Lead Photo credit: Alli McKee

The ladder system is simple: start with one rep of an exercise and keep adding a rep with each set until you reach 5 reps. At that point, revert back to one rep and keep it going until you reach a target number of reps, say, 50. This is a sure-fire way to cram as much volume as possible into a short amount of time.

Many coaches recommend to start with a load that you could lift anywhere from 5-15 times while fresh. I've had success with a happy medium. My athletes use a weight they could lift 10 times while fresh to start the following sequence.

  • 1 rep
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • 2 reps
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • 3 reps
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • 4 reps
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • 5 reps
  • Rest 30 seconds

After reaching 5 reps, revert back to one rep and start the sequence over. This entire process should be repeated 3-5 times.

This method manages fatigue just about as well as it can be managed. Once you start getting tired, you pull in the reigns and get back to one rep. This allows you to knock out more reps than you could have if you dropped the hammer and burned yourself out on the first few sets.

Try it with any compound exercise that adds muscle where you need it most. Front squats for bigger thighs; deadlifts for a more muscular posterior chain; chin-ups or dips for a more massive upper body.

Cranking out 20 strict pull-ups is a feat that many have yet to master. That's a shame because it's a damn good test of relative strength (a measure of how strong you are in relation to your body weight), not to mention an incredible upper-body builder. Add in two ladder workouts each week with a target of 100 reps (10 cycles) and you'll get there.

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