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Boost Intensity With a Body-Weight Ladder Workout

Use this design to create your own custom class.

People doing body-weight ladder workout

If you’re looking for a convenient and effective way to help people improve muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness without using equipment, this body-weight ladder workout is a perfect programming option. If you’re short on tools or if your participants prefer to work out at home, you’re covered! Sequence the exercises in a ladder format by increasing or decreasing the number of reps each cycle to add volume and boost intensity.

Program Particulars for the Body-Weight Ladder Workout

This 50-minute body-weight ladder workout session focuses on cardiovascular conditioning, muscular endurance and core strengthening. No equipment is required (obviously) and the suggested music choice is high-energy and in the 125–130 beats-per-minute range.

The class includes three blocks of drill-based exercises, each with a different ladder repetition scheme. Before each block, thoroughly preview the exercises, and encourage participants to take advantage of the recommended modifications, if needed. Use a timer to designate the start and stop time for each move, and rest for 1–2 minutes in between blocks.

Warmup (10 minutes)

For the warmup, include basic moves, performed at a moderate pace. Cycle through the following exercises, completing 10 reps of each, then 8, and continue until the class has completed 2 reps of each move.

Knee tuck:

  • Start in a standing position.
  • Lift right knee and place hands on shin.
  • Gently pull knee toward chest; lower foot to floor. Repeat, left.

Rear lunge:

  • Begin standing, feet hip-width apart.
  • Step back with R foot and lower into lunge position, bending both knees about 90 degrees.
  • Return to standing. Repeat, L.

Modified pushup:

  • Start in plank position, hands under shoulders.
  • Lower chest to floor and hold for 1 second.
  • Bring knees to floor, then press up to starting position. Lift knees.

Plank to downward-facing dog:

  • Begin in plank position.
  • Lift hips and reach chest toward legs by fully flexing at shoulders.
  • Return to starting position.

See also: Strength Ladder

Work Phase (35 minutes)

Use the following program blocks to create your own ladder experiences.

Block One

Ascending ladder: This block uses an interval-training approach and alternates cardiovascular conditioning moves with core exercises. Perform each move for 30 seconds, then 45, then 1 minute.

Cardio: squat thrust + bound:

  • Begin standing, feet hip-width apart.
  • Squat and place hands on floor.
  • Jump back to plank position; jump in and stand.
  • Bound forward, landing in half-squat position.
  • Back pedal to starting position.

Alignment tip: Brace core when jumping into plank position.

Core: plank walk + triceps pushup

  • Start in plank position, hands under shoulders.
  • Bring R forearm to floor, then L.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Lower chest to floor, keeping elbows close to sides.
  • Press back up to plank.

Alignment tip: Maintain a straight line from heels to head.

Cardio: skate + hop

  • Begin standing, balancing on R leg.
  • Leap to side, landing on L foot, knee and hip slightly flexed.
  • Do a single-leg vertical jump, reaching arms overhead.
  • Repeat, other side.

Alignment tip: Track knee in same direction as toe when landing.

Core: plank + lateral tap

  • Start in plank position, feet hip-width apart.
  • Abduct R hip and tap floor with R foot.
  • Return to center. Repeat, other side.

Alignment tip: Keep hips level to avoid rotation.

Block Two

Descending ladder: This block alternates upper- and lower-body strength exercises. Do each exercise for 1 minute, then 45 seconds, then 30.

Upper body: pushup + prone squat

  • Begin in plank position, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Do one pushup.
  • Reach hips back toward heels while keeping knees bent and close to floor.
  • Extend at knees to return to starting position.

Alignment tip: Fully flex at shoulder joint during prone squat.

Lower body: rear curtsy lunge

  • Start standing, feet hip-width apart.
  • Step back with R foot to diagonal lunge position, lowering rear knee toward floor.
  • Return to starting position. Repeat, L.

Alignment tip: Maintain upright torso.

Upper body: pike pushup

  • Begin in downward-facing dog, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Bend elbows and bring top of head to floor in front of hands.
  • Press up to starting position.

Alignment tip: Keep elbows in line with wrists throughout entire movement.

Lower body: plié squat

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, toes turned out about 45 degrees.
  • Bend knees and lower hips to knee level.
  • Return to standing.

Alignment tip: Track knees in same direction as toes.

Block Three

Pyramid ladder: This block combines balance and cardio exercises. Do each exercise for 45, 30 and 15 seconds; then 15, 30 and 45 seconds.

Balance: alternating single-leg deadlift

  • Begin standing, feet together.
  • Shift weight to R foot and lift L foot a few inches off floor.
  • Hinge from hips while extending nonsupporting leg back until torso is parallel to floor.
  • Return to standing. Repeat, other side.

Alignment tip: Engage core to keep spine extended.

Cardio: plank frog jump

  • From plank position, jump feet to either side of hands.
  • Jump back to plank position.

Alignment tip: Lift hips and land with heels down.

Balance: V-sit extend + tuck

  • Begin seated.
  • Lean back slightly, spine extended.
  • Lift feet until shins are parallel to floor, knees bent 90 degrees.
  • Extend knees and lean back until shoulders are a few inches from floor.
  • Return to V-sit position.

Alignment tip: Maintain a straight line from lower back to shoulders.

Cardio: plyometric jack + lunge

  • Start standing, feet together.
  • Jump feet to shoulder-width distance apart and lower hips into squat position.
  • Jump up and land in lunge position, R foot forward.
  • Jump back to squat, then starting position. Repeat, other side.

Alignment tip: Keep rear heel off floor on lunge.

Cooldown (5 minutes)

Reward participants for their hard work with a thorough stretch for all major muscle groups used in the body-weight ladder workout. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.

  • Standing cat-cow: Stand in half-squat position, hands on thighs. Flex and extend spine through a full ROM.
  • Forward fold + chest expansion: From standing, hinge forward at hips. Clasp hands behind back and extend shoulders, reaching arms toward ceiling.
  • Downward-facing dog: From plank, push hands into floor and lift hips up and back, reaching heels toward floor.
  • Prone quadriceps stretch: From prone position, bend R knee and reach for R ankle, gently pulling it toward buttocks. Repeat, L.
  • Child’s pose: From quadruped position, bring feet together and reach hips to heels. Flex shoulders and bring chest toward floor.

See also: Sample Class: Body-Weight Barrage

6 Benefits of Leveraging Body Weight

Share with participants all the great perks that come
with using their bodies as a “weight machine.”

  • You can develop muscular endurance with high-volume conditioning exercises.
  • Unilateral movements used in body-weight training also improve balance.
  • Lower-body, high-repetition body-weight workouts train the cardiovascular system.
  • You can improve performance with functional multiplanar moves.
  • It’s possible to easily regress moves by decreasing range of motion or reducing lever length.
  • Body-weight training is a time-efficient option that requires less transition time between exercises.

Pro Tip

While some workouts aren’t challenging enough for athletes and others are too hard for newbies, body-weight training offers the best of both worlds because you can easily modify the moves and help everyone feel successful.

Melissa Weigelt, MS

Melissa Weigelt is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, NASM-certified personal trainer and vinyasa yoga instructor with 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. As an ACE- and AFAA-approved provider of continuing education for fitness instructors and a member of the BOSU® master trainer and development team, she enjoys sharing her knowledge and ideas with others.

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