The Basic Ladder

The ladder method is awesome for strength, power, and size gains. You start with one rep of an exercise and keep adding a rep or two with each set until you reach a pre-determined number. You then start over at one rep again. The weight or load stays the same throughout.

The most basic variation is the 1-2-3 ladder. It looks like this:

  • 1 rep
  • Short rest
  • 2 reps
  • Short rest
  • 3 reps
  • Short rest
  • 1 rep
  • Short rest
  • 2 reps
  • Short rest
  • 3 reps

That totals 12 reps. For 18 reps, add another round of 1-2-3.

Ladders became very popular with exercises like pull-ups since the method allows you to manage fatigue and get more total reps that you could get in a straight set. It's a surefire way to build your pull-up strength. But while most use ladders for only one exercise, you can easily construct an entire workout using nothing but ladders.

The Whole-Body Ladder Workout

You can use ladders for your entire workout, but you need some planning and thinking. Here's an example:

  • Press: 2-3-5-2-3-5
  • Deadlift: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3
  • Squat: 2-3-5-2-3-5
  • Curls: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3

Think three days a week and "autoregulate" the loads. In other words, increase the load when it feels easy.

The Rules of Ladders

  1. Pick your rep range. Taking your approximate 5 RM (rep max) and doing a ladder with 1-2-3 reps is a good place to start. Start light.
  2. Pick the number of times to run through the ladders. I'd suggest starting with three, though. If you get all three ladders, then you need to add weight next time.
  3. It's all about staying fresh and crisp. It's not about grinding out reps and gritting your teeth. Autoregulation is primary. There are no percentages, plans, or programs to figure out. The athlete needs to adjust the load by "feel."
  4. Let the volume do the work. This is often underappreciated. Getting strong, getting ripped, and getting massive takes time, energy, and effort. With strength, you need lots of clean reps with crisp technique to teach the nervous system to eventually lift massive loads.
  5. The speed of the load and the overall effort must be maintained throughout. If you want to grind out reps, ladders are NOT for you.
  6. Don't sweat bad days. Ladders seem to work from nervous system adaption. Like all systems, fixing the wiring might take some extra time.

Related:  Wave Ladders for Maximum Strength

Related:  9 Ways to Upgrade Your Workout