I have been writing programs, both for myself and others, for over 20 years. I always learn something when I coach someone through a training program, but I also learn a tremendous amount when I run a plan myself.
These programs usually start as something but evolve significantly by the time I finish. I have never been one to follow a program as written, mine, or anyone else’s, and only trust the process. Ironic that I give the opposite advice to clients. Do as I say, not as I do seems to apply nicely here.
Strength Ladder Equipment Needs
As I write this, everyone is dealing with a crisis that is forcing adaptations from their regular training routine. Some people, myself included, have trained at home for many years and are not dealing with a lack of equipment. Others have managed to beg, borrow, and hopefully not steal their way to a basic home gym set up.
This program is for people who have at least access to a barbell and a significant amount of weight. A significant amount is relative to each person. If you have a squat rack, that is beautiful! A bench? Even better.
These simple pieces of equipment are what I base the program around for myself. You can get by with only a barbell, but the exercises will have to be adjusted. You cannot get by with two soup cans and a ball of laundry lint. Any decent strength program is going to require significant resistance, and a barbell is the most obvious way to get it.
Just as important as the basic equipment, you will require a significant amount of another precious commodity– time. Although the program is not complicated, the training sessions can be quite long, depending on how long you choose to rest. If you are one of the many who finds themselves with a bit of extra time on your hands, getting stronger seems like an excellent way to spend it.
The last thing that is required is a bit of patience. For the entirety of the program, you will do four exercises. No more. The program could be adjusted to do less, but I will not get into the numerous combinations of exercises, rest periods, and rep schemes that are possible. I will only present the basic template, and you can play as you wish at your peril.
The 4-Week Strength Ladder Template
The exercises that I have chosen are:
You can choose any variation of these exercises like a high bar, low bar, incline, or sumo. That is your call. You must pick your preference at the beginning and stick with it for the whole program.
You will only do two exercises per day. I designate push and pull exercises. On Day 1, I do squats and bench presses and on Day 2, deadlifts and pull-ups.
Initially, when I started playing around with this, it was only three exercises done three days a week. That was fine, but I like this split better. You alternate between Day 1 and Day 2 with a day off after completing both. Then you repeat. Simple.
The issue for people that think in seven-day blocks is that it takes you eight days to get through one microcycle. I am sure time will not collapse on itself if we step outside the traditional seven-day block—only one way to find out.
Sets And Reps
As you may have deduced from the title, the sets and reps are done in a ladder fashion. If you are not familiar with ladders, a full explanation is an article in itself.
One that has been written many times and a simple Google search of Pavel, Ladder, will give you all the information you could want. I will provide the Coles notes version here. A basic ladder is when the reps rise with each set, and the weight remains the same.
One ladder, for example, is a squat with 225lbs for a set of 2, rest, a set of 4, rest, and a set of 6. This ladder can be repeated as many times as required. There are many variations on this theme, but we will stick with this basic premise.
Instead of the traditional set and rep schemes, every workout has a target amount of total reps to complete. Let’s use 36 as an example. If you stay with the 2-4-6 example, each ladder gives you 12 total reps. Simple math reveals you need three ladders to reach this number.
You could also choose different combinations to hit numbers that do not work quite so neatly together. If your total is 38 reps, you could do two ladders of 2-4-6 for 24 total reps, one ladder of 2-3-4 for 33, and finish with 2-3.
The ladders do not have to be in progressive sets of three; they can be more or less as long as you equal the total reps at the end.
Choose Your Work Weight
Work weight is going to be individual to everyone, depending on how high they choose to make their ladders climb.
This is a strength program, so I would say limit your highest reps to 6. I prefer four myself. The weight you select should allow you at least two reps more than the most top reps you have ever performed in a whole program.
So for myself, I am working with weights that I can do at least six reps. Gun to my head, I can probably do eight. The point is you should never be grinding or barely getting reps. Every rep you do on every set should be crisp and well-executed. This is where your progress comes. Perfect practice.
Progression Within the Program
Common sense tells you that doing the same thing for too long will lead to stagnation, both physically and mentally. If we are doing the same exercise and the same weight, how do we see any progress and not die of boredom? There is a two-part answer to this:
- First, you wave the volume per exercise every workout.
- Second, you increase the total volume week to week.
You want to split your exercise volume into low, medium, and high days. Because you are doing two exercises per day, you don’t want to have high volume for both on the same day. You probably don’t want low volume for both either, but that is less of a problem in the big scheme of things.
If you designate A as high volume, B as medium volume, and C as low, it makes it easy to split it up.
This schedule is what I choose:
|Day 1||Squat A||Bench C|
|Day 2||Dead B||Pullup A|
|Day 4||Squat B||Bench A|
|Day 5||Dead C||Pullup B|
|Day 7||Squat C||Bench B|
|Day 8||Dead A||Pullup C|
Now we need to decide where we are going to start volume-wise. This can be individual as long as the volume rises week to week. Depending on your training history, you may have to begin quite low while others can handle more. As with the training weights, lean toward the conservative side.
If your first week is exhausting, you are not going to have a good time. Here is how I broke it up for Week 1. The numbers on each day and the total are reps.
|Day 1||Squat 30||Bench 18|
|Day 2||Dead 24||Pullup 30|
|Day 4||Squat 24||Bench 30|
|Day 5||Dead 18||Pullup 24|
|Day 7||Squat 18||Bench 24|
|Day 8||Dead 30||Pullup 18|
These numbers may be very high for some and maybe low for others. This is just what I used, so adjust accordingly. Now we need to increase the volume each week. My preferred ladder sequence is 1-2-3 for squats and deads and 2-3-4 for bench and pull-ups.
This is very strength specific, and I chose my weights based on an approximate 6 RM. The easiest way to add volume is to add one ladder per week.
This additional ladder will increase total reps 6 per week with squat and deadlifts and 9 per week with bench and pull-ups. I add this ladder to A day Week 2, B day Week 3, and C day Week 4.
I may have already let the cat out of the bag, but I designed the program to be done for four weeks. I find for myself that it is about how long you can keep your attention.
After four weeks, you can decide to continue another week or two, especially if you were smart and started on the low side of the volume.
The program is not complicated, but it is effective because of all the high-quality practice you accumulate over the four weeks. I will caution once again, chose your weights wisely.
Think about what weight you want to use, then choose lighter. Also, do not rush your rest periods. I set mine at three minutes between sets, but I will stretch those out to five minutes if I feel I need it. If you are looking for a pump or a metabolic workout, this is not for you.
Strength relies on two things:
This program gives you lots of both if you follow the instructions.
As you go through the program, you may develop your nuances to your customization of the program. I know I did. As long as you follow the basic premise, this should not be a problem.
I have experimented with doing one exercise in the morning and once at night. I have done both exercises together and just alternated between the two. This works particularly well.
If you are hitting your total reps for the day and week and gradually increasing, you are on the right path.