Wave loading

Wave loading is based on the principles of PTP (post-tetanic potentiation) which was contributed to the work done back in the 1980s, by Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, a German strength physiologist.

The outcome of his work showed that fatiguing muscle contractions impair muscle performance, but non-fatiguing muscle contractions at high loads with a brief duration may enhance muscle performance.   

This form of training was utilized extensively by the late, world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin with athletes in various sports contributing to winning multiple Olympic medals.  

There are various forms of wave loading protocols that can be used based on training age and goals.

Here are a few examples below:

 3 sets of 3 – 2 – 1 reps or 3 sets of 5 – 3 – 1 reps

Suitable for training populations interested in improving both relative and absolute strength, using weights over 87% of 1RM.

2 sets of 7 – 5 – 3 or 2 sets of 8 – 6 – 4

Suitable for populations interested in improving myofibrillar strength (muscle fibre density without an increase in size), using weights over 80% of 1RM.  

In terms of rest, post-tetanic potentiation peaks at around 90-120 seconds after a set and some benefits linger for up to 5 minutes. Therefore, it works great for pairing upper and lower or agonist and antagonist multi-joint exercises. The goal is to start with a baseline weight suitable for the rep ranges prescribed and increase it by 3-5% each ‘wave’.

Depending on genetics, nutritional & hormonal status, and recovery, this type of training can be used successfully in blocks of 3-6 weeks with great potential for improving strength.  

Below is an example of a periodized program for an advanced trainee looking to improve the 1RM on barbell press, chin-up and deadlift over 2 mesocycles spanning over 6-12 weeks:

Phase 1 : 3 – 6 weeks  
Order Exercise name Sets Reps Tempo 
A1 Low incline barbell press 2x 7 – 5 – 3 31×0 
A2 NG fat-grip chin-up, medium grip 2x 7 – 5 – 3 30×1 
B1 Flat dumbbell press  3-4x 8 – 10 3110 
B2 One arm row with dummbell3-4x 8 – 10 3011 
C1 Arms or rotator cuff 2-3x 10 – 12 2111 
C2 Arms or shoulder work 2-3x 10 -12 2111 
Order Exercise name Sets Reps Tempo 
A1 Deadlift, conventional 2x 7 – 5 – 3 41×1 
B1 Split squats with dumbbells, front foot elevated 3-4x 16 – 20 3110 
B2 Incline hip extension with barbell3-4x 8 – 10 3011 
C1 Pendulum squat 2-3x 10 – 12 3110 
C2 Lying leg curl 2-3x 10 – 12 3011 
Phase 2 : 3 – 6 weeks  
Order Exercise name Sets Reps Tempo 
A1 Flat fat grip barbell press2x 5 – 3 – 1 41×0 
A2 NG fat-grip chin-up, medium grip 2x 5 – 3 – 1 40×1 
B1 Low decline dumbbell press 3-4x 6 – 8 2111 
B2 Dead stop, one-arm row with dumbbell 3-4x 6 – 8 2111 
C1 Arms or rotator cuff 2-3x 8 – 12 2111 
C2 Arms or shoulder work 2-3x 8 – 12  2111 
Order Exercise name Sets Reps Tempo 
A1 Deadlift, conventional 2x 5 – 3 – 1 31×1 
B1 Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells 3-4x 12 – 16 3111 
B2 GHR 3-4x 6 – 8 4111 
C1 Pendulum squats with band 2-3x 8 – 12 2111 
C2 Incline hip extension with dumbbells 2-3x 8 – 12 2111 

Disclaimer: This type of training should be done by trainees who want to improve strength or have reached a plateau, and have an intermediate to advance progressive training age (2 years plus), due to the high levels of proficiency and baseline strength required for the big compound lifts. 

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