7/5/3 Wave Loading: The Ultimate Guide!


7/5/3 wave

7/5/3 Wave loading is one of the most effective training programs that you can use. It is one of the few training programs that works well for building strength and muscle mass. Continue reading to find out why!

Introduction

  • Part 1: What Is Wave Loading?
  • Part 2: The Advantages Of 7/5/3 Wave Loading
  • Part 3: 7/5/3 Wave Loading Percentages
  • Part 4: The Best 7/5/3 Wave Loading Workouts
  • Part 5: How To Cycle 7/5/3 Waves In Your Long-Term Programming

Wave loading is an awesome way to train. It is easily one of the most effective ways to build raw strength. Many of the world’s best strength coaches such as Christian Thibadeau regularly use wave loading protocols to increase the strength of their athletes.

Wave loading can also be used to build slabs of muscle mass if you know what you are doing. 

Unfortunately very few people know anything about wave loading, let alone the more advanced wave loading protocols such as the 7/5/3 wave.

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to use 7/5/3 wave loading to build a bigger, stronger body.

It is easily one of the most effective and versatile training programs that you can use. If you have never tried the 7/5/3 wave loading then you are doing yourself a disservice!

Please note: all of the routines in this article are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these workouts then please consult this article. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: What Is Wave Loading?

A “wave” is really a series of three sets performed for an exercise where the reps decrease with each successive set.

For example, a 7/5/3 wave would look like this:

  • Set #1: 7 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps

So wave loading is somewhat similar to the classical “pyramiding” training protocol where you start with higher reps on an exercise and slowly work down to low reps over many sets.

One of the things that makes wave loading different from the classic pyramid scheme is that you actually repeat each wave at least once in your workout! Normally a 7/5/3 wave is performed twice in a row for 6 total sets. For example:

7/5/3 Wave Sequence

  • Set #1: 7 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps
  • Set #4: 7 reps
  • Set #5: 5 reps
  • Set #6: 3 reps

One of the really cool things about wave loading is that you should be stronger on the second wave relative to the first wave!

For example, here is how an intermediate-level bodybuilder might organize a 7/5/3 wave loading workout for the incline bench press:

  • Set #1: 185 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #2: 195 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 205 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #4: 190 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #5: 200 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #6: 210 pounds x 3 reps

Incredible! The bodybuilder not only matched his original numbers on the 2nd wave, he was able to add 5 more pounds to the bar on the 4th, 5th, and 6th sets!

This is possible because wave loading takes advantage of the training principle called “post-tetanic facilitation.”

This is just a fancy way of saying that you are able to produce more force when you first “excite” your nervous system with a powerful muscular contraction.

In our case the set of three reps is just heavy enough that almost all of your muscle fibers will be firing to lift the weight. When you perform your 4th set for 7 reps the weight will feel very light in your hands because you just hit a triple with a much heavier weight!

In fact the weight will feel so light that you should be able to use a slightly heavier than normal weight. There are many other training programs that operate on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation.

Cluster sets and the 1/6 contrast set method are two great examples. However, wave loading is probably one of the best applications of this training principle.

Part 2: The Advantages Of 7/5/3 Wave Loading

The 7-5-3 wave loading protocol has many advantages over more traditional strength training programs. Here are just a few of these advantages:

  • Building strength without burning out your CNS
  • Building functional hypertrophy
  • It prevents you from getting bored in the gym
  • It’s an incredibly versatile training tool

Now let’s cover each of these points in more detail.

Advantage #1: Building Strength Without Burning Out Your CNS

As a general rule of thumb the best way to build strength is to train in the 1-5 rep range. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule.

In his prime Ronnie Coleman was one of the strongest human beings on planet Earth and he performed most of his sets in the 6-20 rep range. However, Ronnie is an exception to the rule. If his primary goal was strength then he probably would have focused more on the 1-5 rep range.

Low-rep sets are fantastic for creating strength adaptations within the central nervous system. They improve your body’s ability to recruit new muscle fibers and to better coordinate different muscle groups together to lift the weight.

The downside to low-rep sets is they can be very demanding on the central nervous system. It is very easy to “burn out” your central nervous system with systems like cluster sets or the modified Hepburn method.

The 7/5/3 wave loading protocol is a perfect solution to this problem. You still get the benefit of training with low reps on at least some of your sets. However, the number of low-rep sets is limited so you don’t burn yourself out.

Advantage #2: Building Functional Hypertrophy

The 7/5/3 wave loading protocol is fantastic for building functional hypertrophy. Functional hypertrophy is a fancy way of saying muscle hypertrophy that occurs in your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Functional hypertrophy is important to both strength and physique athletes. Many strength athletes such as powerlifters need to increase their functional hypertrophy in the off-season in order to maximize their long-term potential.

On the other hand bodybuilders need to focus on functional hypertrophy because these are the muscle fibers that contribute to the “look of power.” The fast-twitch muscle fibers are also the ones that have the greatest potential for growth. 

Advantage #3: It Prevents You From Getting Bored In The Gym

This is one of the things that I love about the different wave loading protocols. They prevent you from being bored! Just think about it: there is nothing more boring than doing the same-old “5 sets of 5” workout or “10 sets of 3” workout.

Don’t get me wrong, these set and rep schemes can be extremely effective. However, some people would rather jump into a volcano than perform ten sets in a row with the same weight! I know I would!!

If you are like me and have the attention span of a fruit fly then you need to start using wave loading. The reps fluctuate from one set to the next which keeps you mentally engaged with the workout.

As Christian Thibadeau correctly points out if you are excited to train then you will put more effort into your workouts and get more out of it. Wave loading is one of my favourite ways to spice up my online coaching clients workouts and get them excited to train.

Advantage #4: It’s An Incredibly Versatile Training Tool

7/5/3 wave loading is a lot like the classic “5 sets of 5” training methods: it works for almost everyone! If you are primarily training for strength gains then you will find that the 7/5/3 scheme works perfectly during your higher-rep accumulation phases.

It will help you to build some muscular size while taking a break from the ultra-low repetitions.

On the other hand if you are primarily training for muscular hypertrophy then the 7/5/3 scheme will allow you to build strength without losing your hard-earned muscle tissue and without frying your central nervous system.

It does not matter if you have a dopamine-dominant, acetyl-choline dominant or balanced neurotransmitter profile: the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme is a perfect sweet spot for many lifters. 

Part 3: The Best 7/5/3 Wave Loading Percentages

One of the more challenging aspects of any wave loading routine is picking the right weights for your sets. Using the right weight on your sets can be the difference between getting amazing results from your workouts and making very little progress. 

One of the best strategies for picking your weights is to use specific training percentages for all of your sets. You simply load up the bar with “X” percent of your 1-rep max and bust out the required reps.

I have to warn you that there are some disadvantages to relying on training percentages for picking your weights.

First of all you may not have an accurate idea of what your 1-rep max is on every exercise. For example if you decide to perform narrow / underhand chin ups for one of your exercises do you *really* know your 1-rep max for that exercise?

If you decide to use the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme for a new exercise then it may be difficult to rely on training percentages.

The other drawback is that everyone has different amounts of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. The average trainee will be able to perform 5 reps with 85% of their 1-rep max. Unfortunately things are never that simple.

A trainee blessed with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers may only be able to perform 3 reps with 85% of their 1-rep max. On the other hand a trainee with a lot of slow-twitch muscle fibers may be able to perform as many as 10 reps with 85% of their 1-rep max!

As you can see there are some drawbacks to relying on training percentages. Despite these drawbacks they can be a valuable tool when used appropriately. 

If you still want to use training percentages with the 7/5/3 loading scheme then I recommend you follow these general guidelines: 

  • Set #1: 80% x 7 reps
  • Set #2: 84% x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 88% x 3 reps

If your first 3 sets were pretty easy then go ahead and bump up the weight by 1-2 percentage points for your next 3 sets. For example:

  • Set #4: 81% x 7 reps
  • Set #5: 85% x 5 reps
  • Set #6: 89% x 3 reps

Remember, these are only sample training percentages. You have to use your brain during your workouts to pick the best weights. Your first three sets should be relatively hard but not complete “grinders” either. Your final three sets should be very hard and you may even have 1-3 sets that are “grinders.”

I hope you find these guidelines helpful.

Part 4: Sample Training Routines 

There are many different training splits that you could use with a 7/5/3 wave loading workout. However, two of the best training splits are the classic 4 days per week upper body / lower body split and the Poliquin-style split.

I will provide complete training programs for each of these training splits.

4 Days Per Week Upper/Lower Split

One of the best training splits that you can use for a 7/5/3 wave loading workout is the 4 days per week upper body / lower body split. For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

This type of training split has many advantages. You get to train body parts twice per week or once every 3-4 days. In my experience this type of training frequency works WONDERS for many trainees.

The upper / lower split also allows you to train antagonistic body parts together. For example you can perform a set of squats, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set of leg curls, rest 1-2 minutes and then perform another set of squats.

Training antagonistic body parts in this manner has many advantages:

  • You get more work done in less time
  • You are a little bit stronger on your sets
  • You accumulate fatigue more slowly during the workout

The only major drawback to the 4 days per week upper / lower split is that it can be rather hard on your lower back. Some trainees just cannot recover from 2 heavy lower body training sessions in a single week. If your lower back can handle this training split then it is one of the most effective ways to organize your workouts.

Here is a sample wave loading program featuring the upper / lower split. Check it out:

7/5/3 Upper Body Workout

  • A1: 60 degree incline bench press (medium-width grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Chin up on rings, 6 x 7,5,3,7,5,3, 2/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 15 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above.

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

7/5/3 Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed out), 6 x 7,5,3,7,5,3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 90 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above.

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

If you are reading this article then the odds are very high that you will be able ot make awesome progress on the above 7/5/3 wave loading routine. Of course there are some other training splits that you could use with this training method.

One of the most effective splits is undoubtedly the “Poliquin-style split.”

4 Days Per Week Poliquin Split

The Poliquin splits are named after Charles Poliquin, the strength coach who invented and popularized them. Poliquin splits usually involve splitting the body into three separate training days: a chest and back day, a leg day and an arm day.

For example:

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

This is a slightly more advanced training split and I usually reserve it for more experienced trainees. One of the big advantages of this split is it perfectly accommodates antagonistic supersets. It also gives you the opportunity to specialize on your upper body a little bit more compared to the upper / lower split covered above.

Of course there are some downsides to the Poliquin splits. One of the biggest downsides is you have to be able to train on different days of the week from one week to the next. 

If you do not have a flexible schedule that allows you to train on any given day then this training split might not be for you.

However, if you do have a more flexible schedule then I recommend it without reservation! Here is a sample 7/5/3 wave loading program that you may want to try. Check it out:

7/5/3 Chest And Back Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip chin ups, 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar row, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above.

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

7/5/3 Leg Workout

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels elevated) 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 4 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 180 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1.

7/5/3 Arm Workout

  • A1: 10 degree decline CG bench press, 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher unilateral zottman curl, 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing ez-bar french press, close grip, 4 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 75 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 4 x 6-8, 75 seconds rest
  • C1: Standing cable external rotation, arm by side, 3 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Unilateral bent over trap 3 raise, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above.

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

This is a very effective training program for building both size and strength gains. If you have a flexible schedule then I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Part 5: How To Cycle 7/5/3 Waves In Your Long-Term Programming

 One of the most difficult aspects of strength training program design is figuring out how long you can use a routine before it stops producing results.

At the end of the day there is no perfect training routine. Your body will adapt to anything you throw at it. After your body has adapted it is time to move on and perform a different routine. 

There are several different ways to cycle the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme in your long-term programming. In this article I will present you with two different options:

  • Use it for 3-6 workouts in a row
  • Use it as part of a 3-workout rotation

Let’s take a closer look at both of these options

Option #1: Use 7/5/3 waves for 3-6 workouts in a row

This is by far the simpler of the two options. You simply perform the 7/5/3 loading scheme for 3-6 workouts in a row and then move onto a different type of workout. For example here is what a 16-workouts progression might look like:

  • Workouts #1-4: 4 x 8-10
  • Workouts #5-8: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workouts #9-12: 5 x 6
  • Workouts #13-16: Cluster sets 

As soon as one particular workout becomes stale you switch it out for a different one. This approach works very well for a large percentage of the training population.

Option #2: Use 7/5/3 waves as part of a 3-workout rotation

This is a more complicated option that works well for extremely strong and/or advanced trainees. You are going to rotate through 3 different workouts. After the third workout you start the sequence all over again. For example:

  • Workout #1: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workout #2: 5/3/1 wave loading
  • Workout #3: 3/2/1 wave loading
  • Workout #4: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workout #5: 5/3/1 wave loading
  • Workout #6: 3/2/1 wave loading
  • Workout #7: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workout #8: 5/3/1 wave loading
  • Workout #9: 3/2/1 wave loading

This pattern can be repeated for as long as you are still making progress. Every time you repeat a prior workout you try to beat the logbook by 1-3% on all exercises. Once you start to stall you would swap these workouts out for a new set of 3 workouts and repeat the process.

Many advanced training programs such as DC Training successfully use a 3-workout rotation for each body part. As they say, you can’t argue with results!

Conclusion

7/5/3 wave

The 7/5/3 wave loading scheme is one of the most effective and reliable ways to train. It works almost regardless of your training history and your psychological profile.

If you are looking for a new training program to mix things up then I highly recommend you give the 7/5/3 loading scheme a shot. In my experience wave loading is simply one of the most effective and versatile training methods ever invented.

“The difference between those who adapted and those who didn’t, Gorton said, was a willingness to totally commit.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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