6/4/2 Wave Loading: The Ultimate Guide!


6/4/2 wave loading

Wave loading is easily one of the most effective training methods you can use. In my experience 6/4/2 wave loading is extremely effective for building strength and functional hypertrophy. Continue reading to learn more!

Introduction

  • Part 1: What Are The Benefits Of 6-4-2 Wave Loading?
  • Part 2: Wave Loading Percentages
  • Part 3: The Best 6-4-2 Wave Loading Workouts
  • Part 4: How To Cycle 6-4-2 Waves In Your Long-Term Programming

Wave loading is easily one of the oldest and most effective set / rep schemes ever invented. It is right up there with training methods such as cluster sets, rest-pause sets, and isometronics.

Wave loading works incredibly well for almost all training goals including relative and absolute strength as well as functional hypertrophy.

A strength training wave involves performing three sets of an exercise with decreasing rep ranges.

As the name suggests a 6-4-2 wave would involve you performing 6 reps on the first set, 4 reps on the second set, and 2 reps on the third set. This entire wave is normally performed twice in a single workout.

For example, here is what a typical 6-4-2 wave loading bench press workout would look like for someone with a 300 pound 1-rep max bench press:

  • Set #1: 240 pounds x 6 reps
  • Set #2: 255 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #3: 270 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #4: 245 pounds x 6 reps
  • Set #5: 260 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #6: 275 pounds x 2 reps

As a general rule of thumb you should perform no more than 2 total 6-4-2 waves per workout.

Of course if you were to superset antagonistic body parts it is possible to perform 6-4-2 waves for two seperate exercises. This is how I normally design wave loading workouts for my clients – see the sample routines below!

Part 1: What Are The Benefits Of 6-4-2 Wave Loading?

The 6-4-2 wave loading protocol has numerous benefits.

Like all wave loading protocols a 6-4-2 wave loading workout takes advantage of the principle of “post-tetanic facilitation.”

This is just a fancy way of saying that your muscles can produce more force after they are first excited with a powerful muscular contraction.

In our case the first wave excites the central nervous system and allows you to lift more weight on the second wave. This is simply fantastic regardless of whether you are training for strength or functional hypertrophy!

There is another benefit to the 6-4-2 wave protocol that I want to bring your attention to.

Many people have a very difficult time recovering from a workout featuring lots of reps in the 1-2 rep range.

For example, a ten sets of 2 workout will overtrain most trainees with a balanced or acetyl-choline dominant neurotransmitter profile after just a single workout!

This does not mean that low rep sets are bad. Rather, you have to be careful with how you use them within your long-term programming.

One of the things I absolutely LOVE about a good 6-4-2 wave loading workout is that it lets you flirt with these low-rep sets without frying your central nervous system.

After all, you are only performing two of these doubles in the entire workout!

Bodybuilders will love this training method as it lets them train with low reps without risking overtraining.

On the other hand, strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongmen competitors often use 6-4-2 waves to give their bodies a break from the constant pounding of low-rep sets but without losing their top-end strength.

6-4-2 wave loading is one of those rare training methods that works for almost everyone!

Part 2: Wave Loading Percentages

One of the most common questions I receive regarding wave loading workouts is this: “what percentages should I use?”

As a general rule of thumb I am not a big fan of using percentages to dictate the weight that you use.

One of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that the ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers varies enormously from one trainee to the next.

For example, we know that the average trainee will be able to perform 5 reps with 85% of their one-rep max.

However, a more fast-twitch individual may only perform 3 reps with 85% while a more slow-twitch individual may perform as many as 10 reps!

As you can see giving one guideline for everyone is a fool’s errand.

However, if you are going to use percentages then I recommend you start with these guidelines:

  • Use 80% on your first set of 6 reps
  • Use 85% on your first set of 4 reps
  • Use 90% on your first set of 2 reps

If these weights are too light on your first wave then go ahead and make a small but significant weight jump during the second wave. For example:

  • Use 82% on your first set of 6 reps
  • Use 87% on your first set of 4 reps
  • Use 92% on your first set of 2 reps

These are only sample training percentages. If you have an unusually high percentage of fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle fibers they may be useless for you.

However, for many of you these percentages will serve as a useful guideline.

Part 3: The Best 6-4-2 Wave Loading Workouts

Please note: I write my routines with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you are not used to reading routines written in this manner then please consult this article.

As promised I am going to provide you with two complete 6-4-2 wave loading workout programs for every body part.

In my experience the upper body / lower body splits and the Poliquin splits tend to work best for this training method.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Training Split #1: The Upper / Lower Split

I really like this split for wave loading workouts because it perfectly accommodates antagonistic body part training.

For example, during an upper body workout you may want to perform a set of bench presses, rest 100 seconds, perform a set of chin ups, rest 100 seconds, and repeat the cycle again.

Antagonistic body part supersets have many advantages including increased motor unit recruitment, decreased rates of muscular fatigue, and doubling your training density.

Here is a 4 days per week upper / lower split that you may want to try:

  • Sunday: Off
  • Monday: Upper
  • Tuesday: Lower
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Upper
  • Friday: Lower
  • Saturday: Off

Of course you can choose which days you want to train on based on your own unique schedule. The important part is to make sure that you do not train more than 2 days in a row without a day off.

Here are the workouts:

Upper Body 6/4/2 Wave Loading Workout

  • A1: 30 Degree incline bench press (close grip), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 7-9, 2/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated unilateral cable row, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated zottman curls, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 6 reps, set #2 = 4 reps, set #3 = 2 reps, set #4 = 6 reps, set #5 = 4 reps, set #6 = 2 reps.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

And here is the lower body workout:

Lower Body 6/4/2 Wave Loading Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Rear foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 4 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing barbell good morning, 4 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 6 reps, set #2 = 4 reps, set #3 = 2 reps, set #4 = 6 reps, set #5 = 4 reps, set #6 = 2 reps.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The Poliquin Split

The other training split I like to use for wave loading workouts is the Poliquin split. I have talked about these splits quite a bit before and for good reason: they work! 

There are many variations of the Poliquin split.

For the purposes of this routine I recommend you use the following one:

  • Day 1: Arms / Rotator Cuff
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Chest / Back
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat

I am going to provide you with sample workouts for each of these three separate training days.

Arms 6/4/2 Wave Loading Workout

  • A1: Decline close-grip bench press, 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curls (narrow / supinated grip), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Flat ez-bar extensions to nose, 3 x 7-9, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Standing cable external rotations (arm adducted), 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Prone bilateral 30 degree trap 3 raise, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 6 reps, set #2 = 4 reps, set #3 = 2 reps, set #4 = 6 reps, set #5 = 4 reps, set #6 = 2 reps.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Legs 6/4/2 Wave Loading Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet neutral), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking lunges (holding DBs), 4 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 4 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 6 reps, set #2 = 4 reps, set #3 = 2 reps, set #4 = 6 reps, set #5 = 4 reps, set #6 = 2 reps.

****To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you will dorsiflex your toes (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your toes (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Chest / Back 6/4/2 Wave Loading Workout

  • A1: 60 degree incline bench press (mid-grip), 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Overhand shoulder-width pull ups, 6 x 6/4/2/6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 15 degree incline DB press, 3 x 7-9, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 6 reps, set #2 = 4 reps, set #3 = 2 reps, set #4 = 6 reps, set #5 = 4 reps, set #6 = 2 reps.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

Now that I’ve shown you some complete wave loading workouts let’s talk about how to cycle them in your long-term programming.

Part 4: How To Cycle 6-4-2 Waves In Your Long-Term Programming

As Charles Poliquin used to say, “a workout is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it.” Eventually your body will become bored with any routine you perform.

When this happens your body will stop adapting and you will need to move on to a new training program. Of course 6-4-2 wave loading is no different in this regard.

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform one of the above wave loading workouts 3-6 times in a row per bodypart before moving on to another type of routine.

An individual with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers may adapt in only three workouts.

For example:

  • Workout #1: wave loading 
  • Workout #2: wave loading
  • Workout #3: wave loading
  • Workout #4: (different training program)

On the other hand an individual with a larger percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers may be able to make progress for 6 total workouts before switching to something else.

For example:

  • Workout #1: wave loading 
  • Workout #2: wave loading
  • Workout #3: wave loading
  • Workout #4: wave loading 
  • Workout #5: wave loading
  • Workout #6: wave loading
  • Workout #7: (different training program)

Conclusion

6/4/2 wave loading

Regardless of whether you are a bodybuilder or strength athlete I highly recommend you give the 6/4/2 wave loading protocol a try.

You can expect some fantastic gains in strength and functional hypertrophy on this type of routine.

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training endeavors!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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