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Ascending/Descending Ladder Circuits (KB/BW 4-Wk Progressive Workouts)

Ascending /Descending Ladder Circuits (KB/BW 4-Wk Progressive Workouts) 
by Dave Randolph 
creator of Spartan Warrior Challenge and 101 Conditioning Circuits


Here are two sets of workouts with 4 set/rep variations each which can be done weekly (as I have laid it out) or you may choose to do them every other day.

The first workout utilizes ladders. Ladders mean you go up or down in reps each set rather than keeping the reps the same across all sets. Ascending ladders go up, for example, Press 1, 2, 3, 4,5. You would press one rep on each side, then rest or do a 2nd exercise. The 2nd set you would do two reps per side, then 3 per side, etc. A Descending ladder is the reverse; you’d start at 5 (or 10, etc.) and go down in reps. Usually, if I start at 10 or higher the ladder increases or decreases by two instead of one. For instance. 2 hand swing I might do 20, 18, 16, 14, 12 10. I have done, to the great dismay of my clients a descending ladder of 2 hand swings starting at 50 and going to 10 by 10 (50, 40, 30, 20, 10).

My goal with Descending Ladders is to increase the weight as the reps go down. With the Ascending ladders start heavy and try to stay heavy; just make sure you do a good warmup first.

Not all exercises work for certain rep ranges. Doing one bodyweight squat isn’t going to do much for you but a single Goblet squat at max weight certainly will. So, for bodyweight, I will usually program higher a higher rep range.

Unilateral exercises can be tricky, so for a lunge I would probably never go more than 10/8/6/4/2 per side, or the reverse. The same with vertical pressing. Kettlebell snatches, jerks and, long cycle are great for getting lots of volume in a short period of time. I might do Snatch 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10 and pair it with something lower body. I have also done this by pairing up clients on an “I Go You Go” basis. Person A does 20 snatches per arm. As soon as she is finished, Person B does 20 per arm; then person A does 18 r/l, etc, that’s 90 reps per arm! Quite a workout and in the realm of kettlebell sport numbers.

In the Ladder workouts, you may rearrange the exercises, or, instead of doing supersets, make it a giant circuit where you do all eight exercises for the specified number of reps then repeat going up or down the ladder.

Most of these exercises can be done with dumbbells if you don’t have kettlebells, except the Figure 8 with tap. You might substitute a 2h dumbbell swing although the intensity level is quite a bit lower than the Figure 8 with tap.

There are many ways to do ladders, below are the variations I usually use; Ascending and Descending. You may see some programs where they repeat the Ladder several times. Usually, it is with low rep, heavier work.

You might do a Kettlebell Press 1/2/3 on both sides supersetted with Pullups 1/2/3 and repeat that 3-5x. Pavel’s Enter The Kettlebell uses this type of ladder quite a bit. It’s great for building strength.

Another one, which I believe was created by Dan John looks like this:

10 2h swings

1 ½ Getup or Full Getup r/l

1 Goblet Squat

15 2h Swings

1 ½ getup or Full Getup r/l

2 Goblet Squat

25 2h swings

1 ½ Getup or Full Getup r/l

3 Goblet Squats

50 2h swings

Repeat the entire sequence 3 to 5 times, which will give you 300 to 500 2h swings 3 to 5 Getups and 18 to 30 Goblet Squats.


I linked videos for most of the exercises so you can see the techniques.
Note from Dave* form in some of them is off as I was having some hip and shoulder issues when we shot the videos.


  Week 1 (Ascending) Week 2 (Descending) Week 3 (Descending, go VERY heavy) Week 4 (Descending a little lighter)
1a) Goblet Squat 2/4/6/8/10 10/8/6/4/2 5/4/3/2/1 10/8/6/4/2
1b) Jerk or Push Press or Press or bottom’s up press 2/4/6/8/10 r/l 10/8/6/4/2 r/l 5/4/3/2/1 r/l 2/4/6/8/10
2a) Sumo RDL 2/4/6/8/10 10/8/6/4/2 5/4/3/2/1 10/8/6/4/2
2b) Snatch or 1h high pull or 1 h swing 2/4/6/8/10 r/l 10/8/6/4/2 r/l 5/4/3/2/1 r/l 2/4/6/8/10
3a) Dead Clean 2/4/6/8/10 r/l 10 8/6/4/2 r/l 5/4/3/2/1 r/l 10/8/6/4/2
3b) Leg thrust 2/4/6/8/10 10/8/6/4/2 10/8/6/4/2 2/4/6/8/10
4a) Figure 8 w tap 2/4/6/8/10 10/8/6/4/2 5/4/3/2/1 20/18/16/14/12
4b) Row 2/4/6/8/0 r/l 10/8/6/4/2 r/l Renegade Row 5/4/3/2/1 r/l 2/4/6/8/10 r/l



The workouts below are all bodyweight only, absolutely no equipment needed unless you are doing hands elevated pushups. As you will see I have set it up with 4 variations, You can do one per week or do MWF or Tue/Thu/Sat. The first three variations are supersets; the last one is done as one 8 exercise HIIT circuit.

In the first column are the exercises and regressions and progression so you can tailor the exercises to fit you or your clients. In Week 2 I include exercise name (pushup, squat, etc.) but you should still use the regressions or progressions listed in the first column as needed

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Perform all the exercise as a circuit
1a) Pushups – Hands Elevated /Spiderman/ Clapping 2/4/6/8/10 EMOM 6m

10 Pushups

30s:15s 30s:15s
1b) Squat/ Drop Squat/ Jump Squat/ Rotating Jump Squat 2/4/6/8/10 15 Squats 30s:15s 30s:15s
2a) Unicycle 2/4/6/8/10 r/l EMOM 6m

Unicycles 15 r/l

1 leg GB 10 r/l

30s:30s:15s 30s:30s:15s
2b) 1 leg Glute Bridge 2/4/6/8/10 r/l 30s:30s:15s 30s:30s:15s
3a) Sit Thru 2/4/6/8/10 EMOM 6m

Sit Thru 10

Leg Thrust 10

30s:15s 30s:15s
3b) Leg thrust 2/4/6/8/10 30s:15s 30s:15s
4a) Lateral Lunge 2/4/6/8/10 r/l EMOM 6m

Lateral Lunge 8 r/l

Horiz. Elbow 10 r/l

30s:30s:15s 30s:30s:15s
4b) Horizontal Elbow strike 2/4/6/8/0 r/l 30s:30s:15s 30s:30s:15s
  4x 8m/round 4 Rounds total


The first week are Ascending Ladders as you did in the other workout. Week 2 is EMOM every minute on the minute. You try to perform the specified number of reps for both exercises each superset as quickly as possible and resting until the top of the next minute. You need to move fast but don’t get sloppy!

Week 3 is standard HIIT intervals; 30 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest. In the case of the unilateral exercises you will do 30 seconds of work on each side, then rest 15s.

Week 4 is also a circuit, but instead of doing supersets you will go through all eight exercises in order using the same 30 seconds work to 15 seconds of rest ratio.

What  follows are the descriptions of the exercises for which I don’t have videos.

Clapping Pushups –

  1. Start in pushup position
  2. Go down getting your chest and hips almost to the floor
  3. Aggressively push up so your upper body pops up, away from the floor
  4. At the peak, quickly clap your hands and get them back under you
  5. As you come down and the hands touch the floor, bend the elbows to allow the chest to absorb the fall, then redirect and do another rep

Do not land with the elbows straight or you may injure your elbow(s), chest, or shoulder(s)

Squat – If you don’t know what a bodyweight squat Is or how to do one, you shouldn’t be a trainer, LOL!

Drop squat  (sometimes called a Wide Out) –

  1. From a standing position with your feet together, explosively move the feet out wide and drop the hips into a squat at the same time
  2. Quickly draw the feet together as you return to standing

Try not to jump up, the feet should drive outwards with no upward movement of the body.

Jump squat

  1. Start standing with your feet about shoulder width apart
  2. Quickly sit down into a squat, then explosively drive up and jump as high as you can
  3. Land softly and move into the next squat as your feet touch the floor

Don’t land then bend the knees; the landing should be soft. The legs absorb the energy and reload the hips for the next rep.

Rotating Jump Squat –

This starts the same as the jump squat, but as you jump, you will rotate your body 180 degrees.

As you land sink into the next squat as you did with the Jump Squat

1 Leg Glute Bridge –

  1. Lie on your back with the legs bent, feet flat on the floor
  2. Raise 1 leg up until it is vertical or until you can no longer keep the knee straight
  3. Tuck the pelvis and slowly lift the hips off the floor. Exhale as you lift
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower the hips while inhaling
  5. Repeat

Don’t let the leg that is up move out of position. Make sure your hips stay level side to side

Lateral Lunge –

  1. Start standing with feet together
  2. Step out as far as you can to the side with one leg
  3. As you place the foot on the floor bend the knee and sit back into the hips. The other leg stays straight. Make sure both feet are flat on the floor; feet pointed forward as much as possible
  4. Drive off the leg you stepped with, pushing off the outside edge of the foot and stand back up.
  5. Repeat with same leg, or if you are doing Alternating Lateral Lunges, repeat with the other leg.


Horizontal Elbow Strike

  1. Stand in a split stance with the right foot forward. You should be up on the balls of the left foot
  2. Hold your hands up about shoulder level in your centerline.
  3. Bring the left forearm parallel to the floor with the elbow bent. The left fist should be touching the sternum
  4. Quickly pivot on the rear foot turning the hips and torso to the right., At the same time, rotate the should and forearm, so the elbow comes out in front.
  5. As the elbow comes around put the right palm out so it becomes a target for the elbow.
  6. Strike the right palm with the left elbow and quickly return to the starting position
  7. Repeat

Reverse the hands and feet to strike with the right elbow.




Dave Randolph is Author of many workout books including programs for Fitness Pros

101 Conditioning Circuits:30 Minute Done-For-You Conditioning Circuits For Fitness Pros

and Sparatan Warrior Challenge for Men– Rebrandable 6 Week Challenge for Fit Pros


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