Reader Joe wrote in last week with a fine idea for today’s Workout of the Week. He’d been reading up on Pavel Tsatsouline, famed former trainer for the Soviet Spetznas special forces and originator of a novel type of ladder workout, after hearing about him from Robb Wolf. Joe started playing around with his own ladder workout, liked it, described it to me, and I gave it a run through this weekend. I’ve been using ladders in various forms for years. It’s a great way to easily add volume to a workout. Let’s take a closer look.
Ladders are pretty simple. You pick an exercise – or in this case, three – and do one rep. Rest a few seconds, then do two. Rest some more, then do three – and so on, until you hit your max reps. (Joe peaked out at 7 pullups, 7 dips and 7 jump squats, which means he did a total of 28 pullups, 28 dips and 28 jump squats (1+2+3+4+5+6+7=28).) After a short break it’s time to start over: 1 pullup, 1 dip, 1 jump squat, then 2 pullups, 2 dips and 2 jumps squats, and so on until you reach your max again. Break then start over again. Repeat in this manner until you can only do one rep.
With frequent breaks and by bringing you back down to the bottom of the ladder once you reach your max reps, ladders delay burn out and fatigue allowing you to add volume to your workout. In each of Joe’s subsequent ladders after reaching his 7 rep max he was able to reach just 1 less rep than the previous ladder. Meaning he did 1-7 then 1-6, 1-5, 1-4, 1-3, 1-2, and then just one final rep of each for a high total of 84 reps of each movement. If instead of 7 cycles of ladders Joe had attempted 7 sets of 12 reps (the same 84 total reps) he’d have a much more difficult time finishing every rep.
While most ladders comprise single movements, Joe’s using three: the pullup, the dip, and the jumping squat. Pullups and dips you know well enough, but I’ll mention one thing for the jump squat. Folks have the tendency to make the jump squat a weak, poor attempt at a jump with knees barely bent. You need to hit full squat depth – that means parallel or below – and you need to jump as high as you can on every single rep. Land on your toes (lightly) and absorb the impact by breaking at the hips first. Make them count.
A couple things to remember:
Take sufficient breaks between reps and ladders, but not so much that you’re checking your watch. Part of establishing and strengthening neural pathways is quick repetition without too much down time. Think quick, zippy, clean.
To make this WOW easier you could split up your ladders so that you so that instead of doing mixed ladders (reps of all 3 movements) you focus on each individual movement before moving on the next. That is, 1 pullup, 2 pullups, 3 pullups and so on, until you’ve completed every pullup ladder. Then doing the same for dips. And then once you’ve done your dip ladders you finish with squat jump ladders.
Additionally, if you really struggle with any of these three movements substitute them for an easier variation as described in Primal Blueprint Fitness. For example, you could do Chair-Assisted Pullups (1 leg), Incline Pushups and Bench Squats to make each movement easier.
What are WOWs?
Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWs replace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.