In my last article on rep schemes, I talked about the importance of keeping pyramids narrow for best results. Pyramids are a specialized example of step loading: you take a step, increase the weight, take another step, etc., until you reach the top of your pyramid for the day. You then attempt to retrace your progress in similar stepwise fashion. This loading process is an example of linear loading.
Linear loading works very well for traditional rep schemes and for pyramids, but it’s not the only loading style. Undulatory, or non-linear loading, is another loading style that improves relative strength levels.
Undulatory loading excites neurological drive in a different way from step loading. There are several non-linear methods that have already been written about that work very well. There are also some rep protocols that were very imaginative in theory, that do not work so well in practice. Some of these can be made effective by changing a few things. We’ll cover the basics of the former in this article, and examples of the latter in later installments.
Wave loading is perhaps the best example of undulatory loading there is. It is an extremely popular method for improving maximal and relative strength as well as power primarily because it is, above all, effective. Moreover, wave loading is just fun to do. It is an excellent rep technique to choose whether you want to peak your strength or power levels for an event, or add some high quality muscle that has as much show as it does go.
There are two primary methods to use when wave loading. One method is for the improvement of power and maximal strength. The second method is to improve relative strength and functional hypertrophy.
The theory behind wave loading is that neurological drive increases as you approach maximal effort, and that maximal effort creates a spillover effect to improve strength in subsequent sets of lesser intensity of the same exercise. By approaching maximal 1-RM intensity in a succinct, narrow fashion (not unlike pyramiding), you prime the central nervous system through repeated efforts to perform the highest possible maximal effort for a given day.
Wave loading is historically comprised of three sets per wave. The goal is to increase intensity progressively using greater weight and lesser reps until the CNS (central nervous system) is adequately primed. The trainee subsequently allows the wave to “break”, and then begins another step-wise climb, the ultimate goal being to lift slightly heavier loads in subsequent waves.
The more advanced the lifter’s central nervous system, the more waves they will be able to complete. Most trainees who use wave loading should aim for two waves maximum. Those who are particularly gifted for strength development, or who have superior nutritional status, may be able to complete three waves. Those who are at the top of their field in the strength game may be able to complete as many as four waves successfully.
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