When Zane Memon feels the midday slump approaching, the entrepreneur knows it’s time to lace up his shoes for a walk in Buena Vista Park, Mount Sutro Forest or another of his favorite San Francisco outdoor spots.
But before heading out the door, he grabs two things: his dog Joy’s leash and a backpack filled with a 35-pound plate.
Memon is one of many people in the tech industry who have become avid fans of rucking, a phenomenon that has become popular among fitness enthusiasts in recent years. The premise is simple: Ruckers fill a backpack with weights to enhance exercises like walks and hikes. For people with limited training time, rucking offers a one-two punch of cardio and strength training that can be less impactful than running or a HIIT workout.
In Silicon Valley, in particular, rucking resonates with entrepreneurs who are keen to optimize every part of their lives, whether the startups and venture capital firms they run or the types of workouts they do.
Memon, who co-founded AI healthcare startup Eureka Health, credits Rucking with conditioning his body to keep up with his high-energy pup. It also became an important part of his mental health routine and social world as he navigated his way as a founder. The respected startup accelerator program Y Combinator, of which Memon was a member in 2010, even has an alumni group that meets to pitch, he said.
“I’ll decide on an ad hoc route and go as fast as possible without headphones or other people with me,” he said in an interview with Insider. “It’s an opportunity to recharge, to be alone and sink a bit into silence. It had a big impact on my mental health.”
Rucking is making waves in Silicon Valley
“Rucking” in this context takes its name from rucksack, an alternative word for rucksack, which is especially common among hikers and the military. Although rucking is now trendy in tech circles, among fitness influencers and on TikTok, the act of carrying heavy things – and practicing it – has been around for thousands of years. The backpack was patented by Henry Merriam in 1878 for U.S. Army soldiers to better distribute weight and increase mobility — though that first version was uncomfortable and quickly discarded, according to a history of the backpack published by REI.
To this day, a staple of US military training is the dreaded “crab march,” where recruits must complete hours of marching in full gear with backpacks weighing about 45 pounds.
It is not clear how the tradition, which is seen as an essential – if hated – military skill made its way to civilians. But to date, there are more than 20 million rucking videos on TikTok, and brand-name gear for the exercise can cost $200 for a weighted vest or $255 for a backpack—plates not included.
Wilson Kriegel is no stranger to intense training: The serial entrepreneur is a former college athlete who competed in 10k and half marathons before falling in love with extreme sports like mountaineering and speed climbing.
There’s this sequence of building and solving things in different aspects throughout your life, whether it’s startups, relationships, or extreme sports.Wilson Kriegel
But for achieving great athletic feats, the highlight is speed climbing Denali, North America’s highest peak, in four days (depending on the route, climbers can typically expect to climb Denali in 15-18 days, according to the National Park Service ) — Kriegel turned to rucking as a way to train effectively while living in an apartment in New York.
“Denili is 22,000 feet above sea level and you have to carry 80 to 100 pounds over a glacier,” he said. “To train for that and get comfortable with the discomfort, there’s a lot of stair training and running with weights.”
Kriegel is the co-founder and CEO of Buildstock, a B2B marketplace for building materials. He also co-founded Pitch and Run, a community that hosts weekly runs for people in tech on New York’s West Side Highway. His weighted pack is a staple of meetings.
For Kriegel, taking on lofty fitness goals and turning uncomfortable training into a routine is directly related to his approach to building a startup.
“All the skills you develop doing fitness can be replicated with what you develop working in startups because they’re all about how you fine-tune the craft and develop the mind,” he said. “There’s this consistency of building and solving things in different aspects throughout your life, whether it’s startups, relationships or extreme sports.”
Memon, the co-founder of Eureka Health, said he started kicking about three years ago after noticing that his dog Joy had boundless energy on walks. He wanted to build up his fitness to keep up with her, so he grabbed a backpack and filled it with random items to make it heavier.
“I was fairly active and going to the gym to lift, but I wasn’t doing too much from a cardio standpoint,” he said. When he started adding weights, his walks and hikes became even more fun. As Memon continued to develop his rucking practice, he noticed that friends and peers in the tech community were coming out of the woodwork as rucking fans.
Today, Memon uses a 20-liter GoRuck backpack with a 35-pound plate and water bottles thrown in for a little extra weight.
“It feels like kind of the sweet spot where you can still do everything you normally do while walking around and it doesn’t feel too bad on my joints,” he said.
Compared to other forms of cardio, rucking can be an effective way to gain fitness, says Wendy Winn, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist at Custom Performance, a running-focused physical therapy practice in New York City. She told Insider that she’s seen an increase in people interested in adding weights and weight training to their outdoor activities, such as trail running and hiking.
“Increasing the weight you carry increases the demand on your cardiovascular system and therefore has a cardiovascular benefit from exercise,” she said. “The muscle demand is also greater all the way from the hips to the ankles than normal walking, so you’ll build strength in your legs over time.”
But Winn also cautioned that racking carries some risks, and that starting with lighter weights and wearing shock-absorbing shoes can help rackers reduce their chances of injury.
“Even though the participants in the studies had a lot of stress on their legs, they didn’t report feeling tired,” she said. “This means that the ruckers did not feel tired, but they were prone to injury. The main risks in all rucking studies are overuse leg injuries and stress fractures.”
Some founders and VCs fight on their own terms
Other startups and VCs are incorporating weighted packs into their routines to help them optimize both their fitness and workload.
Take Charlie Hale, co-founder of digital fitness platform Shred, who lives in Los Angeles. He doesn’t rush out, but wears a weighted vest purchased from Amazon as he completes his gym routine, which includes time on the StairMaster as well as traditional weight lifting.
I do the same exercises but with 25 pounds more weight. This is how I get the most return on investment for the time I spend training.Charlie Hale
“I’m always looking to get a little bit more out of the time I train and see how I can progress in 45 minutes and what I can do to keep challenging myself,” he said. “I’m doing the same exercises but with 25 pounds more weight. That’s how I get the biggest return on investment for the time I spend training.”
For Amanda Bradford, the founder of dating startup The League, which Match Group acquired last year, rucking is the perfect way to increase the intensity of the group dates and one-on-ones she usually takes on long walks in her Austin, Texas, neighborhood. or around Lady Bird Lake. She has used both weighted vests and weighted belts, but also enjoys weighted arm and ankle bands.
“I don’t like to run, but to increase the hit rate and intensity of my walks and hikes, I’ll add weights,” she said. “I’m a really big fan of rucking.”
Bradford added that she’ll take as many calls as she can while she’s back, and that ditching video calls has helped her improve communication with her teams.
“I’ve learned that if you’re doing something on the phone, people will share more when they’re not looking at Zoom screens, which can feel overwhelming,” she said.
On the other hand, Zamir Shuho, a San Francisco venture capitalist, hates cardio and reluctantly bought a bike last year to stay more motivated to exercise. The general partner at Vibranium.VC says he has friends who are big into riding but have never been interested in trying it himself, even though an important family member regularly wears a weighted vest while he works out: his American Staffordshire terrier, Lord Lincoln, who regularly participates in dog shows.
“My dog looks amazing, but I wanted to develop his chest muscles,” he said. “Almost every day I take the dog out for a walk and he has his vest on and he looks like a military dog. He’s going crazy. When I go hiking, my dog is the one with the heavy backpack.”