Wave Loading Sets-Unlock Your Potential

wave loading sets

Wave loading sets are a great way to increase your strength. People get very intrigued by wave loading sets because you can surpass your personal best in a lift within one workout.

Wave loading uses the phenomenon of posttetanic potentiation.

From Wikipedia:

“PostTetanic Potentiation (PTP) is a form of synaptic plasticity which is short-lived and results in increased frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic potentials (mEPSPs) or currents (EPSCs) with no effect on amplitude in the spontaneous postsynaptic potential.”

That’s a fancy way of saying the exercise makes you stronger. It really makes sense when you think about it. When you provide a stimulus to the nervous system, it get’s excited. It’s possible to coax some extra strength from you CNS by priming it with a couple of potentiating sets.

How To Do Wave Loading Sets

Doing wave loading sets isn’t complicated. One wave is made up of three sets. On each set, the weight is increased while the number of reps is decreased. Beginning lifters should only do two waves per exercise. Whereas more advanced trainees should do three to four waves (three is usually sufficient).

Wave loading works best with small increases in weight from wave to wave. We’re talking a total increase of 2.5 lbs or about 1 kg from wave to wave. This will require the use of some fractional plates. If your gym doesn’t have them, you can get a pair of 1.25 lbs PlateMates on Amazon. Click the image below:

wave loading sets

PlateMates are magnetic, which makes them a convenient way to carry fractional plates with you wherever you go. If you prefer actual fractional plates for your training facility or home gym, then I recommend shopping Rogue. I’m always weary of bargain fitness products. I find you get what you pay for. Click the link below to shop:

Rogue Fractional Plates
Rogue Fractional Plates

Wave Loading Sets

You’ll pick a rep range where you want to make strength gains, ie. 3-2-1 for purely relative strength or 7-5-3 for a little more hypertrophy. The final set of the first wave should be your max for that number of reps. Rest for 3-5 minutes between each set and each wave. When you’ve finished your rest period after the first wave, move to the next wave with a 2.5 lbs increase for every set.

Example of a Wave Loading Workout

Let’s say your max deadlift is 405 lbs (about 185 kg). Here’s what a wave loading deadlift workout would look like if you wanted to increase your 1 rep max:

Wave #1

  • Set 1: 3 reps @ 375 lbs
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Set 2: 2 reps @ 390 lbs
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Set 3: 1 rep @ 405 lbs
  • Rest 3-5 minutes

Wave #2

  • Set 1: 3 reps @ 377.5 lbs
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Set 2: 2 reps @ 392.5 lbs
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Set 3: 1 rep @ 407.5 lbs

If you were successful at wave #2, congratulations. You’ve just set a new personal record. You can move on to wave #3, and continue this pattern. If you’re successful at wave #3 and you’re an advanced trainee with a couple of years under your belt, you can try a fourth wave. Only athletes with the most fast twitch fibers will be able to complete a fourth wave with success.

I used the deadlift for the example because it’s one of the best exercises for any athlete. Learn more about the benefits of deadlifting in this post.

Differences for the 7-5-3 Wave Loading

When doing the 7-5-3 wave loading for some hypertrophy of the type II fibers, there are a couple things to note.

  1. Only two waves are necessary at this intensity level. You’re doing more volume in these sets, so less total sets are needed. This is despite whatever your experience level is.
  2. You may want to use a 4-5% increase in weight from wave to wave. You’re at a lower intensity level with lighter weights. So using a small percentage for your weight increases may be more appropriate.

Final Thoughts on Wave Loading

Here’s a video of Josh Bryant using wave loading on one of his trainees. Josh is the author of Jailhouse Strong and Built to the Hilt. His Channel on YouTube is Josh Bryant.

Well there you have it. Wave loading, though advanced, is a rather simple technique for increasing your strength. This system shows us that true expression of strength needs to be built up or coaxed out, as I mentioned.

I suppose another way to do it is to have someone point a gun at your head or trap a small child underneath the weight, but that would be a little extreme.

Thanks for reading!


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