Russian Pressing Ladder: An Overhead Press Program, 3x/Week

Getting stronger doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

Pick a fairly heavy weight, lift it a bunch of times, and repeat.

Eventually, some complexity is added as you leave the beginner stage and enter the intermediate stage. Suddenly you need to strike a balance between making a hard effort to move forward, but also not going heavy all the time. Thus, a minimum of periodization is called for.

One of the most classic ways to structure your workouts within a week is the Heavy–Light–Medium approach and that is the format that the classic Russian pressing program we just added to the app is based on: the Russian Pressing Ladder.

It is an overhead press program intended to, well, make you stronger at presses. Hey, you’re here for the programs, not the prose.

The Overhead Press Program: Weights and Ladders

It should be said from the start that this pressing program was originally intended for the kettlebell press. It is, however, equally suitable for the overhead press or the bench press if you choose your training weight wisely.

Would it work for lifts such as the squat or weighted pull-up as well?

Who knows.

Personally, I’ve followed this program for the kettlebell press with good results.

Kettlebell overhead press
Yours truly, kettlebell pressing in the garage gym.

The program is based on increasingly challenging weeks consisting of heavy, light, and medium workouts.

You will be using the same weight throughout the entire five-week program but do more and more reps and thus increasing your strength, skill, and work capacity. Heck, you’ll probably even build some muscle along the way.

When you test your strength again after five weeks, you should have improved significantly.

The First Week of the Program

For the first workout, you will need to enter your 1RM into the app.

Russian Overhead Press Program

Enter something that you can currently lift, not your year-old personal best. Your training weights should be something that you can lift for five to eight strict reps, typically about 80–85% of your 1RM. That averages out to 82.5%, so that is what the app will calculate for you. If necessary, adjust your 1RM up or down until your training weight is in the 5–8RM range or simply feels right.

Time to lift.

Begin by lifting the weight for one rep. Rest for a while. Then do two reps. Rest. Then do three reps.

You just completed one ladder of 1, 2, 3 reps, and you’ll be doing two more ladders today.

Here’s how it looks:

Workout 1 (Heavy): 3 x [1, 2, 3] reps

Three ladders of one, two, and three reps, for a total of 18 repetitions with a medium-heavy weight, and you’re done for today.

(Note that if you are following this program with a kettlebell, you should begin with your weakest arm and then immediately follow up with your stronger arm. One rep with the first arm, then one with the other. Rest. Two reps with the first arm, then two with the other. Rest. And so on. If you’re doing this for the overhead press or some other barbell lift, you don’t need to worry about this.)

How long should you rest between sets? You decide. This is no sprint, and the important thing is to do all reps in a crisp and strict manner. You’re practicing the skill of strength, not competing against the clock. Rest for one minute or ten minutes; it’s not important.

Two days later you’ll do the light workout.

The light workout is done with the same weight as the heavy workout, and for the same number of ladders, but two rungs lower. For the first few weeks, that means you’ll simply do a single rep in each ladder.

Like this:

Workout 2 (Light): 3 x [1] reps

Three singles, for a total of three reps. A light workout indeed, but still important for practice, skill, and strength acquisition. Don’t scoff at it, and don’t skip it. Embrace the opportunity of practice, for you will need it to prepare for the heavy weeks.

One workout remains in the first week, and that is the medium workout. Once again, you’ll be using the same weight and do the same number of ladders as in the heavy day, but this time only one rung lower.

Workout 3 (Medium): 3 x [1, 2] reps.

Three ladders of one and two reps for a total of nine reps, and you’re done for the week.

Climbing the Ladders

First, you build the base. Then you build the peak.

As the weeks advance, you will first add additional ladders and then add rungs.

You will keep climbing like this up until week five which is the final and hardest week.

After the fifth week, I suggest you rest for two or three days and then test your max. You can use our calculator to warm up for your max attempt. I think you will be pleased with the results.

Alternatively, if you don’t feel like maxing out, simply start the program over but bump up the weights by 5%.

Follow This Program

Want to give this overhead press program a go?

It’s available in our app StrengthLog, under the name Russian Pressing Ladder.

While this program requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog itself is completely free. You can download it and use it as a workout tracker and general strength training app where all the basic functionality is free – forever.

It even has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, our more advanced programs (such as this one) are for premium users only.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store


>> Click here to return to our list of training programs.

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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.