Pack on Muscle by Wave Loading

Wave loading is a great way to get in quality reps at higher intensity to build muscle quickly.

Wave loading is a form of resistance training where the intensity (percentage of your 1-rep maximum) and repetitions of an exercise are adjusted each set in ascending or descending order then repeated for a desired number of waves.

For example, wave loading for the Barbell Squat could look like this:

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Wave loading is a form of resistance training where the intensity (percentage of your 1-rep maximum) and repetitions of an exercise are adjusted each set in ascending or descending order then repeated for a desired number of waves.

For example, wave loading for the Barbell Squat could look like this:

  • Squat (75% x 5 reps, 80% x 4 reps, 85% x 3 reps) x 3 waves.

Here, the lifter squats 75% of his maximum for 5 reps, then 80% for 4 reps, and 85% for 3 reps. After the 3 reps at 85%, he goes back down to 75% and repeats the sequence two more times for a total of three waves. (Learn more about determining sets and reps.)

Wave loading is a great way to get in quality reps at higher intensity while taking advantage of post-activation potentiation. Post-activation potentiation is the enhancement of muscular contractions due to the contractile history of the muscles and central nervous system. This means that heavy loading of the highest sets leads to increased central nervous system activation, which results in higher power output during the ensuing sets.

While this type of programming could be used with any exercise, the goal here is to get strong with the basic compound exercises, such as the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Pull-Up, etc.

How to Use Waves

When setting up wave loading for your program, decide on an appropriate intensity for your sets. Since the focus of this article is on strength, the majority of your sets should be at 80% and above.

The next step is to select an appropriate number of reps for the given intensity of your sets. Use the following guidelines:

  • 75% - 5-8 repetitions
  • 80% - 3-5 repetitions
  • 85% - 2-4 repetitions
  • 90% - 1-2 repetitions
  • 95% and above – 1 repetition

The majority of these reps are not meant to be maximal. With the exception of lifts that are 95 percent and above, there should be roughly 1-3 reps left in the tank for each set.

Once those factors are decided, it's time to pick the number of waves you will perform. I recommend 2-3 waves.

As for rest periods, rest as long as it takes for you to feel ready to start another set.

Sample Programs

Here are two samples of four-week cycles using wave loading. One of them uses two sets per wave and the other three.

Sample 1:

  • Week 1 – (80% x 4, 85% x 3) x 2 waves
  • Week 2 – (80% x 5, 85% x 3-4) x 2 waves
  • Week 3 – (85% x 3, 90% x 1-2) x 2 waves
  • Week 4 – (75% x 5, 80% x 3) x 2 waves

Sample 2:

  • Week 1 – (75% x 5, 80% x 4, 85% x 3) x 2 waves
  • Week 2 – (75% x 6, 80% x 5, 85% x 3-4) x 2 waves
  • Week 3 – (80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 1-2) x 2 waves
  • Week 4 – (75% x 5, 80% x 3, 85% x 2) x 2 waves

In these examples, the intensity of the waves gradually increases and then unloads over the course of a typical four-week training cycle. These examples could also be used in descending fashion by doing the highest percentage first, followed by the lower percentages.

You can also increase the intensity with each successful wave. Here's an example:

  • Wave 1 – 75% x 5, 80% x 4, 85% x 3
  • Wave 2 – 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 1

As you can see, there are many ways to program waves to build strength. Like all training plans, there is no one "best" way to go about it. Follow the guidelines above and plug in the variables that work for your training program.

RELATED: Get Strong With the 25-Rep Rule


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BUILD MUSCLE | EXERCISE | INTENSITY