I’d like to share a cool conditioning workout that I came up with a few months ago in order to get stronger and better conditioned in a short period of time. It incorporates the concept of “Ladders” found in Pavel Tstatsouline’s book “Power to the People,” In this book Pavel shares the training secrets of the Soviet commandos and athletes he used to train with that allowed the Russians to dominate other countries in the Olympics. This is really popular in the Marines and SEALS, and we use this type of training to get really high pure strength and strength endurance levels while still keeping up our long distance running.
What are ladders?
Basically you will pick an exercise and start at the “bottom” of the ladder doing anywhere from 1-5 reps. You will rest the same number of seconds as reps per set. So if I start doing 2 push ups, I would rest 2 seconds, do 4 push ups, rest 4 seconds etc until I reached a specified number. You want to try to do as many reps as possible without going to failure. This is different from a pyramid set in that you stop at the top of ladder in this workout, but I a pyramid set you will go up AND down. This is great for building muscle, but not for strength or muscle definition. Ladders are an excellent tool that can be applied to almost any workout plan. I absolutely love them.
My “Special Forces” workout Finisher
You will need access to a pull-up bar. You will be doing 3 “ladder super sets” of push-ups and pull-ups. This means you will complete one push-up ladder and then immediately transition to pull-ups without rest. After this “super set” (performing 2 exercises back to back), you will take 30-60 sec rest and then repeat at least 2 more times. Focus on getting perfect reps at a medium pace and stop before you feel like you can’t do anymore. If I’m getting guys ready for the Marines or SEALS we will do the push up ladders from 2 reps to 14 reps going up by 2 reps at a time, and we do pull-ups from 1 rep to 7 reps going up by 1 rep at a time, and repeat this cycle 4 times. We do this as a bad ass finisher to a long ruck march or run pretty regularly and a lot of guys can max out at least 100 push-ups and 20 pull-ups for our PT tests.
Why this type of training builds a hard and “compact” physique
I love this workout because it combines a few key training principles into a single session. The ladder principle builds strength, stamina, and conditioning since a high volume of reps is accumulated in a short period of time, but your muscles don’t get “pumped” because of the rest periods. By super setting pushing with pulling exercises I took advantage of making opposing muscle groups help each other out. Basically alternating pushing with pulling gives each muscle group a rest while at the same time telling the central nervous system to start connecting the neurons that fire the individual muscle fibers. Essentially doing pull-ups will start to help doing pull-ups and vice versa. Pretty cool! The more you compress the time frame of the workout, the more you will release fat burning hormones to make it a conditioning workout as well.
How I used this training method to double my regular pull-ups and master the One arm Pull-up
After doing this workout for the past 6 months I’ve increased my pull-up max from 20 to 40 reps, and push ups from 100 to 135 in 2 min. I also think it helped me to achieve one arm pull-ups, which I just mastered about a week ago(and which I’ll do a post on soon!). Doing this type of high volume, low rep training with perfect form has similar effects to a power-lifting cycle. In fact, a ladder workout is basically an entire power lifting cycle compressed into a few minutes! The really cool thing is that I never feel sore any more from doing burnout sets, but my strength and conditioning level is still improving.