Add Ladders to Workouts For More Strength

by Anthony J. Yeung
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Add Ladders to Workouts For More Strength

To build strength and muscle, you need to give your body enough stimulus to rebuild and grow. If you aren’t seeing the results you want, chances are you probably need to add a little extra work in the gym to get your muscles to respond.

One of the best ways to get your muscles to do so is to change how you structure your sets and reps. If you’re used to traditional workout routines, switch things up with ladders. With ladders, you start with a certain number of reps, let’s say 5 and drop by 1 each time (4 sets, then 3…) so you build volume and manage fatigue.


The way most workouts are designed, you do an exercise (e.g., squat) for a certain number of sets with the number of reps staying constant from set to set. That’s why you’ll see things like “3×10” or “5×5.”

But, as anyone can attest, the more sets you do, the more fatigued you get. Ladders, however, are designed to match this natural decline: It’s a quick-hitting routine where the number of reps decreases with each set — that way, you can still use the same weight and give it your all.

For example, a simple ladder would be to do 5 reps, catch your breath, then 4, catch your breath, then 3, catch your breath, then 2, catch your breath and then 1 — for a total of 15 reps.

For a bigger challenge and a ton of volume in a short period of time, start at 10 reps. For example, if you do a ladder that goes from 10, 9, 8 … all the way down to 1, you do 55 total reps!

A great way to use ladders is to add them near the end of your workout when you want to manage your fatigue but still blast your muscles. Also, pick exercises that don’t require a lot of complexity — like goblet squats, reverse lunges, pushups, inverted rows, chinups or even bicep curls — because, again, you’re going to get fatigued as you do these.


Here are some simple examples to try for your next workout. Once you get a feel for how ladders work, you can start to make your own.


Use this ladder as a total-body, bodyweight finisher to burn a ton of calories before you leave the gym. Alternate between these two exercises — squats and pushups — and do 10 reps, then 9, then 8… all the way down to 1 rep each. Rest for 15 seconds between exercises.


You can even do ladders with your abs. Do an ab wheel rollout from 10 reps all the way down to 1 and torch your midsection.


For this ladder, alternate between these two exercises — bicep curls and tricep pulldowns — and do 8 reps, then 7, then 6 … all the way to 1 rep without rest. Rest two minutes. Do 2–3 total rounds.

About the Author

Anthony J. Yeung

Anthony, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a fitness expert at Esquire, GQ and Men’s Health and gets guys in shape for their wedding at GroomBuilder.


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