As coaches and athletes, we are always looking for new systems to elicit greater muscular development, neuromuscular responses, and improve athletic performance. Wave loading is a technique seen in more advanced strength and power cycles, often in pre-competition phases to maximally prepare an athlete/lifter for maximal attempts at such movements that require the highest degree of strength and power.

In this article we will discuss the importance of wave loading in peaking/pre-competition programs, and how you can input snatch and squat wave loading into your current training regimen.

What Is Wave Loading

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Wave loading is a systematic loading scheme done within a single workout that entails numerous waves of increased loading intensities (generally above 85% RM) to facilitate greater neuromuscular excitation. Here’s an example of a squat wave loading program following a progressive build up to loads at or above 80% RM:

Wave 1

  • 1 set of 2 repetitions at 85% rep-max (RM)
  • 1 set of 1 repetition at 90% RM
  • 1 set of 1 repetition at 95% RM

Wave 2

  • 1 set of 1 repetition at 85% RM
  • 1 set of 1 repetition at 90% RM
  • 1 set of 1 repetition at 90+%

How Does Wave Loading Work

Post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) is a process in which the motor neurons following repeated muscular activation are left in a state of excitability, often resulting in enhanced force production despite potential muscular activation decreases due to fatigue. The progressive ramping of the motor units within the muscles and throughout the neuromuscular system allow for greater force development in successive contractions.

Why Should You Do Wave Loading

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As competitive power and strength athletes looking to maximally perform on the platform or in the fitness arena, maximal excitation and activation of motor neurons is paramount for peak power and force development. The ability to train the neuromuscular system leading up to competition could enhance you overall output. It is important to note that this type of training can be very exhausting and should be used with caution. Failure to properly train and then cease training in this fashion could result in blunted responses, neuromuscular fatigue, and potentially, over-reaching/overtraining.

Who Should Do Wave Loading

Whether you are a weightlifter, powerlifting, or competitive athlete, using wave loading at specific phases in your training could increase strength and performance over time. Additionally, wave loading could be a beneficial training stimulus for strength and power athletes preparing for a meet, such as weightlifting and powerlifting events.

How Should You Do Wave Loading

As described above, wave loading should be done following a sufficient warm-up and build up sets. Overall training volume (set x repetitions) should be kept low to allow for increased training intensity (% of RM). Due to the advanced stress and nature of this technique, coaches and athletes should not use this with beginner level athletes, or with any level athlete entering into a training phase. Lifters should have sufficient experience training with heavier loads (ones at or above 85% RM), and be in heightened state of readiness. The exact wave loading schemes can be manipulated, however the following scheme below has been used by both myself and my weightlifting athletes in preparation for a weightlifting meet.

Snatch Example

Build-Up

  • 1×3 @ 60% RM
  • 1×2 @ 70% RM
  • 1×2 @ 80% RM

Wave 1

  • Build to Heavy Single (HS)

Wave 2

  • 1×1 @ 90% of Wave 1 HS
  • 1×1 @ 95% of Wave 1 HS
  • Build to another HS

Wave 3

  • 1×1 @ 90% of Wave 2 HS
  • 1×1 @ 95% of Wave 2 HS

Squat Example

Build-Up

  • 1×3 @ 60% RM
  • 1×2 @ 70% RM
  • 1×2 @ 80% RM

Wave 1

  • 1×2 @ 85% RM
  • 1×1 @ 90% RM
  • 1×1 @ 95% RM

Wave 2

  • 1×2 @ 85% RM
  • 1×1 @ 90% RM

Wave 3

  • 1×3 @ 80% RM

**All rest periods should be 3-5 minutes long between sets and waves.

Final Words

Wave loading is an advanced training technique that can be beneficial at increasing strength and power in athletes who are capable of training at higher loads. When done sparingly, as in time leading up to competitions or planned repetition max testing, wave loading may lead to maximal force output and neuromuscular activation, allowing for enhanced training outcomes.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

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