Old Forum My Barbell Ladder Experiment - Long Post

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Steve Freides

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This will be lengthy but I hope it's helpful to some of the people reading along.

Inspired by the recent barbell instructor certification, I decided to try a barbell ladder cycle - we didn't discuss this type of workout in great detail at the weekend, but the general idea is in the manual and it got me thinking.  I'll post the details below - please feel free to comment, make suggestions, ask questions, etc.

Inspired by the grind portion Pavel's "Return of the Kettlebell", I've chosen to ladder a press and finish each ladder with a single set of squats.  My chosen lifts are

Narrow grip, barbell bench press , hands just clear of the non-knurled part of the bar, index fingers are roughly 42 cm or 16" apart.  I chose this lift because I need more triceps strength in all my pressing.

Barbell Front Squat - currently with a small amount of added resistance in the form of a shortened mini JumpStretch band on each side of the bar, anchored at the ground.

I'm using 135 lbs (a single 45 on each side of the bar) for both lifts.  I have roughly the same max in each lift, about 190 lbs.  I'm 58 years old and compete in the 148 lb. weight class as a powerlifter.  The weight is about 70% 1RM effort, and I could probably do 10-12 reps with it in a single set.  This is light for a ladder workout, but it's also my first cycle of this type and I didn't want it to be a struggle, even at the end.

The Schedule:

Weekly, one each: Heavy, Light, Medium.  Rest as needed between lifting days, generally getting 3 workouts in each week but sometimes that will stretch to 8 or 9 days instead of 7.

My most recent heavy day was:

5 ladders of (BP x 1-2-3-4, FSQ x 5) plus DL: 2 sets of 10, narrow sumo, currently up to 255 lb.

Light is 5 ladders of BP x 3 (instead of 1-2, that's just too easy), FSQ x 5

Medium will be 5 ladders of BP x 1-2-3, FSQ x 5.

Note the addition of deadlifts at the end of heavy day.  The purpose of all this is to improve my bench press and improve my leg strength for deadlifting, and once a week DL's feel good.  I couldn't tell you why I'm doing them at the end of heavy day but this feels right to me and I trust my instincts on this.  I may switch to 8's or even 5's later in the cycle, but this cycle is about volume, and I like doing sets of 10 DL's touch-and-go for that purpose.

I considered adding in more squats, but didn't for several reasons: first, it would just be too much squatting; second, backs like mine don't move from extension to neutral easily, so I want to get all my arched-back pressing done with, then take a minute or two to stretch out, and only then do a set of squats and have each ladder be finished.  I take a long rest between ladders, typically 10-20 minutes, sometimes even longer.

So far, I'm pleased with the results, and I feel like I"m getting stronger.  When this cycle is over, I may repeat it with a heavier weight right away, but I'll most likely do a short peaking cycle to see where my strength is before deciding what comes next.

-S-
 

AndyMcL

Level 6 Valued Member
Looking forward to hearing how it goes! Best of luck, and thank you for the post.
 

Pavel

Founder and Chairman
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I like what you are doing, Steve. Keep us updated.

DLs after FSQs help integrating the leg strength you have built into your pull.
 

Steve Freides

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A good question, Russell.

I'm a recent convert to narrow sumo deadlifting.  When I pull conventional, my sticking point is just off the floor.   When I first pulled narrow sumo at a meet, which was about six months ago, I was called for hitching, and that's the first time in my life I've ever gotten called for hitching.  My lifetime best is 365 lbs, and at that meet, I pulled 345 successfully and hitched 355, which would have been my best deadlift in six or seven years.

Pavel and others who know me and my lifting well will tell you that my back and hips are much stronger than my legs, and that is what I'm trying to address with front squats.
 

Steve Freides

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I thought I'd post an update to this, a thread I started about a barbell ladder cycle.

I completed the cycle last Friday, performing what's below 5 times:

Narrow BP (per Pavel's blog), 135 lb x 1-2-3-4-5

FSQ x 5 (started with 135 lb. then used 135 + bands, then used 145 to finish the cycle)

So, each ladder was 1-2-3-4-5 on the bench, get up, do 5 FSQs, then take a break.

Results:

I have new meat - no other way to describe it - on the backs of my upper arms, without a doubt, and my wife confirms this.  And because I get on the scale every morning, my weight is just the same 152 lbs.

My front squat form has improved.  All my FSQ are rock bottom and paused.  I actually had the bar too high and was irritating the end of my collarbone but I've found the sweet spot now.

My deadlifts, which I did once a week after BP + FSQ on heavy day, are feeling strong, and I don't think I'm going to cycle them back.   I did 275 x 8 reps touch-and-go x 2 sets last Friday.  My plan is to get 285 x 8 next week then switch to 5's.  My focus is on pushing with my legs and not using my back as much.

I'm now contemplating my options for a next cycle - I'm considering another ladder cycle because I don't think I've gotten all there is to get out of this, but I'm also considering a peaking cycle to see where I'm at, perhaps even ending in a meet.

If I do another ladder cycle, I'm not sure if I should stick with narrow or go to conventional wide grip - my gut tells me to move to my competition grip for the next cycle.  If I do that, I'll want to bump up the weight to 155, which is about a 15% increase.  I'll probably be a little more conservative with the front squat but I might also use 155, maybe 160.  Comments about this are invited.

That's it for now - other comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcomed.

-S-
 

AndyMcL

Level 6 Valued Member
What are your goals with this cycle? Is your sticking point in the bench the lockout? If so more close grip work, or a board press variant might be the best option.

If this cycle seemed to work might as well keep going with it, especially since you started with a relatively conservative weight in the first cycle. Now that your body has begun to adapt to it, you should be able to make some great gains a second time through! Thank you for the update, it's been good to read about your experiences on this.
 

Steve Freides

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"What are your goals with this cycle?"

That's the $64,000 question right now - I have to decide if I'm going to do a Fall meet or not, which means I need to pick my _next_ meet, whenever that will be,then  decide if I'm going to do 3-lift or DL-only, and then start working backwards - all that before I'll really be able to have a clear direction in which to head.

And there's really a bigger question a level above that, which is how often I ought to compete - over the last year or so, I did a meet about every 3 months, and I think that's too often.  It was fun and helped me get back into the feel of competition but now I need to back off and have more training time and less peaking focus.

-S-
 

Steve Freides

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Alright, another ladder cycle it shall be.  I will post the cycle's plan when I get it figured out.  I will go competition bench press grip this time, keeping the front squats as they were, and keep the deadlifts but start at 8's and move to a final triple, double or single at the end.

NB:  a normal ladder cycle, starting at 3 x 1-2-3 and ending with 5 x 1-2-3-4-5, takes about 3 months.  I did this one much faster because the weight was light and I progressed at each heavy day as much as I felt I could, so my heavy days were basically this:

Week 1: 5 x (1-2-3)

Week 2: 5 x (1-2-3-4)

Week 3: 2 x (1-2-3-4-5), 3 x (1-2-3-4)

Week 4: 5 x (1-2-3-4-5) - cycle finished

I am going to pick my weights for the next one so that the cycle will take the predicted 13 weeks or so.

It's also worth mentioning - the devil is in the details, folks - that I was _not_ ready at the beginning of the cycle to do what I did at the end.  That sort of volume takes getting used to.  It's only because the weight was light that I was able to adapt to it so quickly and, in retrospect, I think we can say that this was truly an "introductory" ladder cycle.  The next one will count for real. :)

-S-
 

Steve Freides

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Tomorrow, Thursday, I am going to do a test to see what my weights ought to be for the next cycle.  I'm looking to use 155 lb., which I expect will be in the range of 8-12 RM, for both lifts, bench press and front squat.  I will use the protocol Pavel outlined in an article - test with sets of 5 until I think I'm close, then go for 10 and see how many I get.  I'm hoping for a pleasant surprise and maybe for 160 or 165.

I'll report on how it goes.

-S-
 

RussellPeele

Level 3 Valued Member
That sort of volume takes getting used to.  It’s only because the weight was light that I was able to adapt to it so quickly and, in retrospect, I think we can say that this was truly an “introductory” ladder cycle.

Just wanted to highlight this for extra emphasis (for myself and others)

btw Steve. you got me thinking with this post--thanks!. led to a ft squat ladder cycle with a few, but frequent speed pulls (my deadlift sticks on the ground like it's welded there anytime i go over 450)
 

Steve Freides

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3 things:

1.  BP - 8-12RM Test Day:

135 x 1-2-3-4-5 with gradually widening grip - needed to get used to a wider grip again.

Settled on ring fingers on the rings - wider feels weaker.

145 x 5 - slowed by rep 5 but still plenty in the bank

Got a couple of spotters and

155 x 8 - maybe had one more, last couple were pretty slow.

I haven't wide gripped a BP in over a month so I think 155 for the next cycle will be OK.

 

2.  FSQ - 8-12 RM Test Day;

135 x 1, 2 - boy, am I rusty, 5 - better

145 x 2 - enough

145 x 2 - enough

160 x 3 - nervous system tired (from BP, I presume), decided not to do more, will just go with 155 on _both_ lifts for next cycle.

 

Finished with 20 2-hand swings w/ 32kg - felt great.

3.  Russell, I have found following my FSQ with deadlifts (once a week in my case) has really helped me "get" using more leg drive in my deadlifts.

-S-
 

Steve Freides

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An update:  I write while in the middle of my third workout of the new cycle.  The previous two were by the book:

Monday: 3 ladders of:   BP: 155 x 1-2-3, FSQ: 155 x 5, and

Wednesday: 4 ladders of:   BP: 155 x 1-2-3, FSQ: 155 x 5

Saturday: Today is planned as 5 ladders of the same and then I will begin having by-the-book Medium and Light Days next week

Of interest: the hardest transition for me is in my spine, from the arch of the BP to the straighter spine of the FSQ.   Today, while demonstrating something for my wife between my own BP and FSQ, I did a few very light DL's - narrow sumo, a thin bar, 115 lbs total weight.  The subsequent FSQ felt better on my back, so I kept that sequence all the way through today.

As I write this, I am hoping to continue with 2 sets of deadlifts after the ladder portion of the workout is finished - we'll see how I feel and how my time goes.  If I can't manage that today, then I'll start back in on it for the next Heavy Day.
 Onward and upward, folks!

-S-
 

Steve Freides

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An update after 4 wees - I've been under the weather and on medication, so I started the new cycle over earlier this week.  Today I hit 5 ladders of 1-2-3 in the competition grip bench press, about where I was 3 weeks ago, but I also set a new 8 rep max in the deadlift.
I have been tweaking the program to meet my individual needs as follows:
On Light and Medium Days, after I finish the each BP ladder, I do a set of 5 DB presses with long rests at the bottom (take a few breaths, get a big stretch) using 25 lbs. dumbbells and pressing explosively.  These function as backoff sets, giving a bit of extra time under tension - good for hypertrophy or, in my case, at least lack of atrophy :)  I skip these on heavy day.
Also on Light and Medium Days, after I get up from the bench, I've inserted light, speed deadlifts before my front squats.  I found that a few DLs helps my back realign and makes my front squats more more successful and much less painful to my old back.  Since doing a few was helping, I decided to try to get some benefit, so I've been doing 165 lbs. on a thin bar for a single set of 10 reps, light touch 'n' go, for very light touchdown and then for maximum lifting speed on the way up.  On heavy day, I do a set of 3 reps w/ 115 lbs. instead, saving the real DL'ing for the end of the workout.
Today, a new 8-rep PR for me in the deadlift, 295 lbs, and I even got a second set of those.  (My routine has been to, once a week on heavy day, end the workout w/ 2 sets of heavy DLs, narrow sumo, weaker over/under grip on the first set.)  The online 1RM calculators say this is the equivalent of a 366 lb. 1RM - we all know better, but it's still nice to see because my lifetime best, set at age 51, was 364 lbs. and I'm now 58 and will turn 59 in the Spring.  It was also nice to see that my deadlift didn't go down but actually went up in the 4 weeks I didn't do any heavy deadlifting - such can be the benefit of squatting regularly while grooving a light DL.
I am now a big fan of the barbell ladder workout, and I'm really looking forward to completing the current cycle and then seeing how my 1RM are doing.
-S-
 

Steve Freides

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It would work.  I'm pretty sure that Return of the Kettlebell for a program that includes the double kettlebell military press in this format.

-S-
 

Steve Freides

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Another 8 rep max PR - 305, which is double bodyweight, for 8 reps, and for 2 sets at that.

Ladder protocol is working great, everything is feeling easier.

-S-
 
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