something new. Incorporate strength training into your training plan, explore new movements, do something different that will help you reach your goals while staying healthy and engaged in your training.