Pavel Tsatsouline is always a great source of inspiration and ideas. One of his concepts that I find especially useful is his use of ladders in training. No, not the kind you buy at a hardware store. It’s a technique to really get in lots of reps without risking overtraining… or tedium, for that matter. The always-interesting Clarence Bass provides an explanation of this technique on his excellent website.
Here’s how Pavel describes the technique used by special forces personnel to work pull-ups into their busy classroom and training schedule: “We would file out to the pull-up bars and perform what we called ladders. I do a pull-up, you do one. I do two, you match me, etc. until one of us cannot keep up. Then, if we still had time, we started over. One rep, 2 reps, 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10… 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,… 1,2,3,4,5. We totaled hundreds of pull-ups almost daily without burning out, and the extreme PT tests of our service were a breeze.
And if you train alone? No problem!
If you train alone, you can simply time your breaks by estimating how long it would take a partner to match your reps. That’s what I do, and it works fine. In fact, Pavel says it’s better that way, because “your odds of burning out are lower.” To maximize volume without overtraining, you should stop each ladder one or two reps short of your limit. In other words, if you can work up to 10 reps at the top of the ladder, it’s best to stop at about 8, and then begin at 1 again. The non-competitive approach allows you to stop at a preset number that suits your capacity, not that of your partner.
As you can see, you end up doing many, many sets without burning out. It’s a great way to get stronger, and can be applied to all sorts of movements, from push-ups to kettlebell lifts. Pavel’s ladders should be a part of any serious strength training regimen.