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.  

Nick Mitchell U.P. CEO, Joe Halstead U.P. COO, the late Charles Poliquin, world-renowned Olympic strength coach.

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.  

Our global head of PT, Eddie Baruta.

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 (Session 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 

Phase 1 (Session 2) : 3 – 6 weeks  

Order Exercise name Sets Reps Tempo 
A1 Deadlift, conventional 2x 7 – 5 – 3 41×1 
B1 Split squats with DB, 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 (session 1) : 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 

Phase 2 (session 2) : 3 – 6 weeks  

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.