WOW: Grok Ladder

Complete max ladders of:

Jump Squats


Warmup: 30 second Grok Squat, 30 second Grok Hang.

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.
  • Pack your shoulders on those pullups and dips! Retract those shoulder blades.


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.

About the Author

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.

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17 thoughts on “WOW: Grok Ladder”

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  1. I like the concept and have read about ladders before. I’ll give this a go. Very similar to pyramids with three exercises. One rep of each then two then three until ten. Then back down ten reps of each then nine down to one. Both are great ways to build strength and endurance. Plus it adds variety to the mindset of three sets of eight, ten or twelve monotony.

  2. As Gorm mentioned, I often do ladders counting up and counting down.

    So for pull ups I would do 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 +1 to give me an nice round number of 50 (Did I mention that I have OCD? :-))

    1. The first ladder you start with 1 rep and work up to 7 reps. The second round you start with 1 rep and work up to 6 reps. Eventually you’ll reach the last (7th) round where you only do one rep of each exercise.

  3. I have never heard of a ladder workout but will be giving this one a try. I have thoroughly been enjoying the primal poker WOW but will have to give this ladder a go on Thursday.

    I am not a fan of dips… what is a grreat substitute?

    I think I may just do push-ups, pull-ups, squats and maybe planks somehow or sit-ups?

    1. Trying clapping push-ups. (If this is vague, thinking pushing yourself up off the floor like a ballistic/dynamic push-up with enough time to quickly clap your hands to brace your landing back into a push up position. Lower your body to the start position to complete one rep.) If that is too easy still, consider doing the clapping push-ups one-legged, or one-legged with that anchoring leg elevated on a stair or two stairs high.

      1. There’s also spider push-ups, which are similar to clapping pushups. You push so your hands leave the ground and then while you’re up twist your body to one side so you land in sort of a 7 position, and then push off again and land the same way on the other side. Since you have to twist your body quickly these work the core a bit, especially around the lower back. They get tiring quite fast, in my opinion. A set to failure, which for me is around 20, pretty much annihilates my arms. After those if I want to keep doing pushups without a long rest or break I do them with my hands on the edge of desk or table or otherwise raised surface, which hits the muscles differently and allows you to cheat a bit with the rest of your body to finish a set.

  4. I love ladders, I use them a lot of ways. I’ve done roundhouse kicks to a heavy bag, 1 left / 1 right, 2 left / 2 right, until my technique deteriorates then go back to 1 left / 1 right and so on. I’ve done it with kettle bells too. I stumbled across this variation when my energy level was low. Instead of doing ladders with all three, using the example above, I’ll pick one to do ladders with, (pull ups) and do easy sets with the other two (push ups, jump squats). My next work out I’ll pick a different one to do ladders with (push ups)and go easy on the other two,(pull ups, jump squats) and so on. This gives a lot of active rest for muscle groups doing easy sets.

  5. I did this WOW yesterday with my mom. It was a great quick workout, only took about 20 – 25 minutes.

  6. First of all, I would like to apologize for my english.

    Pull ups and dips are a great upper body pair – especially for outdoor training. It is very good that the pull ups are before the dips, as to do dips is easier. (When somebody is able to do 10 pull ups, he should be able to do at least 12+ dips.)But in sport and life the body normally work in the pattern of: leg dominat movement(preferably unilateral) followed by upper body movement. That is why I would prefer a leg movement before the upper body movement. In this case I would eather double the number of squats, or doing a variation of pistols, starting with the weaker leg.
    Counting up and then down is not a ladder. The aim of the real ladder is to add volume without burning the neuro system. In order to do so, don’t go much near to your max, do it up to 80-85% level of efforts. Push ups and inverted rows are a great pair too, .. for those not accustomed to dips and pull ups.
    Regards from Bulgaria 🙂