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Ladder Training

Patrick Dale explains how to apply the Ladder Training solution to your training sessions.

Many muscular endurance and conditioning workouts require high volumes of work which, for neophytes and the de-conditioned achieving these numbers, may seem like a very distant goal.

How do you go from only being able to perform a couple of press-ups or dips to completing the 100 reps required by some coaches or workouts?

Strength training, like gymnastic training, is part physiological adaptation and part neurological adaptation - by which I mean in many cases the limiting factor, is not the size of your muscles but the nervous supply to those muscles. As strength training is in part a skill, we need to perform repeated movements with sufficient volume to allow the body to learn how to perform the exercises in a skilfull, coordinated way.

Herein lies the problem - the best way to get better at pull-ups is to do lots of them, but if you cannot do many in the first place, how do you achieve sufficient volume to get good at the exercise?

Luckily, the conundrum has a solution - and that solution is called "ladder training"

In a normal workout, our neophyte trainee may manage for example an initial set of 7 pull-ups, the second set of 5, and a final set of 3 to give him/her a total workout volume of 15 reps. More volume (repeated efforts) is required to improve the skill of the pull-up, but insufficient strength makes this a difficult task.

In many strength training circles, this principle of repeated efforts to improve specific exercise performance is called "greasing the groove".

By applying ladder training to our trainee's pull-ups, our newbie will be doing more volume and therefore more practice and soon be on their way to improving their pull-up numbers to a level that was previously an impossible dream!

Ladder Training Protocol

  • Perform 1 rep of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 2 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 3 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 4 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds etc.

(Note that rests are intuitive and should only just be long enough to allow the trainee to reach the next rung of the ladder)

Keep adding one rep and resting a few seconds until you are unable to continue, i.e. you manage five reps, rest a few seconds but cannot then manage 6. This is the end of the first set. Using our previous trainee as an example again, our beginner client manages to ladder up to five reps in the first set - giving a rep total for that set of 15 (which is normally the total for their whole workout.)

After 90 seconds of rest, they perform ladders again and reach a high of four reps - giving a rep total of ten reps and on their final set managed three reps giving a rep total for that set of six reps.

So, in total, our trainees will have completed 31 reps of pull-ups - 16 reps more than they would normally have achieved!

Ladder training is an excellent tool for increasing overall training volume which can be applied to any exercise and provides a great way of exposing the trainee to a much higher volume of work than would normally be training in a more traditional way. It works very well with "easy" exercises like bodyweight pull-ups, press-ups, and dips, as well as with traditional resistance exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts - particularly when utilizing a substantial load.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • DALE, P. (2006) Ladder Training. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 37/ November), p. 7-8

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • DALE, P. (2006) Ladder Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Patrick Dale has 15 years of fitness industry experience. He has a wide and varied sporting history, having participated at a high level in athletics, rugby, rock climbing, trampolining, triathlon, weightlifting, and bodybuilding.