What Is a Ladder Workout? Here’s How This Rep Scheme Works

If you like the variety you get from a tempo run, interval workout, or fartlek then you’ll love practicing this ladder workout, crafted by Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City. 

A ladder workout is all about rep scheme. It means that the number of repetitions you do for each exercise increases with each new round (going up the ladder). Sometimes, it also includes going back down in reps with each subsequent round (going back down the ladder). 

The Benefits of Ladder Workouts for Runners

Ladder workouts work great for runners because they slowly progress, just as running does, starting out with lower reps, which warms up the muscles, and gradually increasing reps with each set, says Tamir.

For this particular routine, you’ll practice reps in ascending order. Meaning for the first set, you’ll do one rep of every exercise in this list, and then increase to two reps of each exercise for the second set and so on, Tamir says. This way, you can focus on form in the beginning of your workout rather than completing a ton of reps all at once, as you would in a traditional workout.

Also, the ascending rep scheme ensures your workout will progressively get harder as you go on—helping you build power endurance—so you can have the strength and speed you need for the road. 

An added bonus: This is a total-body workout, so these exercises will help runners improve performance overall. It focuses on building a stronger posterior chain, core, and shoulder muscles.

How to use this list: Start by completing 1 rep of every exercise on this list and 1 rep on each side for unilateral exercises. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds after completing every exercise. Then add a rep to each move, building up to 5 reps total. Have more time? Go back down the ladder, starting with 5 reps and working down to 1 reps of each exercise.

Each move is demonstrated by Tamir in the video above so you can learn the proper form. You will need a medium to heavy kettlebell or dumbbell, and an exercise mat is optional.

1. Single-Arm Swing

Why it works: This exercise will help runners build stronger posterior muscles, including glutes and hamstrings, which are critical to acceleration and overall running performance, says Tamir. Also, it targets your core and can help reinforce proper running form, he adds. 

How to do it: Stand about an arms-length distance away from kettlebell with feet a bit wider than hips-width apart. Push hips back to hinge at the waist with a flat back as you reach arm for the weight. Swing the bell back and in between legs and use free hand to shadow the movement. Drive feet into glute, engage glutes, and extend hips, as you swing the bell forward and up to chest level. Let the bell guide you back into a hinge.

2. Lawnmower Row

Why it works: Improve your upper-body strength, stabilise your core, and work your posterior muscles all at once with this exercise. Practicing this move will help improve posture and arm swing, Tamir says. 

How to do it: Start in a shallow lunge position with left foot back and kettlebell in left hand. Hinge at hips, keeping back flat, shoulders down, and core engaged. Rest right forearm on thigh. Make sure shoulders and hips are parallel to the floor. This is the starting position. Starting with left arm straight, pull elbow toward left hip, lifting the kettlebell up toward ribcage. Hold, then slowly lower back down, straightening arm and returning to starting position.

3. Offset Squat

Why it works: This exercise incorporates anti-rotation into a lower-body exercise, which is what you need for the road too, says Tamir. 

How to do it: Start with feet a bit wider than hip-width apart and kettlebell in the front racked position on the left side. Send hips back and down and bend knees until thighs are parallel to the ground for a squat. Activate core and press through feet to stand back up.

4. Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Overhead Press

Why it works: The half-kneeling component of this exercise will challenge your core as you need it to stabilise you more, while the overhead press focuses on upper-body strength, specifically building shoulder muscles and lats, Tamir says. 

How to do it: Start kneeling, right knee on ground, and left foot planted in front, both knees bent 90 degrees. Hold kettlebell in left hand racked at shoulder, elbow bent, palm facing ear. Press left arm straight up, biceps by ear, rotating arm so palm faces out. Then, pull left arm back down to shoulder, rotating it back so palm faces ear. Switch sides for other rep(s).

5. Half-Kneeling Halo

Why it works: This exercise will challenge you to resist bending your torso to the left or right, which will contribute to keeping your torso upright and your spine stabilised as you hit your stride, says Tamir. 

How to do it: Start kneeling, right knee on ground, and left foot planted in front, both knees bent 90 degrees. Hold kettlebell upside down and by bottom of horn. Keeping torso and lower body steady, circle dumbbell counter clockwise (toward front leg) around head. Elbows stay close to head. Switch sides for other rep(s).

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