10-20-30 Ladder Intervals and The Push-up Challenge

I’m really excited to share a really unique interval workout with you today that I can guarantee you’ve never done before!

As you probably already know, the typical interval workout features a single interval protocol with a static work and rest period.

For example, a 30-30 interval workout consists of alternating between 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest with a 1:1 work to rest ratio.

Is there anything wrong with this format?

Absolutely not!

It’s a very straight forward and basic approach to interval training and it will deliver great results.

However, sometimes it’s fun to mix things up a bit and actually change-up the intervals within the same workout.

In other words, you can also incorporate multiple and dynamic interval protocols within one main interval workout.

One way to accomplish this is through ladder interval protocols.

Want to learn more? Then keep reading ;)

I. 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals

Ladder intervals involve moving up, down, or both up and down a proverbial ladder of work periods of various lengths and/or work to rest ratios.

There are several different ladder interval options:

1.) Ascending Ladder Intervals: Moving from shorter work periods to longer work periods

For example, a 10-20-30 ascending ladder interval could look like this:

10 s of work, 10 s of rest

20 s of work, 20 s of rest

30 s of work, 30 s of rest

2.) Descending Ladder Intervals: Moving from longer work periods to shorter work periods

For example, a 30-20-10 descending ladder interval could look like this:

30 s of work, 30 s of rest

20 s of work, 20 s of rest

10 s of work, 10 s of rest

3.) Ascending and Descending Ladder Intervals- Pyramid Intervals: Moving from shorter work periods to longer work periods and then back down to shorter work periods

For example, 10-20-30-30-20-10 Pyramid Interval could look like this:

10 s of work, 10 s of rest

20 s of work, 20 s of rest

30 s of work, 30 s of rest

30 s of work, 30 s of rest

20 s of work, 20 s of rest

10 s of work, 10 s of rest

Please note that even though all of the above examples have a 1:1 work to rest ratio throughout, that’s not necessary to make it a ladder interval protocol. Rather it’s simply one way to do it and is a bit easier to comprehend then changing both the length of the work periods and the work to rest ratios.

For example, a 15-30-45-60 ascending ladder interval with various work to rest ratios could look like this:

15 s of work, 45 s of rest

30 s of work, 30 s of rest

45 s of work, 15 s of rest

60 s of work, 60 s of rest

Why Ladder Intervals?

Ladder intervals are dynamic in nature and have the following benefits over the traditional static single interval protocols:

- Shock the body with multiple interval protocols within the same workout to bust through any frustrating training plateau

- The constant change in work periods makes for a more fun, fresh, and exciting workout

- Allow you to gradually build up from easier work periods to more intense work periods and visa versa

- Provides for more complete energy system development and a total metabolic workout. It also allows you to train different muscle qualities within the same workout by performing work periods of various lengths and intensities as outlined below:

Maximum Intensity Work Periods of 0-10 seconds primarily involve your anaerobic alactate energy system (without the presence of oxygen or lactic acid) and burns mostly your phosphagen fuel stores including Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and Creatine-Phosphate (CP). These work periods are also best suited for maximum strength, speed, and power training and primarily work your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

High-Intensity Work Periods of specifically 30-60 seconds and up to 2 minutes primarily involve your anaerobic lactate/glycolytic energy system (without the presence of oxygen but with the presence of lactic acid) and burns proportionately more sugar/carbohydrate for fuel. These work periods also primarily stimulate lean muscle gain and strength and power endurance and are best characterized by very high levels of muscular fatigue when lactic acid levels peak. They also use a mix of both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.

Low to Moderate Intensity Work Periods of 2-3+ Minutes primarily involve your aerobic energy system (with the presence of oxygen) which burns proportionately more fat for fuel. These prolonged work periods build work capacity and muscular endurance and promote recovery between higher intensity work periods of shorter duration. They also primarily work your slow twitch muscle fibers.

It is important to that ALL 3 of your energy systems are active at all times. However, depending on the length of the work period and the intensity utilized, one system is always more active than the others.

10-20-30 Ladder Intervals

This particular ladder interval workout uses a mix of your alactate and lactate energy systems with 10-20-30 Ascending Ladder Intervals with a 1:1 work to rest ratio performed twice. So you move from shorter work periods to longer work periods and do it again like this:

10 s of work, 10 s of rest (difficulty- easy)

20 s of work, 20 s of rest (difficulty- medium)

30 s of work, 30 s of rest (difficulty- hard)

10 s of work, 10 s of rest (difficulty- easy)

20 s of work, 20 s of rest (difficulty- medium)

30 s of work, 30 s of rest (difficulty- hard)

It is critical to note that the intensity is held constant throughout each ladder interval by using the same load and/or exercise variation for each work set.

So the goal here is to gradually grease the groove and build up from easier and shorter 10-second work periods to harder and longer 30-second work periods from set to set.

Then by going back down again to the easier and shorter 10-second work periods you get a bit of a rest so you can reload and get ready for the next climax with the final 30-second work period.

You really want to attack every work period with a 10-second mentality so try to maintain the same intensity with the 10-second work periods as you do on the 20 and 30-second work periods respectively.

In theory, this waving up and down allows you to reach peak intensity in a way that you couldn’t achieve otherwise.

I recommend using total body power or speed training exercises for these ladder intervals because they integrate multiple movement patterns or simultaneously call upon your upper and lower body thus resulting in maximum heart rateĀ  and adrenaline elevation and thus the optimal fat-burning, muscle-building stimulus.

Classic total body power training exercise examples include squat to presses, swings, and explosive olympic lifting variations like cleans, snatches, jerks, etc. In addition, speed and plyometric exercise variations like running, leaping, hopping, skipping, bounding, jumping, shuffling, etc. also fit under this category.

For the equipment-based workouts, the 3 total body power training exercises we use for the 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals are the Kettlebell Swing Variation, TRX Squat Jump Variation, and Battle Ropes Free Style Variation.

For the equipment-free workouts, the 3 total body speed training exercises we use for the 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals are all shuttle variations where you run back and forth between 2 cones spaced 5-10 yards apart including forward running shuttles, lateral shuffle run shuttles, and forward-backward run shuttles.

As an added benefit with the bodyweight version of this workout, the stop and go nature of shuttle exercises really increases the metabolic demands and is a much more functional activity for sport than traditional straight line running.

I think it’s also important to note that power and speed training movements develop and sustain the all-important fast-twitch, Type II-B muscle fibers.

Why is this important?

Well, Type II-B muscle fibers are the first to begin to atrophy in your 30′s and 40′s and continue to do so as you age. These powerful fast twitch fibers are also the biggest and strongest muscles in your body so if they wither away so will your strength and metabolism.

So training for speed and power will in turn keep you and your metabolism performing at high levels even into your golden years ;)

II. The Push-up Challenge

Each of the three 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals stations is followed by The Push-up Challenge where you perform max reps of a unique push-up variation for 60 seconds followed by a 1-minute rest and transition.

I added this push-up challenge to ensure this workout provided some great core training and the push-up is the best total body core stability exercise in existence.

To make this even more fun, I researched some very unique push-up variations that come from different parts of the world.

Each of these international push-up variations has a unique twist on the classic push-up that will challenge your core stability and upper body strength in a way that you have never before experienced.

The results will be quite pleasing for your abs and your arms!

Before I share these cool new push-up exercises with you, let me first reiterate my favorite coaching cues to safely and effectively perform the standard push-up:

- tight abs, tight glutes, tight elbows

- maintain straight line from head through heels

- lead chest to floor with body as one unit

- DO NOT let hips sag or pike up!

- DO NOT let elbows sprawl out wide!

Cheat it Right: Begin in a static and stationary environment with a push-up hold. With your hands just inside shoulder-width apart, perform push-ups on your fists or while holding the handles of a dumbbell or kettlebell placed on the floor. This will force you to keep your elbows tight to your side and best prevent you from going down too low and sacrificing perfect form and technique. This has the added benefit of taking pressure off of the wrists as well.

Without further ado, here are the 3 push-up challenges:

Push-up Challenge#1- Uchimata Push-up Variation

Origin: Japan

How to do it: From a 1-leg push-up position while squeezing the glute of your support leg, slowly lower your body as one unit until your chest grazes the floor and pause for a count. From there, use your glute to slowly raise your lifted leg as high as you can without overly hyperextending your lower back. Then push back up to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat for time.

Benefit: The left lift really increases the demands on your core, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings and since it shifts your weight forward onto your hands it really challenges your shoulders too.

Push-up Challenge#2- Leg Kick Push-up Variation

Origin: The Netherlands

How to do it: With tight abs, tight elbows, and tight glutes, slowly lower your body as one unit until your chest grazes the floor. From there, slowly kick 1-leg straight out to the side to form as close to a 90-degree angle as possible without bending your knee. Pause for a count, then move your leg back to the starting position. Then push back up, switch sides, and repeat for time.

Benefit: By pausing at the bottom position, it eliminates the stretch reflex (the natural bounciness and elasticity in your muscles) which makes your upper body work harder. Plus the slow kicking action requires stellar strength and fabulous flexibility for your hip flexors, groin/adductors, hamstrings, and glutes.

Push-up Challenge#3- Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-up Variation

Origin: England

How to do it: Assume a standard 1-leg push-up position while squeezing the glute of your support leg, but then move the hand on the same side as your down leg a slight 1-2 inches forward. With tight abs, tight elbows, and tight glutes, lower your body as one unit until your chest grazes the floor. Pause for a count and then push back up to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat for time.

Benefit: The alternating grip both increases the demands on your lower abdominal and upper body muscles. More specifically, it activates the often dormant serratus anterior muscles, key shoulder stabilizers that run from your chest along your rib cage to your shoulder blades. Thus it’s a great exercise to bulletproof your shoulders and improve posture.

III. Putting It All Together

Now that we know the method behind the madness, below is an outline of both the equipment and bodyweight versions of this incredible workout template:

Equipment-Based Metabolic Workout Routines

Workout B- 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals and The Push-up Challenge: 20 Total Minutes. Perform 10-20-30 ladder intervals with a 1:1 work to rest ratio twice. Then perform a push-up variation for 60 seconds followed by a 60-second rest and transition.

Exercise Variation Level I Level II Level III
10-20-30 Ladders#1 with Kettlebell Swings Variation KB 2-Arm Sumo Deadlifts KB 2-Arm Swings KB 1-Arm Swings
Push-up Challenge#1:

Uchi Mata Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold: Progress from 2-Legs to 1-Leg Uchi Mata Push-up Hold Uchi Mata Push-ups
10-20-30 Ladders#2 with TRX Squat Jumps Variation TRX Squats TRX Squat Jumps TRX Side to Side Squat Jumps
Push-up Challenge#2:

Leg Kick Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold: Progress from 2-Legs to 1-Leg Leg Kick Push-up Hold Leg Kick Push-ups
10-20-30 Ladders#3 with Battle Ropes Free Style Variation Battle Ropes Alternating Up-Down Waves Battle Ropes Free Style:

Randomly mix it up between Alternating Up-Down, Side-to-Side, and Figure 8 Waves

Increase Speed of Movement and Size of Waves
Push-up Challenge#3:

Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold: Progress from 2-Legs to 1-Leg Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-up Hold Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-ups

Equipment-Free Metabolic Workout Routines

Workout B- 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals and The Push-up Challenge: 20 Total Minutes. Perform 10-20-30 ladder intervals with a 1:1 work to rest ratio twice. Then perform a push-up variation for 60 seconds followed by a 60-second rest and transition.

Exercise Variation Level I Level II Level III
10-20-30 Ladders#1 with Forward Run Shuttles Variation Stationary Running Forward Run Shuttles Increase Speed of Movement
Push-up Challenge#1:

Uchi Mata Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold:

Progress from

2-Legs to 1-Leg

Uchi Mata Push-up Hold Uchi Mata Push-ups
10-20-30 Ladders#2 with Lateral Shuffle Run Shuttles Variation Progress from Stepping to Jumping Jacks Lateral Shuffle Run Shuttles Increase Speed of Movement
Push-up Challenge#2:

Leg Kick Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold:

Progress from

2-Legs to 1-Leg

Leg Kick Push-up Hold Leg Kick Push-ups
10-20-30 Ladders#3 with Forward and Backward Run Shuttles Variation Stationary Running Forward and Backward Run Shuttles Increase Speed of Movement
Push-up Challenge#3:

Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-up Variation

Push-up Hold:

Progress from

2-Legs to 1-Leg

Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-up Hold Alternating Grip Single-Leg Push-ups

Are you ready for 10-20-30 Ladder Intervals and The Push-up Challenge??

We shall see ;)

Builds Character!

Nathan Cragg


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