Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


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Improving your Numbers with Ladders

Improving your Numbers with Ladders

This week we are getting everyone started using ladders in their training routines.  The purpose of this is to introduce a low impact way to improve the maximum number of consecutive repetitions you can do with exercises like pushups, pullups, dips, etc.  This week we will start everyone with pushups, but ladders work well for almost any bodyweight exercise.

1. First, you must determine the maximum number of pushups you can do with perfect form in one set.  This means full range of motion wherein your chest and hips touch the ground at the bottom and you lock out your elbows in the top position. Your elbows should be close to your sides and your body should remain rigid.  Do all the pushups without a break to test your max.  After a day or two of rest, you can start with the ladders.

2. Your maximum number of repetitions will determine the height of your ladder.  Divide your max by two, and use that number as the top rung of the ladder.  If your max was 10, then you will do ladders up to 5.  One pass through your ladder will look like this:


That means you do five sets of pushups starting with one pushup in the first set.  Each set would increase by one pushup until you do a set of five pushups.  You should rest between each set.  In other words, you do one pushup, then rest.  You do two pushups, then rest.  Continue this until you reach five pushups, rest, then start again with one pushup at the bottom of the ladder.

1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5

The key with this method is that we want you to be able to get more volume (more sets and repetitions) without ever going to muscular failure.  This method will allow you to do more without negatively impacting your other training.  If you feel you are getting close to failure while doing your ladder, then stop.  Don't finish that set, just take a break or quit for the day. 

Do one or more ladders gradually increasing the total number of repetitions each workout or each week as you feel they become easier.  You can add more repetitions gradually by first adding additional singles or partial ladders.  Later just add another rung on the ladder.  Your workouts may look like this:

Workout 1: 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5 = 30 repetitions
Workout 2: 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2 = 33 repetitions
Workout 3: 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3 = 36 repetitions
Workout 4: 1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4-5 = 36 repetitions
Workout 4: 1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2 = 39 repetitions

The progress will depend on how easy it feels to add more.  Remember, you do not want to continue if you are losing good form or struggling.  Going to failure or continuing when it feels hard will just delay your recovery.

After a few weeks, test your max again to see if you have reached your goal of maximum repetitions in one set.


- Mingle your ladders into your other training by doing a few pushups in your warmup, a few between sets of squats or other strength work, etc.  Otherwise, if you are only doing ladders alone, then you can take short breaks between each set with the break being longer for those with higher repetitions.

- Once your volume gets high, then you may want to consolodate your ladders into sets of higher numbers, but reduce your total number of repetitions to avoid overuse injuries.  You can go up by two's, three's or more:

2-4-6-8-10  or 1-3-5-7-9-11 as you add more

- You can do ladders 2-5 times per week depending on your recovery.  If you are already doing CrossFit, then I would recommend only 2-3 times a week.

- If you are unable to do a full pushup, then doing pushups off your knees is fine, but pushups with your hands on an elevated surface and a straight body is better.  You may also want to include 60 second plank holds in your exercise routine to work on holding a tight body position.  

Once you can get about 20 pushups off your knees, you should be able to switch to regular pushups.  If you are doing pushups at an angle, you can shift to a lower surface as you feel more comfortable with them in the elevated position.

- If you get really into the pushups and are doing a very high number every week, be sure to balance your shoulder work with some horizontal rowing / pulling movements like ring rows, arm haulers, reverse pushups and birds.

I hope you will try doing ladders for a few weeks and see how easy it is to improve your numbers.  Let me know how it goes!




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