There are hundreds of GORUCK-affiliated ruck clubs and the number continues to grow. The issue a lot of leaders are having is that they can’t find like-minded people to share in their love of all things rucking.
I (Caitlin) am one of the leaders of Steel City Ruck Club (IG), along with Kristi Devenyi. We have had significant success with both club event participation and GORUCK event participation. For us, it seems as simple as create an event and people show up. But, I reflected for a while on the approach we take to running our club and the little things that make it successful and want to share 11 tips that have helped us grow our Ruck Club.
To give you a background on our club, Pittsburgh has been active in the GORUCK community for many years before ruck clubs were a thing. The OGs started a Pittsburgh GORUCK Alumni page, where those who completed a Challenge could join. There was also a separate page, with much less engagement for anyone interested in rucking (I didn’t even know this page existed until after I completed my first GORUCK event).
When official ruck clubs were launched by GORUCK, I had been rucking for a little over a year. I asked Kristi, who was also very active, why we were not an official club. She reached out to the admins of Pittsburgh GORUCK Alumni and got the go-ahead to transform the page to Steel City Ruck Club, and she became an admin. It was then opened to anyone interested in rucking. Since I was creating the majority of the events, I became an admin as well a couple months later. This was in 2018. We grew from 209 members to the 910 members we have now.
When it comes to running our club, we do all of our communication and event planning on our Facebook page. We have 3 questions you must answer prior to being accepted. If you don’t answer the questions, you are automatically declined, unless you were added by an active member. We keep all posts ruck/fitness related. We don’t allow spam/promotions/sales unless it is approved by an admin prior to the post. We don’t tolerate political talk, bullying, or any drama.
We also have a Steel City Ruck Club Instagram account that is primarily used to highlight the hard work our members are doing. We have gotten most of our growth through people joining from a local OCR group, finding our club page on GORUCK’s site, friend referrals, or random people seeing us out and about and wanting to join. We are not affiliated with any gym.
So yes, we were lucky to have a rucking base in our area. I do attribute a lot of our success to that, but frankly, 95% of them were not active once we transitioned to a ruck club. Our growth has been earned thanks to enthusiasm, consistency, and establishing true connections with the people we are rucking next to.
With all that said, here are 11 tips that can be used to grow your ruck club.
1. Have a balance of fun rucks and challenging rucks.
Sure, donut rucks and brew rucks are great, but 99% of people aren’t going to leave with any sense of accomplishment. You need to add in challenging events and GENTLY encourage people to attend. Emphasize that everything is scalable to their level. No one likes to be intimidated, especially if they are around strangers. Loops or hill/stair repeat events have been very successful because it gives people a chance to jump in and out depending on their level or schedule.
2. You’re a ruck club leader….don’t be a coach….don’t pretend to be a cadre.
Organize the events, but be a part of the crew at the event. This isn’t varsity football, adults don’t want to be bossed around by a peer. Leave that for the cadre to do at actual GORUCK events. Just go, give the outline of what you are doing, and then suffer with them. The more people see you struggle and realize you hate it sometimes too, the more willing they are to accept that sometimes things suck and you just have to stick with it. If they ask for advice, give it. If you have unsolicited, but helpful advice, give it in a non-demeaning way.
3. Be consistent.
If you have a weekly workout/ruck, make sure you stick with it. We recently started weekly rucks in June 2021, and I’ve had anywhere from 1-15 people show up. Don’t be discouraged if it’s just you. Now if it’s just you for a month with absolutely no interest, change the date/time/location. See what works for other people. If you don’t do weekly scheduled events, just have a variety of options throughout the month. If you have a whole month go by and don’t have any opportunities for your club to get together, it will fizzle. If you have a habit of creating events and then canceling or not showing up yourself, your credibility goes way down. Be dependable.
4. Establish real relationships with the people in your club.
I think this is the biggest contributor to our success. Most of us have developed friendships and would go hang out with each other without a ruck on our back. So, get to know them on a personal level. The stronger the bonds, the more likely they will join you on a 30 miler overnight ruck in the middle of winter.
5. Establish expectations prior to the event.
If you have a pace goal, let people know in the event details and reinforce it before you take off so everyone is aware. It’s not fair to the slow person to be struggling in the back to keep up, and it’s also not fair to the fast person to be constantly held back to a pace that doesn’t challenge them. Always make sure you are checking to make sure your group is together and taking breaks as needed. Encourage people to speak up if they need to stretch/rest/get a snack, etc. People are much less likely to show up to another event if they feel like they jumped into something completely unexpected.
6. Encourage members to plan their own events depending on their goals, schedule, and location.
This not only adds variety to the events your club hosts, but it gives members a senses of ownership in the group.
7. Don’t mandate specific weight.
You can give suggestions, but do not require “GORUCK standard” weight unless you’re doing a specific event. We host some events that have a prize and/or patch and to be eligible, you must meet weight requirements. Otherwise, we don’t care if you’re carrying 5# or 60#. You do you.
8. My favorite advice….take pictures!
Everyone likes to see themselves working hard. Over the years, the pictures of our club members have shown HUGE transformations. They are a good advertisement for people who aren’t showing up to events. And most importantly, they are memories that can be looked back on when we can’t do this stupid activity any longer.
9. Don’t “force” people into GORUCK events.
We have had members in our club that ruck with us consistently for years that have no interest in doing a GORUCK event. We have also had members that rucked with us for years and then all of a sudden signed up for an HTB. They will join you when they are ready. You can promote it, you can incentivize it, but don’t make it the sole purpose of your club. It will push people away, I promise.
10. Focus on quality, not quantity!
It blows my mind that people are worried about how many people show up and not WHO shows up. If you you have a club and only 3 people are consistently attending your events and you all get along, put in the work, and enjoy yourselves, guess what? You have a successful ruck club. You don’t need to have events with 25 people showing up to be successful. Trust me, GORUCK doesn’t give you a bonus for member quantity. So even if it’s just you and a couple other people, don’t stress about it and don’t think too hard on strategiesto grow your club. Social workouts are not a science, it’s an experience. Enjoy yourself, be present, and things will grow organically.
11. Do service rucks.
It will make your members feel useful and may also draw out the less “hardcore” members. Pick up trash, donate food items, donate underwear to rape crisis centers, ruck dog food/treats/toys to an animal shelter, the options are literally endless. It will give your club positive exposure, while also making a positive impact in the community you live in.
I’m sure there’s more little things that have contributed to our engagement. Truth be told, we aren’t a very organized club. We just make events based on own training and are fortunate that people join us.
That’s all I got. Hope it helps you grow your clubs. Don’t over-think it. Just go out and ruck and have fun. If it becomes a job for you, it’s not worth it.
This post was written by Caitlin Eiben. Caitlin helps lead Steel City Ruck Club and has been participated in a number of GORUCK events, including Team Assessment (here is her AAR). You can find her and many of her exploits on her Instagram page.