What Is Wave Loading?

Wave loading is a progressive rep and intensity scheme that has a lifter perform a series of sets with increasingly more weight and less reps per wave, followed by 1-2 more waves, each starting slightly higher in weight and running through the same rep scheme.

For example, a common wave loading plans may have a lifter perform 9 total sets (3 waves), where wave one is three sets (3-2-1 reps at 85-87-90% of max), followed by 1-2 more wave sets starting at slightly higher loads than wave 1 (see below sample wave loading schemes for more).

There are two main types of wave loading.

Both are effective means at increasing neural activation and strength, however they also are very effective at draining the neural system and can lead to overtraining and/or chronic neural fatigue and injury. Understanding what the purpose of each is and how to safely use the protocols are essential for optimal performance and injury prevention.


There are times in a training cycle where we want to peak our strength for an event, max lift testing, or time frame. This peaking time period is often a singular day, or at most a few days. You can use wave loading leading up to the event to maximize strength expression (setting person records) and bring to a successful conclusion a sound hypertrophy and strength program.

This loading phase is often 2-3 weeks, at most, and is done only a few times a year (1-3 times annually). This is something that is done on main strength lifters (not accessories), often the exact movement that is needed for strength testing or sport (such as squat, bench, or deadlift in competitive powerlifting).

Following a successful 2-3 week peaking strength wave loading plan (which includes the rest period and competitive event), a lifter then goes back to a program that is using loads of less than 90% to allow the neural system to recover.


Similar to the peaking strength wave loading program, this is a great way to increase neural drive and muscle activation. Unlike the peaking strength wave loading scheme, this can be done for slightly longer periods of time (4-6 weeks, including a deload week), and often precedes a peaking wave loading period.

In this loading scheme, a lifter performs more reps per set (see below) using loading % of 80-89%, rather than 1-3 reps using above 90%. This allows for the development of strength (which is best developed training in the 80-89% range). After successful strength phases, a lifter can then learn to express that strength (a highly neurological and psychological process) doing a very short term peaking program (see below).