Everett Chiropractic Center Blog

February 27, 2015

Strength Training: The 3-5 Protocol and the Russian Ladder


I told someone over a week ago that I would put this up here, so I better get with it.

So the coveat here is that we are talking about STRENGTH only. The other is that I claim no authorship for any of this: it all came from the Kettle bell God: Pavel Tsatsouline. He is a fitness genius without equal and I highly recommend any and all of his books. In particular, for the purposes of this Post, his Power to the People, and From Russia with Tough Love. I would also recommend that anyone who wants to claim to be a gym type fitness person also read Naked Warrior and Beyond Bodybuilding. And, it goes without saying, that if you plan on becoming any kind of kettlebell guy, it would be silly not to read his books on that, starting with Enter the Kettlebell.

Back to the 3-5 Protocol

The first assumptions: the exercise you pick is a STRENGTH exercise; and you can do at least 3 without too much trouble. In this protocol you don’t go to fatigue or even beyond your ability to do a perfect Rep (Pavel is a freak about technique and you should be too if you want to stay safe.)

Here is what you do to get strong: This is about being ‘stronger than you look’, not about building size, but he knows all about that too and makes it equally easy and safe:-)

Do 3-5 Reps

Do 3-5 Sets

Rest 3-5 minutes between sets (it can be longer, as long as you like)

Do this 3-5 days per week.

Gradually build up to 5 sets of 5 reps 5 days per week without much rest between sets. That is a lot of progress if you couldn’t do 5 to begin with! BTW, this might takes many weeks to progress to; it doesn’t matter. When in doubt do what you can longer than you think you should have to before progressing to the next hardest progression.

So it could be 3 Sets of 3 Reps 3 Days per week; then up any one of those numbers, one or two at a time, until you are doing the 5X5.

Then move to a harder exercise (more weight, a variation, a different exercise, whatever).

Ok, now the Russian Ladder…

It’s easier to show than to tell, here is a ladder to 5:

1 Rep, then 2 Reps, then 3 Reps, then 4 Reps, then 5 Reps

That’s one ladder… think about it, you’ve done 15 Reps! (And you want to think of each “Ladder” as a “Set”. So… 3 Ladders to 5 would look like this:

1 Rep, then 2 Reps, then 3 Reps, then 4 Reps, then 5 Reps

1 Rep, then 2 Reps, then 3 Reps, then 4 Reps, then 5 Reps

1 Rep, then 2 Reps, then 3 Reps, then 4 Reps, then 5 Reps

With relatively short rests between the 1, the 2, the 3, etc., and relatively longer rests between each ladder (as long as you like really).

That’s 45 Reps! A lot of work got done. No struggle. It was heavy but not too hard. And you will feel it tomorrow, but you are not wiped out and can do your (physical) job, whatever that is.

Other options if, for example, you can’t do 4 Reps: ladders to 3 (1 Rep, then 2 Reps, then 3 Reps), first one, then two, then three Ladders. After this a Ladder to 5 will be a cinch.

You can mess with the numbers all you like. Here is another example: 2 Reps, then 4 Reps, then 6 Reps; 2, then 4 then 6 times 3, then 4 then 5.

When you combine the principles of the Ladder and the 3-5 Protocol, i.e., use the Ladder to get to the 5X5 sweet spot of strength training, you are benefiting from a wealth of hard won knowledge without having to know everything about why what you are doing works so well.



  1. […] because they are strength exercises, you can use the 3-5 Protocol to progress in strength. Progression in strength naturally means a progression in balance/motor […]

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  2. […] and do it again. It is a (ab) strengthening exercise so, as mentioned earlier, you can use the 3-5 protocol. But it also send reflex signals to the lower back muscles to relax, so that’s a bonus […]

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  4. […] The Kettlebell God wrote an entire book (The Naked Warrior) on two exercises, one being the one-legged squat, that’s how big a deal this exercise is. (Actually, he wrote two books that each covered only two exercises, but that’s another story.) […]

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  5. if you do a ladder set, you do 1 rep then, 2 reps … for how long you should take a pause between these seperated reps

    Comment by linards — April 20, 2018 @ 11:20 am

    • and how about intensity- per cent of 1 Rep maximum

      Comment by linards — April 20, 2018 @ 11:23 am

      • if you are going for strength, rest as much as you like between ladders (‘sets’ in this scenario), and otherwise whatever feels reasonable (you can actually take as long as you want to get through a ladder too:-) It is all about strength, so rest is good.

        Intensity? The idea, if you are doing sets of 5 reps is to do what would be possible to do for 7 or even 8 reps. With ladders, it doesn’t matter: if it is easy to move faster, rest less, get through it quicker, until you get to intensity levels that slow you down. Feel your way through it.

        Comment by doctordilday — April 20, 2018 @ 11:49 am

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