Training

What Is Wave Loading?

What Is Wave Loading?

Wave loading is a form of resistance training.  The intensity and repetitions of this training is changed during each set in ascending or descending order and then gets repeated for a certain amount of “waves.”  Wave loading exposes your body to heavy weights, which promotes muscle growth.  A lot of training programs and regimes involve high volume and low weights, which is good for muscle endurance and overall health, but we’re focusing more on strength and mass gains when talking about wave loading.


How Is Wave Loading Different?

Wave loading training is best for compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench press etc.  This training is specifically designed for increasing muscle mass (size) and strength goals.

Standard sets involve using the same amount of weight (load) for the same amount of repetitions each set.  For example sets of 4×12, 3×15, 3×10.  This type of training could arguably be recommended for beginner trainers.

Step loading (pyramid sets, dropsets) involves increasing or decreasing the amount of weight from each set that is set for that particular exercise.  This is good for incorporating more muscle fibers during training, for increasing strength.

Wave loading, on the other hand, is somewhat similar to step loading in the sense that you’re constantly increasing or decreasing the amount of the load to compensate the amount of desired repetitions accordingly.  Here is an example of wave loading, using squats as an example exercise:

1 set of 2 repetitions at 85% 1RM (max repetition)

1 set of 1 repetition at 90% of 1RM

1 set of 1 repetition at 95% of 1RM

Wave loading works as your motor neurons are following a consistent activation within your working muscles.  This enhances force production throughout the neuromuscular system.  With such intensity and heavy loads, it’s important to do wave loading after a proper workout to prevent shock within your nervous system and injuries.  Due to the intensity, it can be very exhausting to your muscles, and mentally as well.  Therefore, train smart with caution.

wave loading squats


Benefits of Wave Loading

Increasing your strength is usually the main goal when training with wave loads.  Eventually with time, this can result in hypertrophy (bigger muscles) as well.  Wave loading allows you to get closer to your strength goal by exposing your body to higher loads than you’re normally used to.  Not to mention, the different muscle fibers will want to play along to, so incorporating these different fibers will also promote strength and muscle gains.

Strength and size doesn’t have to be the only goals to focus on.  You can also increase your speed and explosiveness during your training.  Of course, choose your weight carefully by not lifting too heavy to push through the movement itself if explosiveness is a goal of yours.  Tempo change is great for optimal fitness goals, too.  By constantly changing the weight, you may have a better mind to muscle connection.  Changing the weight after each lift could make you more aware of the weight itself, therefore being more aware of how to go through each movement accordingly without hurting yourself.

wave loading biceps


Take Home Message

As the weights get heavier, give your body time to rest a little more so that you don’t overload yourself or your nervous system.  With wave loading, it’s important to maintain that balance between activating your muscles and fatiguing them.  If the weight is too heavy for the lift based on repetitions, you’ll tire yourself out too soon.  On the other hand, if the weights aren’t heavy enough, you won’t fatigue the working muscle(s) enough and won’t optimize your growth potential.

Don’t train “to failure”, as you may increase the risk of injury.  As you progress more into wave loading, continue to switch it up more to further your training abilities!  Add another wave set, or change the direction of the wave.  If you’re usually increasing the weight with less repetitions, try decreasing the weight and adding more repetitions to keep your body and muscles “guessing.”  You can also increase or decrease the tempo speeds during your lifts, as long as you can maintain that speed with proper form.  It’s great to try new ways of training, but always keep your form in check in order to prevent any injuries that can cost you more time out of the gym!

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Katie Mclean

Katie Mclean

Writer and expert


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