Wave loading is one of the best training methods in the world for building a huge bench press.
A bench press wave is a series of three sets performed with decreasing repetitions. For example the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol has you bench press 7 reps on your first set, 5 reps on your second set and 3 reps on your third set. These three sets combined count as one wave.
Most wave loading workouts use 2-4 total waves on the bench press or some other “meat and potatoes” exercise. For example here is what the full 7/5/3 wave loading protocol looks like:
- Set #1: Bench Press x 7 Reps
- Set #2: Bench Press x 5 Reps
- Set #3: Bench Press x 3 Reps
- Set #4: Bench Press x 7 Reps
- Set #5: Bench Press x 5 Reps
- Set #6: Bench Press x 3 Reps
Wave loading takes advantage of the principle of “post-tetanic potentiation.” This is just a fancy way of saying that the different rep ranges excite your central nervous system and teach it to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers more effectively.
When you perform your first set of 3 reps you are teaching your body to produce extremely strong muscular contractions. Then when you perform your next set of 7 reps the weight will feel lighter in your hands and your strength will have gone up.
Most people find that they are actually stronger on the second wave compared to the first wave. This is the power of wave loading for activating your central nervous system!
In this guide I will teach you 3 of the most effective wave loading strategies for building a huge bench press:
- 7/5/3 Wave Loading
- 5/3/2 Wave Loading
- 3/2/1 Wave Loading
For each of these wave loading strategies I will give you precise training percentages that you can use as well as a sample bench press routine that you can start using today. Note:
Part 1: 7/5/3 Wave Loading
The 7/5/3 wave loading protocol is one of the most popular wave loading methods ever invented. The basic idea is to cycle between sets of 7 reps, 5 reps and 3 reps in a wave-like pattern.
This training protocol is awesome because it lets you get stronger in higher and lower rep ranges on a single exercise. It is a great way to train for a mix of gains in strength and functional hypertrophy.
One of the cool things about the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol is you will actually be stronger on the second wave compared to the first. Here are some sample training percentages:
7/5/3 Wave Loading Percentages For The Bench Press
- Set #1: 7 reps @ 80% of your 1-rep max
- Set #2: 5 reps @ 84% of your 1-rep max
- Set #3: 3 reps @ 89% of your 1-rep max
- Set #4: 7 reps @ 81% of your 1-rep max
- Set #5: 5 reps @ 85% of your 1-rep max
- Set #6: 3 reps @ 90% of your 1-rep max
As you can see the percentages go up slightly from one set to the next. Here is a sample 7/5/3 wave loading bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
7/5/3 Wave Loading Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (medium grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Pull up on rings, 6 x 7/5/3**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: One-arm DB row (elbow pointing out), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 6 sets with the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme.
This workout uses the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme on two different exercises: the bench press and the chin up on rings. You are actually going to superset these two exercises with 100 seconds rest in between each set.
In other words you are going to perform 7 reps on the bench press, rest 100 seconds, perform 7 reps on the chin ups on rings, rest 100 seconds, perform 5 reps on the bench press, rest 100 seconds, perform 5 reps on the chin ups on rings, and so on.
You continue alternating back and forth between these 2 exercises until you have performed all 6 sets on both exercises.
These opposing muscle group supersets are fantastic for building size and strength. They give you more rest in between sets for the same exercise, increase your force output, improve your muscular endurance and let you perform more work in less time. Talk about a powerful training method!
I think you will be shocked at how fast your strength improves on this simple 7/5/3 wave loading bench press workout. It works well for bodybuilders who want to use a lower-rep routine as well as powerlifters who need a break from heavy doubles and singles.
Part 2: 5/3/2 Wave Loading
5/3/2 Wave Loading is another extremely effective way to improve your bench press. The goal is to perform 5 reps on the first set, 3 reps on the second set and 2 reps on the third set. For example:
5/3/2 Wave Loading Bench Press Protocol
- Set #1: 5 reps @ 83% of your 1-rep max
- Set #2: 3 reps @ 88% of your 1-rep max
- Set #3: 2 reps @ 90% of your 1-rep max
- Set #4: 5 reps @ 85% of your 1-rep max
- Set #5: 3 reps @ 90% of your 1-rep max
- Set #2: 2 reps @ 92% of your 1-rep max
These are just sample training percentages. The important thing is to start just a little bit below your 5, 3 or 2 rep maxes on the first wave and then bump up your weights a little bit on the second wave.
Once again the 5/3/2 wave loading protocol works on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation. The 2-rep set will make all of your follow-up sets feel much lighter than normal. This is part of the reason why you can expect your strength to go up rather than down on the second wave.
Here is a sample 5/3/2 wave loading bench press workout that you can try out in the gym. Check it out:
5/3/2 Wave Loading Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press against chains (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 5/3/2**, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: 4-board bench press (wide grip), 2 x 5-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Lat pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Seated band pull-apart, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
Performed as a 5/3/2 wave loading scheme as described above.
This workout features exercises for your entire upper body. It works great when used as part of a 3-day or 4-day upper body / lower body split. Here is one possible split you could use for this workout:
- Monday: Upper Body
- Wednesday: Lower Body
- Friday: Upper Body
- Saturday: Lower Body
If you don’t have access to a powerlifting style 4-board to use on the bench press then you can substitute the second exercise for some pin presses set about 4-6 inches below lockout. However, if you don’t have a pair of “mini-bands” to perform the band pull-aparts with then you need to get yourself a pair right now!
Band pull-aparts are one of the best exercises you can do to build your rear delts. They are also fantastic for improving your overall shoulder health. The strength coach Christian Thibadeau absolutely swears by them for keeping his shoulders healthy.
Part 3: 3/2/1 Wave Loading
The 3/2/1 wave loading scheme has a long history in the iron game. It has been used by some of the strongest athletes in the world including Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters and strongman competitors. If there is one wave loading scheme that can improve your bench press then this is it!
Here is what the 3/2/1 wave loading scheme looks like in practice:
Bench Press Wave #1
- Set #1: 3 Reps @ 82.5% of your 1-rep max
- Set #2: 2 Reps @ 85% of your 1-rep max
- Set #3: 1 Rep @ 87.5% of your 1-rep max
Bench Press Wave #2
- Set #4: 3 Reps @ 85% of your 1-rep max
- Set #5: 2 Reps @ 87.5% of your 1-rep max
- Set #6: 1 Rep @ 90% of your 1-rep max
Bench Press Wave #3
- Set #7: 3 Reps @ 87.5% of your 1-rep max
- Set #8: 2 Reps @ 90% of your 1-rep max
- Set #9: 1 Rep @ 92.5% of your 1-rep max
Bench Press Wave #4
- Set #1: 3 reps @ 90% of your 1-rep max
- Set #2: 2 reps @ 92.5% of your 1-rep max
- Set #3: 1 rep @ 95% of your 1-rep max
These training percentages were borrowed from the strength coach Christian Thibadeau. He is a true 3/2/1 wave loading fanatic! As you can see you are performing 4 total waves.
The first couple of waves are going to be relatively easy because you are lifting submaximal weights. Your job is to accelerate and press the bar as hard as you can on every single rep. This is known as “compensatory acceleration training” and will help you to recruit the higher-threshold motor units.
On your 3rd and 4th waves you will be lifting near-maximal weights. However, these sets will feel lighter than normal and move faster than normal because of all of the potentiation work you did on the first 2 waves.
Here is a sample 3/2/1 wave loading bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
3/2/1 Wave Loading Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (medium grip), 12 x 3/2/1**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 12 x 3/2/1**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Standing 1-arm cable rope overhead extension, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as a 3/2/1 wave loading scheme as described above.
This workout uses antagonistic supersets to overload your chest, triceps and biceps. Antagonistic supersets are a fantastic way to train when your goal is to get as strong as possible.
Wave loading protocols are one of the fastest ways to blast through a plateau in the bench press. They operate on the principle of “post-tetanic potentiation” where you excite your nervous system so that you can produce more force and lift heavier weights in your workouts.
In my experience the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol works for almost everyone. It is a great way to build a nice blend of size and strength gains.
If you are are more interested in all-out strength gains then the 5/3/2 wave loading and 3/2/1 wave loading protocols are the way to go. They work incredibly well for building your bench press and for peaking your strength on the bench press.
Just make sure you use the compensatory acceleration method and perform every rep as explosively as possible. This is the key to exciting your nervous system with wave loading and teaching your body to recruit the high-threshold motor units.
So what are you waiting for? Get back in the gym and start wave loading your way to a better bench press!
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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