I've always been of the opinion that ladder interval workouts (for example 400 meters, 800, meters, 1600 meters, then back down) were something that coaches invented to justify their salary. It seemed logical to me that if you wanted to work on speed you ran a straight set of 200s or 400s taking plenty of rest, and if you wanted improve strength/endurance you ran 400s or 800s at a slower pace with less rest.
Running the shorter distances faster, ladder or reverse ladder intervals offer the option to work on speed and strength in the same workout, but whether or not this translates to a better workout than straight intervals is still up for debate. The bottom line is which workout most closely simulates your race?
We've been having the Youth Running Club on Camp Humphreys do reverse ladder workouts, so if I'm going to dish it out then I figure I better give it a try.
This morning I went to the .2 mile track on Camp Humphreys and started off with 11:52 for 2 miles- I felt surprisingly strong and somewhat smooth for a change. After a long 5 min recovery I did 1 mile in 5:44, then finished up with an 800 meter in 2:48 (another 5 min recovery).
Not a bad workout for me, especially coming off 16 x 400s on Sunday, but I still think that straight 7 x 800s in the mid 2:50s with one minute rest would have been just as effective, if not more so.
Why run ladders? For me, the reverse ladder presented a welcome change from grinding out straight intervals- it's all downhill after that first one is out of the way. Once in a while every runner in the middle of a hard training cycle needs to break from the norm, and ladders offer a great alternative.