8 Wave Loading Squat Programs!


Wave loading is an incredibly effective way to train for strength and functional hypertrophy. In my experience wave loading works extremely well for boosting your strength in the front and back squat.

Introduction

  • Routine #1: 7/5/3 Wave Loading
  • Routine #2: 6/4/2 Wave Loading
  • Routine #3: 5/4/3 Wave Loading
  • Routine #4: 5/3/2 Wave Loading
  • Routine #5: 4/3/2 Wave Loading
  • Routine #6: 3/2/1 Wave Loading
  • Routine #7: 1/6 Contrast Sets
  • Routine #8: Charles Poliquin’s “3 Then 1” Method

In this comprehensive guide I am going to provide you with 9 of the most effective wave loading squat routines that I have ever written! 

Wave loading is a special type of set / rep scheme. You perform a series of three sets for an exercise with decreasing rep ranges.

For example, you might perform 7 reps on your first set, 5 reps on your second set, and then 3 reps on your third set.

These three sets constitute one single “wave.” A typical wave loading workout will feature 2-4 waves depending on the rep ranges used.

Wave loading works so well because it excites your nervous system and teaches your body to recruit more of the higher-threshold motor units. 

In fact, wave loading was one of the secret training methods that the Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting team used to develop their superhuman squatting strength.

If you’re ready to set some all-time PRs in the front and back squat then couldn’t have chosen a better article to read! 

Please note: if you have any trouble reading the training routines presented in this guide then I suggest you consult this article.

Now let’s get down to business…

Routine #1: 7/5/3 Wave Loading

7/5/3 wave loading is probably one of the most versatile wave loading protocols that you can use.

A 7/5/3 wave simply involves performing seven reps on your first set of an exercise, 5 reps on your second set, and 3 reps on your third set.

Usually you will perform 2 total 7/5/3 waves in a single workout. Of course if you are supersetting antagonistic body parts such as quads and hamstrings then you can perform 7/5/3 waves on two seperate exercises.

Check it out:

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 7/5/3**, 3/2/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (poliquin method**** / feet neutral), 6 x 7/5/3**, 3/0/X/2, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunge, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 6 total sets using the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme as described above.

****To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your ankles during the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles on the eccentric range. This allows you to eccentrically overload your hamstrings. See the corresponding video.

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

I mentioned earlier that 7/5/3 wave loading is a very versatile training method. This is because 7/5/3 wave loading tends to work well for both strength athletes and bodybuilders.

If you are someone who likes the idea of training in lower rep ranges but normally burns out on low-rep sets then you are going to love this routine.

You are only performing two sets of triples in the entire workout which goes a long way in preventing central nervous system burnout.

Do not be surprised if you can use more weight on your second 7/5/3 wave than you can on your first one. Wave loading protocols excite your central nervous system through a process called post-tetanic facilitation.

This is just a fancy way of saying that you will be able to recruit more muscle fibers than normal on this type of routine. Not a bad deal if you ask me!

Routine #2: 6/4/2 Wave Loading

6/4/2 wave loading routines are somewhat similar to 7/5/3 wave loading routines. You are taking relatively large jumps in weight from one set to the next which definitely keeps things exciting.

Once again this wave loading protocol works well for both bodybuilders and strength athletes.

You are only performing two lower-rep sets so the risk of central nervous system burnout is relatively low. At least it is compared to something like the modified Hepburn method! 

Check it out:

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 6 x 6/4/2**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 6 x 6/4/2**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 4 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (using band tension), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 6 total sets using the 6/4/2 wave loading scheme as described above.

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

I know many of you are wondering about what types of training percentages you should use for these various exercises. As a general rule of thumb I am not a huge fan of percentages.

I think it is far better to select a weight you think you can perform for 6, 4, or 2 reps on that specific training day.

However, if you are dead-set on using percentages then these should serve as a reasonable starting point:

  • 6 rep sets: 81%
  • 4 rep sets: 86%
  • 2 rep sets: 91%

Use the above percentages for your first wave. If these percentages prove to be a little on the low-side then go ahead and make some small weight jumps for the second wave.

I think you will be surprised by how much more weight you can lift on the second wave compared to the first!

Routine #3: 5/4/3 Wave Loading

5/4/3 wave loading is another fantastic wave loading protocol that you can use to boost your squatting strength. It is also quite effective for hypertrophying the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your quadriceps.

Unfortunately this is one of those routines that a bodybuilder may or may not be able to make progress on.

You are performing 6 total sets in the 3-5 rep range which is a little too demanding on the central nervous system for many bodybuilders.

Of course if you are a strength athlete then this will serve as an excellent intensification phase routine to boost your squatting strength.

Check it out:

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat, 6 x 5/4/3**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing out), 6 x 5/4/3**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform 6 total sets using the 5/4/3 wave loading scheme as described above.

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

I have written this routine featuring the safety squat bar.

If you do not have access to one then you may want to substitute this exercise out for either back squats or front squats. Either of these exercises will work just fine.

Of course there are many advantages to using the safety squat bar periodically in your training.

The built-in camber of the bar throws you forwards and forces you to use your spinal erectors to work much harder in keeping you upright.

Many strongmen such as Brian Shaw and Hafthor Bjornsson use the safety squat bar extensively as it is very friendly to your shoulders.

The other exercise that you may be unfamiliar with is the deficit snatch grip deadlift. This is truly one of the most bang-for-your-buck exercises that you can do in the gym.

This exercise is almost like a hybrid between an Olympic squat and a deadlift because of the extreme range of motion!

If you have the guts to perform this wave loading squat routine for 2-4 weeks then you will be handsomely rewarded.

Routine #4: 5/3/2 Wave Loading

5/3/2 wave loading is another wave loading protocol that lets you “flirt” with the heavier weights but without totally frying your central nervous system.

Don’t worry, if you are someone who likes to train with maximal singles then the routines towards the end of this article have your name on them!

Check it out:

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 5/3/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 6 x 5/3/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantarflexed / point straight), 4 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 6 total sets using the 5/3/2 wave loading scheme as described above.

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

Something that Charles Poliquin often likes to do in his training programs is to include two different types of squats and leg curls in a single workout.

Training this way is quite difficult to pull off unless you have an average or above-average recovery ability.

However. If you have the ability to recover from this type of squatting workload then the strength gains you can expect are simply unbelievable! 

Routine #5: 4/3/2 Wave Loading

4/3/2 wave loading is quite a challenging training method. With this rep scheme you are able to to as many as three total waves rather than just two.

This means you will be performing 9 total working sets on your main two exercises for the day.

In my experience 4/3/2 wave loading tends to be a slightly more effective version of the classic “ten sets of three” routine for many trainees.

The average number of reps per set is the same but the slight variation in reps throughout the workout excites your central nervous system enough that you can handle heavier loads.

Check it out:

  • A1: Front squat w/ safety squat bar, 9 x 4/3/2**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral seated leg curl (poliquin method / feet pointing in)****, 9 x 4/3/2**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 9 total sets using the 4/3/2 wave loading scheme as described above.

****To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your ankles during the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles on the eccentric range. This allows you to eccentrically overload your hamstrings. See the corresponding video.

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

Performing a front squat with the safety squat bar is a rather unusual bit highly effective exercise. I first saw Michael Keck doing this exercise way back in the early 2010s from this exact training video!

The exercise is farm more comfortable and less technically demanding than a regular front squat.

The built-in camber of the bar means the center of gravity of the exercise is somewhere in between that of a regular front squat and a regular back squat.

If you have access to the safety squat bar then I highly recommend you give it a try. If you do not then you can substitute it for a regular front or back squat exercise.

Routine #6: 3/2/1 Wave Loading

3/2/1 wave loading is considered by many to the the king of all wave loading programs for boosting absolute and relative strength.

This training method is right up there with routines such as cluster sets and the modified Hepburn method for peaking your strength on a particular lift and destroying old training PRs.

This is also the preferred wave loading protocol of the world-famous Bulgarian Olympic Weightlifting team. 

Check it out:

  • A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 12 x 3/2/1**, 2/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 9 x 3/2/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 5-7, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform 12 total sets using the 3/2/1 wave loading scheme as described above.

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

On this routine you can perform up to 4 waves for a total of 12 sets. If you are having a mediocre day and you just aren’t “feeling it” then you can stop after 2 or 3 waves.

On the other hand, if you are having a fantastic day then I recommend you use 4 full waves.

This large number of low-rep sets is absolutely fantastic for teaching your body how to display strength on a particular lift and for fatiguing the high-threshold motor units.

There is a reason world-famous strength coaches such as Pierre Roy, Christian Thibadeau, and Charles Poliquin have used this wave loading protocol extensively with their athletes.

Routine #7: 1/6 Contrast Sets

The last 2 routines of this article are not wave loading protocols in the truest sense of the word. Instead they can be thought of as contrast sets.

A contrast set is exactly like a wave except you are performing 2 sets in a series instead of three.

A 1/6 contrast set is rather simple to perform: you perform your 1-rep max on an exercise, rest a few minutes, perform your 6-rep max on the exercise, rest a few minutes, and then repeat again with your 1-rep max.

Usually six total sets are performed with this training method, or three sets at each rep target. 

Check it out:

  • A1: Front squat (heels narrow / flat), 6 x 1/6**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing out), 6 x 1/6**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: DB drop lunge, 4 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: DB Romanian deadlift, 4 x 6-8, 2/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 12 total sets using the 3/2/1 wave loading scheme as described above.

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

I definitely have a soft spot for the 1/6 contrast method. I made some of the best squatting gains of my life back in 2014 using this training method. I ended up peaking at a 305 pound front squat plus chains.

Of course I have put up much more impressive squatting performances since 2014 but I was very proud of this accomplishment at the time.

Every time I put a client of mine on the 1/6 contrast method I can’t help but think back to my first-ever 4 week cycle with this method.

I remember that day like it was yesterday: the smell of the gym, the pressure of the bar on my clavicles, the sound of the chains clanking against the gym floor during the descent… what a blessing it is to be able to lift weights.

Routine #8: Charles Poliquin’s “3 Then 1” Method

There is one final wave loading type workout I want to discuss with you: Charles Poliquin’s “3 then 1” method.

If you are a long-time reader of Revolutionary Program Design then you may recognize this training method. After all, it is one of Charles Poilquin’s top 3 functional hypertrophy protocols.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a series of contrast sets using triples and singles.

The triples are fairly straight-forward: you simply perform 3 reps with 90% of your 1-rep max (or as high a percentage as you can handle).

The single repetition is where things get more interesting: you are going to perform a supramaximal eccentric repetition using an 8-second eccentric tempo.

Unfortunately you need weight releasers to make this work on the squat. If you do not have access to weight releasers then you have two choices: buy some online or pick another wave loading routine from this article.

Check it out:

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 3, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 3 x 3, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A3: Back squat w/ weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat)**, 3 x 1, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A4: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight)****, 3 x 1, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: DB squat (heels narrow / elevated), 3 x 5-7, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use approximately 70% of your best 1-rep max on the bar and an additional 20-40% in total weight on the weight releasers.

****Perform this exercise using the 2/1 method. Lift the weight with 2 legs and lower with only one. The weight should represent 100-120% of your unilateral 1-rep max.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This training method is unbelievably effective if you execute it correctly. I recommend you start with weights that are slightly below your 3-rep concentric max and slightly below your 1-rep eccentric max.

You should find that your strength improves significantly on each subsequent wave. By your third wave you will be lifting weights that are far above what you lifted on your first wave.

Make sure you are being very careful during the supra-maximal eccentric squats. It is very easy to injure yourself here if you are not careful.

Conclusion

Wave loading is by far one of my all-time favourite training programs for rapidly boosting someone’s squatting strength.

Wave loading is a very versatile training method as there are many different set / rep schemes that you can choose from.

Whether you are a powerlifter looking to peak for competition or a bodybuilder looking to improve your squatting strength to help build tree-trunk thighs I am confident one of these routines will work AWESOME for you!

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 in your strength training journey!

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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