The Ladder Workout Way to More Strength, Muscle, and Athleticism

Working out is all about intensity.

Whether your goal is to build muscle, get stronger or torch body fat, intensity is what makes the difference between success and failure. There are a whole lot of training protocols out there designed to ramp up your training intensity. One of the most effective is the ladder workout. In this guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know to climb the workout ladder to success.

What is a Ladder Workout?

Ladder workouts involve manipulating the repetitions and / or resistance used during your workout in a progressive up / down sequence. Ladders can also be used to go up and down it distance and time.

In weight training circles, ladders are also known as pyramids. They involve a stepwise increase and decrease in weight used with each set of an exercise. As the weight goes up, the reps come down. You typically reach the top of the ladder at 6 reps with your heaviest weight. You can either stop there or come back down the ladder with progressively lower weight and higher reps until you return to the starting weight.

Ladder weight workouts are also known as down the rack training. This name applies to the dumbbell rack, where you start at one end and progressively work your way up or down the rack, with each pair being slightly heavier or lighter than the last.

Ladder workouts are ideally suited to bodyweight exercises such as push-ups. You could begin with a set of 5 reps, then do 10, then 15 and finally 20. To increase the intensity of the session, you would come back down the ladder by performing 15, 10 and 5 reps.

Ladder workouts may also involve the manipulation of time. There are two aspects here:

  • Change the rest time between sets
  • Change the training time

When manipulating rest time between sets, you keep the weight and reps the same. Let’s say that you are doing the bench press with 175 pounds for 8 reps. After the firsts set, you rest 120 seconds between sets. You then do another 8 reps at the same weight. Your rest after this set is reduced to 90 seconds. You now pump out another 8 reps with 175 pounds. The rest is now slashed to 60 seconds. You must now get the same 8 reps with the same weight. For the final set, you rest only 30 seconds before attempting to hit 8 more reps.

Varying the training time relates to exercises that have an aerobic component. If we take the example of box jumps, you might do a set that last for 45 seconds. You then rest for 45 seconds. Your next set is 60 seconds. Rest remains at 45 seconds. The third set lasts for 75 seconds, with the top of the ladder being reached at 90 seconds. You then have the option of coming back down the ladder.

For distance exercises, such as sprinting, riding the exercycle or using the rowing machine, you can manipulate the distance covered in each set. A sprinter, for example, could run 100 m, 150 m, 200 m, and 250 m to get to the top of the ladder. He would then reverse those distances to come back down the other side.

What are the Benefits of Ladder Training?

Mental Stimulation

Ladder training offers a fun way to keep yourself mentally challenged. With every set that you perform, you know exactly what your goal is. This takes the boredom of the straight set system away, allowing you to focus on achieving your mini goal on each set (source).

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is the foundation of the body’s muscular adaptation to exercise. You need to be constantly putting greater demand on the working muscle group for it to respond (source). Progressive overload can be achieved four ways:

  • Increasing the resistance
  • Increasing the repetitions
  • ​Decreasing the rest time
  • Increasing the duration of the set

As we’ve already seen, ladder training addresses each of those variables. That makes it the ideal training system to achieve progressive overload.

Warm Up

When you start at the bottom of a ladder and progressively ramp up the intensity, you are preparing the targeted muscle group for demands that come at the top of the ladder. This built-in warm-up effect will help to prevent training injuries.

Muscle Stimulation

When you train through a ladder you are using a repetition range that recruits a whole lot more muscle fibers than if you were to stick with the standard set formula. This allows for stimulation of both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. The result is more rounded development of the muscle tissue (source).


Ladder workouts allow you to gauge your progress easily and accurately. Let’s say that you have been doing a push-up ladder where you start at 5 reps and go up by 5’s. When you can start at 6 and increase by 6 reps each set, you know that you’ve gotten 20% stronger.

Muscular Endurance

Doing ladder training sets can soon add up to a lot of reps. If you were doing a push-up ladder that started at 10 reps, then went up by 5 for three sets, before coming back down to where you started, you’d be doing the following:

  • 10 reps
  • 15 reps
  • 20 reps
  • 25 reps
  • 20 reps
  • 15 reps
  • 10 reps

That’s a total of 115 reps. Depending on how long you rest between sets, you’ll do those reps in just a few minutes. That will develop muscular endurance as well as strength, allowing you to exert force for a longer period of time.

5 Butt Kicking Ladder Workouts

1. Compound Weight Ladder: Kettlebell Goblet Squat Ladder

The Exercise:

  • With a slightly wider than shoulder width grip, grab the kettlebell by the horns and hold it at chest level. Keep your elbows in as you descend into a squat. Actively pull yourself down, with your glutes and hips going out and back. Don’t go back too far, however, because you want to stay as upright as possible.
  • Go straight down into a full squat. The elbows should come down and rest inside your knees and against your inner thighs in the bottom squat position. This will prevent your knees from collapsing in. The knees will come forward slightly, but should not go inwards. Thrust your chest out and look up from this position. They should, in fact, track your toes at all times. In this bottom position, shift the knees from side to side, using your elbows to pry your thighs apart. Push your tailbone down and your head up.
  • Now take a deep breathe, exhale and drive straight back up to the starting position.

The Ladder:

  • Set One: 8 reps
  • Set Two: 10 reps
  • Set Three: 12 reps
  • Set Four: 14 reps
  • Set Five: 12 reps
  • Set Six: 10 reps
  • Set Seven: 8 reps

Select a weight that is challenging at 14 reps (you should feel as if you couldn’t do a 15th rep with proper form). Rest between sets should be 45 seconds.

2. Bodyweight Ladder: Push-Up Ladder

The Exercise:

How to Do a Push-Up Properly | Gym Workout
  • Position yourself face-down on the floor with your feet together. Put your arms out slightly wider than shoulder width at shoulder height. Lift yourself to an arms-extended position.
  • Maintaining a neutral spine, lower your body until your chest touches the floor. Forcefully contract your chest and arms to push back to the start position.

The Ladder:

  • Set One: 20 reps
  • Set Two: 21 reps
  • Set Three: 22 reps
  • Set Four: 23 reps
  • Set Five: 22 reps
  • Set Six: 21 reps
  • Set Seven: 20 reps

Rest between sets should be 30 seconds.

3. Distance Ladder: Treadmill Sprint Ladder

The Exercise:

  • Get on the treadmill and set the speed to 2.5 miles per hour. Walk at this speed for your 5-minute warm-up. Do not hold onto the handles.
  • As you approach the 5-minute mark, increase the speed until you are sprinting at 10 miles per hour.

The Ladder:

  • Sprint for 30 seconds
  • Rest for 30 seconds by jumping your legs out to the platform
  • Sprint for 45 seconds
  • Rest for a further 30 seconds
  • Sprint for 60 seconds
  • Rest for a further 30 seconds
  • Sprint for 45 seconds
  • Rest for a further 30 seconds
  • Sprint for 30 seconds

4. Rest Time Ladder: High Rep Squat Ladder

The Exercise:

How to Do a Squat | Gym Workout
  • Set a loaded Olympic bar on a squat rack at shoulder level. Duck underneath the bar and stand upright with the bar resting across your trapezius. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and pointing slightly outward.
  • Lower yourself by bending your knees and easing your hips back. Breathe deeply as you descend, keeping your spine neutral and your abs tight. Keep your knees over your toes as you go down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • ​Push through the heels to return to the start position.

The Ladder:

  • Set One: 20 reps
  • Rest 90 seconds
  • Set Two: 20 reps
  • Rest 75 seconds
  • Set Three: 20 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Set Four: 20 reps
  • Rest 45 seconds
  • Set Five: 20 reps

Choose a weight that will allow you to perform 20 reps without breaking form.

5. HIIT Ladder

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all about working hard and fast with very short rest intervals. That makes it a great complement to ladder workouts. This HIIT Ladder combines several different aspects of ladder training to create a very challenging but doable bodyweight ladder circuit.

The Exercises:

a. Belt Kick Squat
Squat with Kick - XFit Daily
  • Assume a normal squat position with hands on hips and feet shoulder width apart.
  • Squat down until the hamstrings are parallel with the floor. Keep the knees behind the toes.
  • As you stand back up raise your left leg with a kick directly out in front of you. Exhale as you kick.
b. High Knees
High Knee - XFit Daily
  • Sprint in place, keeping your knees as high as possible.
  • Place your hands out in front of you, palms down, and try to touch your knees to your palms as you sprint.
c. Burpee
How to Do a Burpee
  • From a standing position get down into a deep squat with your palms on the ground.
  • Kick your feet back and do push up with an exhale.
  • Jump back into a deep squat and then explode into the air.
d. Jumping Jacks
  • Stand with feet together and arms at your sides.
  • Kick your legs out wide as you bring your extended arms over head to a clap.
  • Return to the start position, moving as quickly as possible.

The Ladder:

  • Belt Kick Squat (60 seconds)
  • High Knees (60 seconds)
  • Burpee (60 seconds)
  • Jumping Jacks (60 seconds)
  • 40-second rest after Jumping Jacks
  • Belt Kick Squat (50 seconds)
  • High Knees (50 seconds)
  • Burpee (50 seconds)
  • Jumping Jacks (50 seconds)
  • 30-second rest after Jumping Jacks
  • Belt Kick Squat (40 seconds)
  • High Knees (40 seconds)
  • Burpee (40 seconds)
  • Jumping Jacks (40 seconds)
  • 20-second rest after Jumping Jacks
  • Belt Kick Squat (30 seconds)
  • High Knees (30 seconds)
  • Burpee (30 seconds)
  • Jumping Jacks (30 seconds)
  • 10-second rest after Jumping Jacks
  • Belt Kick Squat (20 seconds)
  • High Knees (20 seconds)
  • Burpee (20 seconds)
  • Jumping Jacks (20 seconds)

Note: ​No rest between exercises unless noted.


Ladder workouts are a fantastic training tool that can inject variety, motivation, challenge and intensity into the dullest of routines. The ways that you can use ladders are limited only by your imagination. We recommend experimenting with all four key training variables (resistance, repetitions, rest time, and training time) to find the combination that gets you over the ladder.