Wave Loading for Strength and Other Awesome Gainz Part 1

As promised from last week's post, I planned on discussing some of the strength methods I used in programming for Amanda's powerlifting meet. If you're looking to get stronger, bigger, and fast, wave loading will rock your world!

We're going to jump right into the meat and potatoes. 


What IS Wave Loading?

Simply it is a fluctuation of volume and intensity (i.e. number of reps and load used) from set to set during an training session. Key point: volume and intensity have an inverse relationship; as volume decreases, intensity should increase. So if I'm performing 5 reps, I should use a lower weight than if I were to perform 3 reps. 

Standard sets, by contrast, use the same weight across the board. For example, I perform 3x5 squats for 100lbs for all three of my sets- those are standard sets. This will make more sense as we go along. 

What are the benefits of wave loading?

Wave loading exposes the body to higher weights more frequently, which is more specific to strength building (think progressive overload). Depending on how it's utilized, wave loading can be used to increase strength, increase muscle size, or increase muscle speed. Pretty versatile, no?Not only that, but it creates neural dis-inhibition. 

Whoa, Kelsey, what does that mean?


An easy way to think about it is you're tricking your body into using heavier loads, more reps at a given load, or moving the same load faster. The nervous system puts on the "brakes" on the muscular system, for good reasons often, but sometimes, the muscles need to tell the nervous system that, "Hey brain, we got this." Wave loading helps the muscles communicate this. 

Another analogy: let's say you go to the pool on a super-hot summer day. That water will seem chilly when you first dip your foot in, then your leg, then up to your hips, (good gracious, it's cold!), until finally you dunk your head under the water. Once you do that, the water seems fine. You just had to tell your nervous system to adjust to the perfectly-fine temperature. Wave loading is like that: it tells the brain that the muscles can in fact more that weight and it can ease up on the brakes.


Wave Loading Methods

To avoid a marathon post, I have just two methods for today and we'll go over the third on Friday. 

Single Wave Loading

  • 3-5 sets
  • Know that if you go from high--> low reps it will be more for muscle strength; from low --> high reps is more to muscle size.
  • Any reps over 6 reps, and you'll want to make jumps of 2 reps (i.e. 8 to 10). Any reps under 5, will typically be 1 rep jumps (i.e. 2 to 3). However, these two points are by no means set in stone: I personally love 5, 3, 1. 

Sample sets/reps:

3 sets, 6, 4, 2 reps (strength emphasis)

1x6 @ 100lbs

1x4 @ 110 lbs

1x2 @ 120lbs

4 sets, 1, 3, 5, 7 reps (muscle size emphasis)

1x1 @ 225

1x3 @ 215

1x5 @ 200

1x7 @ 185

Multiple Wave Loading

  • 2 waves; rarely exceed 3
  • Usually it's a decrease in reps
  • Usually performed with less than 6 reps
  • 1-3 rep jumps
  • Less change in reps = less change in weights
  • 2nd wave is usually done at a high load than the 1st wave
  • Best used for intermediate and advanced 


5, 4, 3, 5, 4, 3

5 @ 200

4 @ 210

3 @ 215

5 @ 205

4 @ 215

3 @ 225

3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1-- for a more advanced trainee

3 @ 275

2 @ 285

1 @ 295

3 @ 285

2 @ 295

1 @ 305

Closing thoughts (for now)

Respect the low reps! Don't max out on every session, or really, even come close. You should be moving heavy weights, but not so heavy that your form breaks down on your 3 set.

Rest a bit longer between sets than you would normally: 3-5 minutes is about right. 

If you use the multiple wave method, decrease your accessory work as the volume on your main lift will be pretty high. 


Check back in on Friday and we'll continue the Wave Loading knowledge!