Popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline, the ladder method was used by the Soviet Special Services to meet the Septsnaz requirement of 18 dead hang pull-ups wearing a 10 kg/22 lbs bullet-proof vest.
Pavel describes the technique as follows:
“We would file out to the pull-up bars and perform what we called ladders. I do a pull-up, you do one. I do two, you match me, etc. until one of us cannot keep up. Then, if we still had time, we started over. One rep, 2 reps, 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10… 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,… 1,2,3,4,5. We totaled hundreds of pull-ups almost daily without burning out, and the extreme PT tests of our service were a breeze.”
If you train by yourself, you can time your breaks according to how long it would take a partner to perform their reps. When using this method, it’s best to stop 2 reps before failure. For example, if you’re able to work up to 10 reps at the top of the ladder, it’s best to stop at 8 and start over again at 1. This allows you to maximize training volume without burning out.
This method works so well because you get a break each time you start a new ladder, allowing you to achieve more total reps by the end of your workout. If you were to attempt straight sets, fatigue would set in a lot sooner and training volume would be compromised. The ladder method systematically manages fatigue while maximizing volume.
If you practice this method on a regular basis, you’ll find that the number of pull-ups you can do in one shot will increase. Try it out and let me know what you think!
Here’s a demonstration of the method: