Wave loading is a method that can reliably build great strength and confidence in the weight room.
Before we talk about wave loading specifically, it is useful to point out that EVERYTHING in the weight room is related to MATH. This may come as bad news to some of you, but don’t despair – these mathematical relationships in the gym can be surmised with catchy, quirky little phrases, easily remembered.
The are 6 variables in strength training. We (strength coaches) call them the 6 “loading parameters”.
The 6 Loading Parameters are:
- The exercise
- The number of sets
- The number of reps
- The tempo (of each rep)
- The rest interval (time between sets)
- The load (weight on the bar, or % of Rep Max)
Each one of these 6 variables, or loading parameters, is related acutely by, you guessed it, MATH. For example, the number of sets and number of reps are INVERSELY related (when one goes up, the other goes down).
There are many other mathematical relationships to point out here, but I imagine with some of you that your eyes have already glazed over with inattention. Let’s move on…
“Wave Loading” is a “loading method”.
Similarly, 3 sets of 10 reps is a loading method. Five sets of five reps is a loading method. “Pyramids (e.g. 8, 6, 4, 6, 8)” is a loading method. You get the idea.
Wave loading is cool to me because it imitates the tide coming in at the beach. I love the beach, although the sun hates and punishes my fair skin. Few things feel better than being near the ocean though. When the tide is coming in, the waves break on the shore and the seawater creeps up the shore to a certain point before receding. The next wave breaks and the seawater creeps up the shore a little further before it recedes again. Then again. And again. The process continues. Eventually, the sea water makes it way up the shoreline to a maximum level.
Applying wave loading to an exercise in the gym
is similar to the waves coming in at the beach. Let’s take every gym rat’s favorite exercise (my least favorite because it’s so overvalued by your average gym rat), the bench press. Let’s say you walk into the gym on Monday (of course Monday is chest day) and you want to check that monster bench press of yours again this week, for the 83rd week in a row. Instead of immediately putting on the “plates” and starting your first warm-up set at 135 pounds, humor me and try something different.
Start your first warm-up set with JUST THE BAR. I know, I know… heresy. Just humor me. Do 5 slow reps with the bar, just feeling the right muscles stretch and contract, gently and slowly, concentrating on ideal bar path. Just for today, go from here to the seated cable row and do 5 equally slow and deliberate reps with approximately 60 pounds. Yes, I know it’s light. Repeat this pairing of 5 reps press, 5 reps row, 2-3 times. Okay. Don’t worry about how you look to your buddies – the strongest people in the world still start their warm-ups with just the bar.
So, we all know that you still can’t bench “3 plates”, or 315 pounds,
without one of your buddies simultaneously performing a 1 rep max upright row. But, let me be generous and say that if your life depended on it, you might be able to bench 300 pounds for 1 rep (on your own – nobody touching the bar). Back to some of that math. If your 1RM on a given exercise is 300 pounds, your increment load(amount of weight you load to the bar each set) is 30 pounds, because 10% of 300 lbs is 30lbs. If your 1 rep max is 250 lbs your increment load is 25 lbs. Now that I defined all that, here is your first wave:
- 75lbs x5, 105 lbs x3, 135 lbs x2
So, you are loading a ten pound plate and a five pound plate on each side, each set.
Here’s your second wave:
- 105×5, 135×3, 165×2
Those were your warm-up waves. Here’s the rest of the waves, your work waves:
135×5, 165×3, 195×2
165×5, 195×3, 225×2
195×5, 225×3, 255×2
225×5, 255×3, 285×2
and then maybe:
255×3, 285×2, 315×1
This is an example of wave loading on one exercise, the bench press. Hopefully, this example gives you the necessary gist. I have minimized the details here, trying to be brief. I could talk about wave loading all day – there is a lot to say about this very effective loading method that builds not only strength, but also confidence.
Let me just finish this post up with saying that you can use the concept of wave loading on:
- a single exercise
- across a circuit of exercises
- across days in your 2, 3, 4, or 5 day split program
- Do not use greater than 5 reps per set on wave loading. You may successfully use 5-3-2, 3-2-1, or even 1-1-1, but stuff like 12-10-8 will not work well.
- Rest as long, or as little, as you need to between sets. You may rest only the amount of time it takes to change the weight on the bar between sets on warm-up waves, for example.
- The optimal number of waves in going to be 3 or 4 waves. Once you miss a weight for the set reps, that exercise is completed – move on to the next exercise.
- Get a spot, or set up in a power rack, on weights you are uncertain about.
- Only use wave loading on one exercise per day.
If you are using my system for wave loading the Olympic Lifts (Snatch, Clean) across days in my predefined training template, The Paul Newt Training System – “4 PoiNTS”, this embedded excel spreadsheet has been added here for your convenience.
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Thank you for reading.