What Is a Ladder Workout in Running?

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You may have come across various sources recommending adding ladder workouts to your routine if you want to get faster.

But since you are not familiar with ladder workouts, each time you see such a recommendation, your mind goes, “What is a ladder workout?” Well, we have the answer.

What is a ladder workout in running?

A ladder workout is a type of interval training (a mix of resting and running). In a ladder workout, the interval distance progressively gets longer as if climbing a ladder. Then once at the “top,” the interval distance starts getting shorter.

There is more for you to know about ladder workouts in running. So, the rest of this article focuses on all you should know about a ladder workout. We discuss how to do a ladder workout, the benefits, and more.

Side view of an athlete starting his sprint on an all-weather running track

What Is a Ladder Workout in Running?

A ladder workout is a mix of short and long intervals. It typically starts with a short interval, which becomes progressively longer, then shorter after reaching the peak – just like going up and down a ladder. Hence, the name.

Like regular interval training, the intervals of a ladder workout come with periods of fast running separated by slow recovery periods. This is unlike tempo runs, where you maintain the same pace.

Besides helping you get faster, a ladder workout can liven up your running training. Switching interval distances as you go will remove the monotony that other routines have.

Apart from that, ladder workouts allow a breather when things get intense.

While the basic details of ladder workouts are the same everywhere, you will find many varieties out there.

An Example of a Ladder Workout

A basic ladder workout could go thus, with a steady pace for every interval:

  • A 10-minute warm-up
  • Fast running for 200 meters
  • Recovery running (jogging) for 200 meters
  • Fast running for 400 meters
  • Recovery running for 400 meters
  • Fast running for 800 meters
  • Recovery running for 800 meters
  • Fast running for 400 meters
  • Recovery running for 400 meters
  • Fast running for 200 meters
  • Recovery running for 200 meters
Young male athlete training on a race track

But then, you may find some varieties where you have to run faster as the interval gets shorter and run slower during the long intervals.

Sometimes, people time the ladder intervals instead of measuring them by distance. So, you have fast running for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, etc.

Ladder workouts teach the body to be more energy efficient. They can also help you become faster and stronger and increase your endurance.

Think of it this way: you run a 200-meter interval, then a 400, then a 600, then an 800. But when you get to the 800-meter interval, you are too tired to go further.

So, instead of stopping, you reduce the interval distance. You go from 800 to 600 to 400 then 200. Your body will adjust to the extra push you give yourself with time, which will translate to improved running.

As with any speed training, stretching before and after the workout can help prevent injuries. Those stretches will also help your joints stay flexible.

Before Running a Ladder Workout

Rear view of female friends jogging in the morning together

You must prep your body long before running a ladder workout.

If you don’t, you may end up with blistered confidence and achy joints. Your base running fitness must be enough, or you won’t like the outcomes.

Before running a ladder workout, do the following:

  • Do a lot of long, slow runs at least 8 to 12 weeks before you start a ladder workout. The long slow runs should last around 90 minutes per session.
  • Define your goal, pace, and race distance.
    • If you intend to race in a non-local marathon, your speed during the ladder workouts would be faster. You wouldn’t want to run at the same pace as a local marathon because the competition will be stiffer.
    • Also, your pace and workout volume for a marathon will differ from a 5K. For a marathon, your warm-up may span a couple of miles. But for a 1,500-meter race, you may only warm-up over a few meters.
    • The details (pace, distance, and volume) of your ladder workout will depend on what you are training for.
  • When starting, keep the total volume of your ladder workout at a minimum. Then as time passes and you get better, you may increase it.
  • You could get a friend or partner to do the ladder workouts with you. Doing this adds some fun, competition, and motivation to the routine.
young muscular athlete is at the start of the race tracks line at the stadium. Sports concept

Reasons to Do a Ladder Workout

Without a doubt, ladder workouts can leave the body sore and tired. But people still do them because of the following reasons:

Ladder Workouts Can Improve Your Speed

One of the foremost benefits of ladder workouts is that they can make you faster. With a ladder workout in your training, you will eventually beat your race times, and your base pace will improve.

You must follow your ladder workouts with rest/recovery days. This way, you get to see the effects of your training as you should.

Ladder Workouts Can Further Improve Your Fitness

Beyond making you faster, ladder workouts can make you even fitter. The routines can improve your cardio and body’s ability to burn fat.

Ladder Workouts Can Improve Your Mental Toughness

Young african runner running on racetrack

When doing ladder workouts, you are not just going in a straight line – there is a mental aspect to the routine. For one, you learn how to run impossible distances by breaking them into smaller units.

Apart from that, ladder workouts require focus, which improves your mental toughness.

Final Thoughts

A ladder workout involves running intervals that progressively increase before decreasing. The routine basically comprises rapid running periods separated by slow recovery periods, and you can do it in various ways.

Ladder workouts help improve speed, cardio function, fat metabolism, mental sharpness, endurance, and much more. So, unsurprisingly, even though they’re tough, people do it.


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