Wave Loading For Strength and Other Awesome Gainz: Part 2

In Part 1 we defined the wave loading method, listed the benefits (there are many), and mentioned 2 of the main types of wave loading. In case you're not feeling up to reading a spankin' blog post by yours truly, here are the highlights:

  1. Wave loading can be used to increase muscle strength, speed/explosiveness, or muscle size/work capacity (meaning you can lift a given load for more reps). 
  2. It takes the "brakes" off the nervous system and opens the door for heavier loads/more reps than you would have ordinarily been able to utilize while employing standard sets. 
  3. Volume and intensity are inversely proportional; less reps = higher weight and vice versa.
  4. We defined single and multiple wave loading- single is 3-4 sets of either ascending or descending reps i.e. 6, 4, 2 reps or 3, 4, 5 reps. Multiple wave loading is a bunch of single waves hanging out together i.e (3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1) or (3, 4, 5, 3, 4, 5). 
  5. When choosing a set/rep scheme, the goals typically are: low to high reps= muscle size; high to low reps = muscle strength

In short, wave loading is a fantastic method to employ if your training if you want to, you know, get stronger.

Now onto the final type of wave loading--

Rapid Wave Loading

Sounds exciting doesn't it? Guidelines:

  • Involve 4 or more sets
  • More aggressive weight jumps
  • Usually at or below 6 reps

Sample set/reps:

2 @ 145

6 @ 120

2 @ 150

6 @ 130


5 @ 200

1 @ 225

5 @ 210

1 @ 230

The assumption is that the heavy sets will enhance the work capacity of the lighter sets. Looking at the second example, theoretically, I can perform more reps at 210 than I would if I had just done 3 sets of 5 across the board due to the "excited" state of my nervous system. 

How do you choose which type of wave loading to use? Let's take a gander at the purpose of the various types. 

Rapid wave loading:

The main goal is for the lower rep set (higher weight) to increase the work capacity of the higher rep sets. The goal of 2/6/2/6 then would be for the 2 rep sets to potentiate the nervous systems (as in take off the brakes) for the 6 rep sets. Therefore, you can do more reps at a higher weight than you would normally, as the in the example I gave above. This method, I can personally attest, will help increase muscle size and work capacity. It may not add a whole lot to your one-rep max, but it'll build you a pretty solid foundation at higher rep max ranges upon which you can build maximum strength. 

Multiple wave loading (ex:  3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1): 

The first wave is intended to enhance the second wave- the same sort of idea as the potentiation of rapid wave sets, though the volume is lower per set. It is therefore crucial that you don't overshoot on the first wave, otherwise you'll be too fatigued to benefit from the neural enhancement. This method is ideal for increasing muscle strength and speed. When training for speed, you can keep the same weight between waves, just move the weight faster on the second wave.

Keep in mind, if speed or explosiveness is your training goal, going heavier on an early set will limit your ability to produce force quickly on the subsequent sets. 

Descending waves* (referring to the reps; 5, 3, 1 for example):

These are intended for neural and strength practice. Strength is a skill and needs practice just as you would practice a foul shot or serve. This method is best when you're still trying to gain mastery over a particular lift. Do NOT max out on the lighter sets as that will set you up for fatigue and form break down on the heavier sets. This is an excellent way to build muscle strength.

Ascending waves* (ex: 2, 4, 6) 

This method allows you to gain exposure to heavier weights without prior fatigue of lighter sets, so don't go overboard with warm-ups!  This method is great for both strength and muscle size as you can push the volume up a little bit with the lighter sets. 

*These can apply to either single or multiple wave loading sets.

Whether your goal is to get bigger, faster, or stronger, you can find a way to add a fire up your training by employing a wave loading method. We've been using wave loading with numerous of our athletes at SAPT to great success.