September 4, 2011

Wave-Like Loading Pattern Periodization

What Is Wave Loading?
Wave loading is traditionally referred to as a specific pattern in which the weight lifted is inversely related to the reps performed, and is especially effective at ramping up the nervous system to maximize performance.

An example of such a pattern looks like this:

Set 1 – 3 reps @ 87.5% of 1RM

Set 2 – 2 reps @ 92.5% of 1RM

Set 3 – 1 reps @ 97.5% of 1RM

At the completion of a wave (which only consists of 3 increasingly heavier sets), you start over with slightly more weight (5-10 lbs, up to 20 more lbs if using over 400 lbs) for each set than you did the first time, and continue performing waves until you can no longer hit your weight/reps goal.

What Is The Purpose Of Wave Loading?

Each and every rep performed has a dual effect – potentiating, and fatiguing. The goal with wave loading is to maximize potentiation, and thus performance, while minimizing fatigue. To reap the benefits of the ‘lighter’ sets, the intention is to perform the reps as explosively as possible, so that when you reach the ‘heavier’ sets, you’re in a state of maximal neural activation. Doing so enhances the recruitment of the high-threshold motor units, which happen to be the ones responsible for generating the highest levels of force. The heaviest set of each wave in turn makes the first set of the following wave feel lighter by contrast, and the cycle basically feeds itself.

Other Effective Applications Of Wave-Like Patterns

Aside from being a very effective loading pattern, wave-like patterns can be used as a progression model as well. In fact, pretty much any/all of the loading parameters (reps, weight, sets, rest, and tempo) can be ‘waved’. Some practical examples looking like this:

Basic Example

Phase 1 – 10 reps

Phase 2 – 8 reps

Phase 3 – 6 reps

Phase 4 – 8 reps

Phase 5 – 6 reps

Phase 6 – 4 reps

Alternating between Accumulation/Intensification Example

Accumulative emphasis 1 – 15 reps

Intensive emphasis 1 – 8 reps

Accumulative emphasis 2 – 12 reps

Intensive emphasis 2 – 6 reps

Accumulative emphasis 3 – 10 reps

Intensive emphasis 3 – 4 reps (or at this point you could do 3-2-1 Wave Loading!)

Week to Week Wave Loading

Week 1 – 10-12 reps

Week 2 – 8-10 reps

Week 3 – 6-8 reps

Week 4 – 10-12 reps

*The amount reps in the examples above are just that, examples. You could, and should, adjust them based on your goal.

Wave-Like Loading Periodization Vs. Linear/Reverse Linear Periodization

Linear Pattern

Phase 1 – 12-15 reps

Phase 2 – 10-12 reps

Phase 3 – 8-10 reps

Phase 4 – 6-8 reps

Phase 5 – 4-6 reps


Phase 1 – 6-8 reps

Phase 2 – 8-10 reps

Phase 3 – 10-12 reps

Phase 4 – 12-15 reps

Phase 5 – 15-20 reps

What’s The Underlying Difference?

Each phase of the linear/reverse linear models builds upon the last, which may seem logical at first glance. However, by the end of the program (depending on the length of each phase) much of the strength quality that was initially developed at the onset may be lost by the end, as the parameters between the first and last phases are dramatically different.

A wave-like pattern limits this effect by preserving gains made during each phase from being lost by alternating between similar phases, never straying too far from where you started as you work towards the end result. Programming in this manner not only ensures that less time is wasted (losing gains equating to wasting time in this case), but that more options are available moving forward, as you don’t have to go back and redevelop a lost capacity. This is what makes wave-like loading periodization superior to the logically appearing linear/reverse linear models.

If you have any questions about wave loading, and wave like loading patterns, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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