Stepping Up Your Training with Ladders

Adding ladder workouts is a great addition to your training regimen

Training for Runners
You can incorporate ladder workouts on hills any time in your training cycle. Photo by Jason Dam/Stridewise Running

Training can get a little monotonous, especially if you have a long marathon training cycle and have been following the same plan more than once. Which is why it is important to add variety in both your training and workouts.

If you’ve been distance training for a while, it’s likely that you’ve also incorporated some form of intervals or speed training. If purposeful training is a new endeavour, speed and interval training is a great way to increase your fitness. Here we discuss one specific interval style workout: the ladder. 

The basics: why speed train at all?

Simply speaking, speed training is how we get faster. By working closer to our Vo2 max we can increase our aerobic capacity and our ability to run faster for longer. The other way to think about it is, if your top-end speed increases, all other paces should get faster as well.

What is the ladder?

The ladder is a workout in which the interval distances and speeds are changing throughout. They can start longer and slower and get progressively shorter and faster, or vice versa. Alternatively, workouts can be structured as pyramids, moving up and coming back down between distances and speeds. 

Why is the ladder such a good workout?

In a 2020 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology it was found that high-intensity, decreasing interval training was the best way to spend more time closer to your VO2 max. Bottom line: the more time you spend near VO2 max, the more you can improve your aerobic capacity and better aerobic capacity means faster running. 

Additionally, more recent research (European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2023) found that having a longer, slower opening interval and prolonging the first rest period, improved time to exhaustion and time near VO2 max, in running specifically. In short, as longer intervals deplete energy, you get increased benefit from the shorter, faster intervals, meaning the ladder
is a great bang for your workout buck!

There can also be psychological benefits as it breaks up challenging work and since it gets shorter and faster it can feel much more doable. However, if you are going from short to long it can be a great way to work on the mental challenges in the late stages of a long workout or race. Anytime training gets tough, it is an opportunity to work through it and better prepare yourself for race day.

How and when do you incorporate a ladder workout into your training?   

With so many different combinations, this style of workout whether it be tempo, hills or Fartlek, can be built into just about any period of a training cycle and even in the base season. The track version (it does not have to be on a track) can be especially good as you are getting closer to race day, as a way to sharpen up and build confidence in your ability to run fast.

This style of workout can also be beneficial for basically any race distance, as it’s easily adaptable. See the examples and give them a try in your next training cycle. Your fitness will thank you. 


  • 10 – 15 min warm-up and cool down
  • 7 min + 6 min + 5 min + 4 min + 3 min + 2 min + 1 min
  • Pace: Start at marathon pace and get faster with each one
  • Rest: Easy 3:30 min run/walk in between each interval


  • 10 – 15 min warm-up and cool down
  • 15 min @ MP* + 10 min @ HMP** + 5 min @ 10 km pace
  • Rest: 5 min / 3 min easy between (can be running or walking)


  • 10 – 15 min warm-up and cool down
  • 90 sec + 75 sec + 1 min + 45 sec + 30 sec + 15 sec 
  • Hard up / easy down
  • Hill gradient: use what you have but it should be enough to make you work a little harder

Track, the classic:

  • 10 – 15 min warm-up and cool down 
  • 2,000 metres + 1,600 metres + 1,200 metres + 800 metres + 400 metres + 2 x 200 metres
  • Rest can be flexible 2:30 min – 1:30 min in between each interval, this is actual rest not active as the ones above

Long run workout:

  • 10 km easy 
  • 6 km @ MP+ 1 – 2 km easy + 4 km @ MP + 1 – 2 km easy + 2 km @ MP + 1 km easy + 1 km faster than MP
  • 3 km easy

*MP: Marathon pace **HMP: Half-marathon pace

Note: All of these workouts can be adapted based on level by decreasing the number of intervals e.g., for the track you could start at 1,600 metres or 1,200 metres.

In summary, intervals start longer and get shorter while the pace starts slower and gets faster (or vice versa). The ladder is a great way to effectively work on your aerobic capacity and can be adapted any time during your training cycle and to any race distance. Lastly, remember workouts are meant to be challenging, that gives you the opportunity to practice working through it, so come race day you are ready.

Have fun giving this workout style a try.

Photography by Jason Dam

You may also like: Periodized Training

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