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Strength Ladder

Overload every major muscle group and keep people fully engaged.

Strength training classes don’t have to adhere to a classic “sets and reps” template. Why not climb your way up and down this fun fitness ladder for a fast and furious total-body workout? Repetitions are high, but so is the frequency of change, keeping interest piqued during intense work sets.

Strength Ladder Details

GOAL/EMPHASIS: total-body strength training

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour

EQUIPMENT NEEDED: one to two sets of dumbbells, exercise mat. Note: Have participants choose a weight that’s challenging after 15 repetitions. Encourage everyone to keep a lighter set ready, to pre­serve form, if needed.

MUSIC: 130 beats per minute or slower

ADDITIONAL DETAILS: This workout pairs two exercises (e.g., biceps curl and lateral raise) in a ladder format. For example, you’ll complete one biceps curl and one lateral raise, then two biceps curls and two lateral raises, etc., increasing reps until you reach seven of each exercise. On the second set, you’ll start at seven reps each and decrease to one.

Alternate upper- and lower-body ladders so that one muscle group rests while the other is working. Transition with abdominal exercises, which are not performed as a ladder. This gives students a welcome break from the intense class structure.

Tip: Ask class to count the reps aloud. This will free you up to cue form and to motivate participants individually. Another option is to introduce the exercises and allow participants to work at their own pace as you circulate the room correcting form. Some people may need more time to complete pushup and lunge sets, for instance. In this case, have participants meet in an appropriate stretching posture, such as child’s pose, when they finish their reps.

Warmup (10 minutes)

Pair a cardio exercise with a light strength exercise in the warmup. This is a great way to introduce the class structure, increase heart rates and practice form. Cue attendees to do the following:

  • four alternating knees and four jumping jacks, 8×
  • triple-pulse wide squat with walk-out pushup, 8×
  • four stationary lunges and four repeater knees, 4× each side

Work Phase (45 minutes)

Set One

Walk-out pushup and overhead press, 1–7 reps:

  • Stand at foot of mat, dumbbell on each side by feet.
  • Lower into deep squat, placing hands on ground, and walk out to pushup position (from knees is fine). Complete pushup reps.
  • Walk hands back to feet, pick up dumbbells, stand up from deep squat, and complete overhead press reps.

Alternating forward lunges and alternating wide squats, 1–7 reps:

  • Forward lunge right, then left, and then do one wide squat, stepping R foot out to side. Return to center and repeat L (1 rep). (This will add up to a lot of lunges and squats by the end of the set.)
    Repeat walk-out pushup and overhead press, 7–1 reps.
    Repeat alternating forward lunges and alternating wide squats, 7–1 reps.
    Note: Evaluate your participants dur­ing the set, and, if appropriate, ladder up to just 5 reps maximum. Do the same in the second and third sets.

Abdominal set: Inhale knees, exhale V’s:

  • Lie supine, draw knees in over abdominals, inhale and curl upper body in.
  • Exhale, extend legs to 45 degrees and reach arms overhead.
  • Keep lower back securely on ground by engaging abdominals and extend arms into “V” shape.
  • Options: Extend one leg at a time or perform only upper or lower half of move.

Set Two

Biceps curl and lateral raise, 1–7 reps:

  • Perform biceps curls, keeping elbows slightly behind rib cage; use no momentum.
  • Rotate hands, palms to floor, and do lateral raises leading with back of hand. Note: It may be necessary for some attendees to switch to a lighter weight.
  • Keep elbows mostly straight, but slightly bent, as arms lift laterally to shoulder level.

Reverse lunge and parallel squat with knee lift, 1–7 reps:

  • Do reverse lunge R, then L; squat with feet parallel, then lift R knee; squat again, then lift L knee (1 rep).
  • Repeat biceps curl and lateral raise, 7–1 reps.
    Repeat reverse lunge and parallel squat with knee lift, 7–1 reps.

Abdominal set: Mountain climbers:

  • From plank position, bring knees in toward chest; alternate.
  • Keep hips low, abdominals engaged.
  • Mix it up by cuing some reps in cross-body motion, or do repeaters on one side. Allow students to enjoy the freedom of this break in structure to play with what feels best.

Set Three

Back extension and triceps pushup, 1–7 reps:

  • From prone position, engage core and perform back extensions, lifting straight legs and chest off ground.
  • Keep hands by shoulders and elbows tight to ribs.
  • Next, ground hands and push into triceps-pushup reps, keeping elbows close to ribs.

Rotating plank with hip pulse, 1–7 pulses:

  • Begin in plank position (full plank—on forearms or hands—or from knees).
  • Rotate to side plank and pulse hip 1×.
  • Rotate back to center and to opposite side; pulse 1×.
  • Repeat, increasing pulses up to 7.
    Repeat back extension and triceps pushup, 7–1 reps.
    Repeat rotating plank with hip pulse, 7–1 pulses.

Cooldown (5 Minutes)

Hold each of the following stretches for 20–30 seconds:

  • child’s pose
  • downward-facing dog
  • kneeling lunge (hip flexors and quadriceps)
  • runner’s lunge (hamstrings)
  • fingers interlaced behind back (chest muscles)
  • triceps stretch (opposite elbow pulled behind head)
  • simple spinal rotation (from supine)
Pamela Light, MA

Pamela Light is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA with a bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology, a Master’s in writing, and 25 years’ experience in the fitness industry. You can find videos of Tape Box workouts in her Facebook group, Pamela’s Light and Fit Community.

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