Increasing Productivity with Technique Regression Ladders

I found the following workout in my journals from 2008 to 2010. Reading my notes made the memories and sensations flood back to me. The workout was so intense that I’ve never had the courage to repeat it as written. It was basically an experiment using my Polar Heart Rate Monitor to discover how I could burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time.

At the time I was inspired by a particular study that reported performing kettlebell snatches with a light bell could burn an average 20.2 calories per minute. I wondered to myself, “what’s possible if a certified kettlebell instructor really let it rip with heavier bells?” I tried many different exercises, combinations, weights and paces with some success, but then it occurred to me I should try double kettlebell complexes ( a series of techniques performed without setting the weight down).  Complexes are CRAZY hard, so I wanted to figure out a way to survive 15:00 minutes of double kettlebell complexes and came up with the workout that follows.

The intensity was pretty insane and I had to stop several times to let my heart rate come down to safe levels. According to my notes, my heart rate monitor calibrated for my age, gender, bodyweight and V02 max recorded a staggering average of 26 -calories burned per minute for 15-minutes; an all-time personal best.  To date, I’ve never attempted to repeat this workout in the exact same way. In fact, I think I may not have recovered from it yet.  This particular workout is definitely not the kind of thing I’d repeat often, if ever… it was just the right time for open the throttle and let it rip.

15-Minute Technique Regression Ladder Workout

(I apologize for the name. It’s a fancy way to say I used easier exercises and weights to keep going)

The concept was based on the use of ladders with a twist. Instead of manipulating the number of reps, or time for each rung of a ladder  I manipulated the difficulty of the technique used.  (If you’re not familiar with ladders and rungs, scroll the end of this post to get caught up, then come back)  What I ended up with was a series of five exercises arranged in descending order of difficulty so that the hardest technique is performed first and the easiest is performed last.  I basically started the session working as hard as possible with a pair of 32kg bells and as fatigue crept in I switched to easier and easier techniques in order to keep working safely. As fatigue approached, I’d start over using a lighter set of bells and keep going.  I’d string as many of the techniques together as possible without setting the bells down, then set the bells down only as long as necessary to feel safe and continue with good, crisp technique.

Requirements: 3 different size kettlebells or sets of bells.
Duration: Perform each exercise for 30-seconds per arm for single arm work or 30-seconds total if using double bells. Rest as necessary to ensure safety & quality.

Omaha Elite Kettlebell: Double Kettlebell Ballistics Swings, High Pulls, SnatchesHeavy Bell(s) 32kg

  1. Snatches
  2. High Pulls
  3. Cleans
  4. Swings

Medium Bell(s) 24kg

  1. Snatches
  2. High Pulls
  3. Cleans
  4. Swings

Light Bell(s) 16kg

  1. Snatches
  2. High Pulls
  3. Cleans
  4. Swings


if I were to do this workout over again I would take several weeks to progress in some fashion.

Applying this concept to other exercises

Obviously this concept can be applied to other techniques in addition to kettlebell ballistics.

Example A: Loaded Carries
First Ladder:
Round 1 & 2: Double Kettlebell Mixed Walk (One Bell overhead + One in the Rack) / repeat with other arm
Round 3: Double Kettlebell Walk with both bells in the rack position
Round 4 & 5: Double Kettlebell Mixed Walk (One bell in the rack, one held at your side) / repeat with other arm
Round 6: Double Kettlebell Farmer Walk
Second Ladder: Repeat with medium weights
Third Ladder: Repeat with lighter weights

Example B: Pull-Ups
First ladder:
Round 1: Weighted Pull-ups (hardest)
Round 2: Weighted Chin-Ups
Round 3: Weighted Flexed-Arm Hang
Round 4: Weight Dead Hang (easiest)
Second ladder: Repeat with a lighter weight
Third Ladder: Repeat with Bodyweight

Example C: Pushups
First Ladder
Round 1: One Arm Pushups (hardest)
Round 2: Diamond Pushups
Round 3: Standard Grip Pushup (easiest)
Second Ladder: Repeat rounds 1-3 with hands at higher elevation
Third Ladder: Repeat rounds 1-3 with hands at highest elevation

There you have it; an intense and powerful way to train while managing fatigue and literally getting tons of work done.  Remember… “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Use wisely & enjoy responsibly.

What are “Kettlebell Complexes”?

Kettlebell complexes are series of two or more kettlebell techniques performed back to back without setting the weight down. 

What are “Ladders”?
In the world of resistance training most are familiar with the terms “sets” and “reps”. But fewer are familiar with the use of ladders. Ladders are simply a way of making an exercise systematically easier or harder each round. Ladders are a great way keep the fatigue relatively low by occasionally performing a hard set alternated with easy and medium sets. This allows for faster recovery between sets and therefore allows you to achieve high levels of total work in a single session maximizing productivity. 

Rep Ladders & “Rungs”
A typical rep ladder looks like this: 1 rep, rest. 2 reps, rest. 3 reps, rest. 
Each set within a ladder is called a “rung” The example  above has three-rungs in a single ladder. 
A workout consisting of ladders may look like this
(1 rep, rest. 2 reps, rest. 3 reps, rest. ) start over & repeat for three rounds. 

Time Ladders
Another way to create ladders involves manipulating time.

For example, you can increase the amount of time under load for each rung of the ladder like so: 
10 seconds of work, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds rest, 30 seconds of work, 10 seconds rest. Repeat.
you can manipulate the amount of rest between rungs like so:
30 seconds of work, 30 seconds rest, 30 seconds of work, 20 seconds of rest, 30 seconds of work 10 seconds rest. Repeat. 

Reverse Ladders
Ladders are generally arranged to get progressively harder each rung before starting over, but the can be arranged in reverse as well so they get progressively easy with each rung. Both have their place .

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