Try This 1-20 PT Ladder for a Challenging Friday Workout

This week’s Friday Favorite Workout of the Week offers a next-level progression for athletes to try once the 1-10-1 PT Pyramid gets too easy. Eventually, even 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 abs of choice can get too easy for some of you.

Once that happens, try the 1-20 Ladder. We call it a ladder to make sure that people do not confuse it with the pyramid and attempt to repeat the exercises in reverse order. Start at level one and continue up the ladder until level 20 and then you are done.

You may want to try a next-level pyramid before jumping into the 1-20 ladder. That could be a 1-15-1 pyramid that breaks up 225 pull-ups and pull-downs, 450 push-ups and abs of choice or plank pose into 29 sets.

Most people will start to fail at some point, and it is fine to stop at the last successful level for exercise choices. For instance, when you fail at pull-ups, try assisted pull-ups, pull-downs, or use DB or TRX rows to complete the set.

If push-ups are the issue, resort to knee push-ups. If instead you want to make push-ups harder, try the TRX atomic push-up if you’re able to complete them as a part of your muscle stamina training.

The 1-20 Ladder Workout

This one starts off so easy that you could say it’s a little deceiving until you get past level 10.

Levels 1-10 will yield 55 reps when you add reps to each level from one to 10. Levels 11-20 will add 155 reps to your workout, so do not think you are halfway at level 10. You really are not halfway until you finish set 15.

Sets 16-20 hit hard, so be prepared to break up the sets as needed or be prepared to yell uncle and say you are done. There’s no need to hurt yourself with a workout you are not yet able to finish.

As mentioned above, do not even try this one until the 1-10-1 pyramid starts to get easy for you.

The actual workout looks like this:

PT Ladder 1-20:

Pull-ups x 1

Push-ups x 2

Abs of choice x 2

Dips x 1

Run 400 meters after each set (not a sprint but a good-paced jog)

Here is how the set-by-set breakdown works:

Set 1: 1 pull-up, 2 push-ups, 2 abs, 1 dip, run 400 meters

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, 4 abs, 2 dips, run 400 meters

Set 3: 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 6 abs, 3 dips, run 400 meters

Set 4: 4 pull-ups, 8 push-ups, 8 abs, 4 dips, run 400 meters

Set 5: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 10 abs, 5 dips, run 400 meters

Keep going using the same multiplication tables and hit the following sets:

Set 10: 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 20 abs, 10 dips, run 400 meters

Keep going up until you fail. Note how these later sets will push you to new levels.

Set 15: 15 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 30 abs, 15 dips, run 400 meters

Sets 16-20: Get tough. You definitely will start to fade right about here even if you are crushing 1-10-1 pyramids. Be smart as you push yourself. You can break up the reps into a few sets, resort to easier versions or stop altogether.

Your final set will look like this:

Set 20: 20 pull-ups, 40 push-ups, 40 abs, 20 dips, run 400 meters

You will find the 400-meter runs are actually “rest periods” during the 1-20 ladder, so enjoy them. You will accumulate five miles of running if you run 400 meters for each of the 20 sets.

Here is the grand total of reps and miles from the 1-20 ladder:

210 pull-ups and dips

420 push-ups and abs or seconds in plank pose*

5 miles of running

You should mix up the abs of choice exercises and fit in several sets of plank pose (1 second = 1 rep), flutter kicks, sit-ups, crunches, leg levers, leg tucks, hanging knee raises or any other core activity you would like to fit into the program.

For push-ups, challenge yourself with some TRX atomic push-ups if available, wide push-ups, triceps push-ups, dumbbell bench or even overhead press to break up the monotony of so many repetitions.

Keep your head in the game on this one. Doing math problems in your head as you get tired is challenging but a good skill to practice. Learn to be creative as you figure out how to finish these sets with different but similar exercises.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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