Wave loading – a different rep-scheme for strength

If you’re a beginner just starting or started with strength training, then rep-schemes should be the least of your concerns. Stick to 5×5. Universally across most domains this just works best. Get good at the specific movements and get strong! Your progress will be way faster and way more unpredictable than any rep-scheme could predict. So just stick to 5×5 and keep adding weight. If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter this rep-scheme might be of interest to you. I’ll present the actual rep-scheme and some pointers as to where I see it as being most valuable and where it might not be the best solution.

Once you’re a few years into lifting you’ll probably get to a point when you are having a hard time getting any stronger in specific movements – your progress has somewhat stalled or plateaued. This is where training becomes interesting – this is somewhat the BMW-syndrome of the strength world – a lot of people get to this stage, but few people progress from here.

This is where some of the very complex training methodologies start to get into play. But advising you to use one of those would kind of speak against the title and aim of this blog. I am not hereby saying that you should stay clear of them, because they might be the best way to reach your goals – I just like to get as far as I can with simple approaches.

In the past I have had quite good progress with Wendler’s 5/3/1 – but ended up stagnating for overhead press and feeling burned out in deadlift – where the latter may very well be the explanation of the former. I tried modifying it and not going to failure in the last set as is prescribed, but this did not seem to solve all my problems. I then started looking for alternatives and went back into my nice big collection of rep-schemes and found wave-loading.

The basic principles are very simple; you advance in waves – hence the name and try to complete anywhere from 2 to 4 waves in a specific lift per training session. You start of with a 1RM weight or what I would recommend to be a 90-95% of 1RM. Then you go back 5kg or 10lbs depending on equipment(keep it simple). In this specific case it is kg and from my strict overhead press. 95kg is somewhere between 90-95% of my 1RM. Then following this scheme I would start my first wave with 3 reps of 75kg then 2 reps of 80kg and 1 rep of 85kg. Then I would start the next wave and go on.

Waves 90-95% of 1RM 95
3 rep 2 rep 1 rep
1. wave 75 80 85
2. wave 80 85 90
3. wave 85 90 95
4. wave 90 95 100

It should be rather easy for you to do make your own formula but here is a link to a spreadsheet with the formulas working – where if I have done it right you should be able to edit the 1RM figure. Google spreadsheet wave loading

The philosophy is that on any given day you should be able to complete 2 waves. Completing 3 is a good workout and completing 4 is an awesome workout! If you can complete 5 waves then you started with too little weight. Then when do you decide to stop – do you go to absolute failure? I would not recommend it. I would go with your “feel”. You usually have a pretty good idea whether or not you will be able to get the number of reps with the given weight – stop if you do not think you can complete it. This is designed to build strength so don’t overuse the failure part.

But the important part here is that you should be able to complete 2 waves on any given day. Completing 2 is acceptable! Don’t be mad at yourself for not completing 4 on each workout. You can’t be exceptionel in every workout.

I find this rep-scheme worth a try if you are a intermediate or advanced lifter that has plateaued on for instance strict overhead press or benchpress. Or intermediate lifter stagnated on squat or deadlift. I would not recommend it for advanced lifters in squat or deadlift as I see too big a risk of burning out. But have a go yourself and see – it is very simple to implement and try.

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