Hopefully the quick few words on programming the other day helped steer some of you in a better direction, whether you needed to get focused or expand your horizons. Today I want to talk about a set and rep scheme that has been around for a while, but may be interesting to some of the readers looking to tweak their programming.

There’s no way to tell who invented what and when, but Steve Shafley posted a nice summary on using ladders to increase strength in 2005 on Power and Bulk. The premise is using some kind of ladder to garner some volume (relatively speaking). The standard ladder example consists of sets of 1/2/3 (one rep, then a double, then a triple), and typically at least three ladders are done in a workout with a given exercise. In this kind of set up, all the reps of all the ladders shouldn’t be difficult. If you look at Shaf’s explanation, he used it three days a week for close grip bench and had some nice progress (although I want to point out that I don’t know his training history or preceding program to using the ladder method — remember, programming is relative to the individual). Shaf also points out that this method will relatively have higher volume and lower intensity.

Ricky Bruch pulls ladders out of his beard

Recently Dr. Hartman did a post on playing around with ladders, citing the P&B post. Whereas Shaf found that the volume was what helped drive progress, Dr. Hartman used this the lower rep scheme to accumulate some volume with heavier loads.


I have capped my number of ladders at 3, so a typical ladder on Wednesday would be 1/2/3/1/2/3/1/2/3; 9 sets and 18 total reps. With the increased number of sets, and lower max reps per set, you are able to train at a heavier load than you could with a similar volume but different configuration (6×3, 4×4, etc.)

If you check out Hartman’s post, he had a nice little progression by using this method (he front squatted MF and back squatted on W). Both of these examples implement the set/rep scheme very differently, yet both garnered an improvement in strength. The similarities is that both of Shaf and Hartman used it to get some accumulated volume — each 1/2/3 ladder is six reps, and three to five ladders is 18 to 30 reps. Shaf used the method on one exercise, similar to a Russian-style of greasing the groove. Hartman used it on his back squats to break through a training plateau with heavier loads. Shaf’s goal was low fatigue on each set whereas Hartman wanted to push his ladders to reach into his 150kg 3RM realm:

My progression was as follows: 120kg – 3 ladders, 130 – 3, 135 – 3, 140 – 2, 140 – 3, 145 – 2, 145 – 3, and this week 150kg – 3 ladders.

Whenever I read something new or are reminded of an old principle, I like to think how I can implement it into the style of programming I use. Most linear progressions are so basic that they don’t need to worry about ladders, yet ladders would be good to bring up a lacking strength and mass with Shaf’s accumulated workload style in someone that is beyond the LP necessity. Hartman’s higher intensity method would be more of a short term plateau buster — probably not something that would be used in the long run. However, the principle could be implemented in any program.

The S&C Program that I outlined could shift from a) a basic three sets of five rep scheme to b) a Greyskull three sets of five with the last set going for as many reps as possible, and then c) a ladder set-up that allows for more weight to be handled (higher intensity) with medium levels of volume (three 1/2/3 ladders = 18 reps). The ‘high intensity’ ladder twist could potentially be used on a Volume Day for a Texas Method style program, but I wouldn’t use it on anyone unless they progress through the lower volume schemes I detailed in the e-book (and I still would only use it in limited situations). Any basic template could use a ladder set up if pertinent, and they could be cycled with other things like ascending/descending/sets across of doubles/triples/fives/tens, or rep target power building stuff. Basically it’s another shade of ink that a programming artist can use to paint a strong, powerful, well built man.
Note: Don’t Google search “well built man”

This is what comes up when you Google image search 'burly'

9 thoughts on “Ladders

  1. I used this ladder progression for front squats for a while and was really happy with it. Mentally, I liked it better than sets across, and I ended up getting a ton more volume out of it.

  2. I just started using this ladder progression on the bench press last week. So far so good – it’s allowing me to accumulate volume with loads I wouldn’t be able to handle for sets of 5.

  3. I was very disappointed when I Googled “well built man”, because apparently Google’s idea of a well built man is Brad Pitt. Very disappoint.

    You would have been more upset if safe search was “off”.


  4. pavel talks a lot about ladder training in his books too. ive always wondered what people here think about Power to the People, pavels novice training book.
    anyone tried it or have any thoughts on it?
    For those unfamiliar its 5x week training with 2×5 deadlift and press with the second set of 5 being 10% less than first set
    I realize that as the beginner progresses deadlifting so often would be tough but if exercises were tinkered with could the training principles be solid?

  5. assuming all of you are douche bags and there was no chat last night, will there be one tonight?

    Yeah, we’ll do a chat tonight. Don’t know the time yet.


  6. and why did i lose my avatar?

    The avatars were turned off to try and improve the data usage on the old server. I’ll put them back on eventually.


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