2 Ladder Routines For a Fast Workout That Doesn’t Skimp on Intensity

with HAC Elite Personal Trainer, Charmaine Davis

As a new mom, sometimes I do not have time to carry out an hour-long workout. Ladders have become an fun and effective way for me to train in under 60 minutes.  Ladders are a form of high-intensity interval training and typically involves nonstop ascending and/or descending rep schemes using one or more exercises. When you put together two exercises that complement each other, you work hard without overtraining one particular muscle group.

Here are two different couplets that include on move going down the ladder (ten reps in the first set, then nine in the next, then eight, then seven, all the way down to one rep) and the other going up the ladder (starting with one rep and ending with ten). This comes out to a total of 55 reps per move, so it’s important to pace yourself while keeping rest time to a minimum. Ladders are intended to be cardiovascular. Suggested time cap is 30-35 minutes including warm-up and cool-down.

Couplet #1: Push-ups and Box Jumps

  • Set 1: 10 Push-ups, 1 Box Jump
  • Set 2: 9 Push-ups, 2 Box Jumps
  • Set 3: 8 Push-ups, 3 Box Jumps
  • Set 10: 1 Push-up, 10 Box Jumps


Get into a push-up position with your hands wider than your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. You head should be neutral and your abs tight. Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor as low as you can. Extend your arms to return to the start.

*Here’s a tip for beginners: perform standard push-up until you’re no longer able to, then switch to push-ups on your knees and toes to finish out.

Box Jump

Stand in front of a box with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. The height of your box should depend on your level of comfort, but 12-20 inches is a safe bet. Kick back your hips and bend your knees, reaching your arms back and loading up like a spring.  Then quickly extend your knees and hips and reach forward with your arms, jumping onto the box and landing softly.  Stand up fully on the box before stepping or jumping back off.

*If you’re uncomfortable jumping on a box, do jump squats instead. If you want to get comfortable using the box, do step ups.

Couplet #2: Barbell Deadlifts and Pull-ups

  • Set 1: 10 Barbell deadlifts, 1 Pull-up
  • Set 2: 9 Barbell deadlifts, 2 Pull-ups
  • Set 3: 8 Barbell deadlifts, 3 Pull-ups
  • Set 10: 1 Barbell deadlift, 10 Pull-ups

Barbell deadlift

Setup:  Load a barbell on the floor and stand with your toes underneath it, feet hip-width apart and turned out slightly.  Squat down and take an overhand grip on the barbell just outside your legs. Your back should be flat with your hips lifted, your head neutral and your shoulders over the barbell with your weight in your heels. Extend your legs and hips and pull the barbell up in a straight vertical line from the ground, pressing your knees back as you come full standing position. Reverse these steps to return to the start.

*Err on the lighter side with deadlifts or sub out the barbell for dumbbells if needed to avoid fatigue early on in your sets.


Take a wide overhand grip on the pull-up bar and hang, crossing your feet behind you. Look up toward the bar. Retract your shoulder blades, then drive your elbows down and back to pull your chest up toward the bar.  When you have come as high as you can, pause a moment before lowering slowly to the start.

*Use a pull-up band if you are not yet proficient at pull-ups to offset some of your body weight and make the move more manageable. You also can perform bodyweight inverted rows using the TRX, Smith machine or rings.

Modifying for Different Skill Levels

  • New athletes: Do one couplet
  • Intermediate athletes: Do couplets 1 and 2. Rest for one to two minutes between couplets.
  • Advanced athletes: Do couplets 1 and 2 with no rest.

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