Steal This Strength-Building Workout from the Soviet Special Forces

This workout helped Spetsnaz soldiers crush their Pull-Up test.

Need to get strong in a hurry?

This method, developed for the Spetsnaz, the special forces group in the former Soviet Union—still active in present-day Russia—might be your answer.


Need to get strong in a hurry?

This method, developed for the Spetsnaz, the special forces group in the former Soviet Union—still active in present-day Russia—might be your answer.

Pavel Tsatsouline, legendary strength expert and former physical trainer for the Spetsnaz, needed a time-efficient way to train soldiers to pass the team's Pull-Up test.

The soldiers had to complete 18 dead hang Pull-Ups while wearing a 22-pound vest—the weight of their bulletproof vest. Many folks can hardly do a few dead hang Pull-Ups, forget about hitting reps in the high teens with heavy weight. So you can imagine that these guys were very strong.

Pavel's training strategy for the test was what's now referred to as Pavel's Ladder.

But before we get into the workout, you need to understand the philosophy behind Pavel's training methods.

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Greasing the Groove

Pavel, who is now the founder and chairman of StrongFirst, is an advocate of what he calls Greasing the Groove. This technique involves performing an exercise almost every day, but without ever reaching complete failure—counter to most training styles.

Frequently performing an exercise serves as practice for your central nervous system, which is responsible for sending the signals that tell your muscle fibers to fire. As you perform the same exercise over and over again, your nervous system signals more fibers to fire.

However, you need to be careful to avoid doing too much or else the whole system falls apart. If you work to failure like in a traditional workout, your muscles will be too fatigued and potentially too sore to allow you to do the same exercise every single day.

Pavel recommends performing sets of half your max with extended rest periods, no less than five minutes. In fact, doing your sets over the course of several hours a day is highly effective. You're able to get in a lot of work while keeping your muscles fresh.

So let's say you can do a max of 50 Push-Ups. With Grease the Groove, you can do five sets of 25 Push-Ups throughout the day with one or two hours of rest between sets. It will feel like you're hardly working, but you will get stronger.

"It works like an absolute miracle. People get strong and get strong really fast," says Pavel in a StrongFirst YouTube video.

But not everyone has the liberty—including the Spetsnaz—to put this method into practice.

Enter Pavel's Ladder.

How to Perform Pavel's Ladder

Pavel's Ladder is a condensed version of Grease the Groove. The same principles apply, but in a workout that can be completed in a single session—the length depends on how many reps you can perform.

The workout is simple. Perform reps of an exercise with every set increasing by one rep. The final rep should be two reps shy of how many reps you think you can perform at the top of the ladder.

It will look something like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

On the final set, you should be able to perform 12 reps if you want to. If you're grinding out the last rep, you screwed up.

To make this ladder sequence work, you need to rest between sets. Pavel's initial workout included two partners alternating between working and resting. As you work up the ladder, you rest longer because your partner is doing more reps. But you can do this alone if you pick a rest interval that allows sufficient recovery.

For an additional challenge, Pavel recommends doing multiple ladders. Again make sure on the final set that you are performing two reps short of how many you think you can perform. You likely won't be able to make it as far up the ladder as your first attempt.

Pavel's Ladder works best with bodyweight exercises, such as Push-Ups and Pull-Ups. However, you can use it for other exercises as long as you are working at 50 percent of your max.

Give Pavel's Ladder a try and watch your strength skyrocket.

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Reference: Milo Journal

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