Wave Loading: The Ultimate Guide!


Wave Loading

Wave Loading is by far one of the most effective ways to train for size and strength. It is also one of the most versatile training methods. If you have never tried wave loading then you are missing out on some serious gains!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Why Does Wave Loading Work?
  • Part 2: Properly Applying Wave Loading
  • Part 3: Wave Loading For Size And Strength Gains
  • Part 4: Wave Loading For All-Out Strength Gains
  • Part 5: Advanced Contrast Set Methods

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to get stronger with wave loading.

Wave loading is a series of three sets where you decrease the number of reps from one set to the next. For example the 3/2/1 wave loading scheme involves performing 3 reps on your first set, 2 reps on your second set and 1 rep on your third set.

Check it out:

  • Set #1: 3 reps
  • Set #2: 2 reps
  • Set #3: 1 rep

This counts as one strength training wave. One of the things that makes wave loading special is that you perform 2-4 waves per workout. On each subsequent wave you slightly increase the amount of weight on the bar.

For example here is what a 3/2/1 wave loading workout might look like:

Wave #1

  • Set 1: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 2: 320 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set 3: 340 pounds x 2 reps

Wave #2

  • Set 4: 305 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 5: 325 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set 6: 345 pounds x 1 rep

Wave #3

  • Set 7: 310 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set 8: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set 9: 340 pounds x 1 rep

There are many different wave loading protocols that you can use. This makes wave loading one of the most versatile strength training methods ever invented.

Some wave loading protocols give you a nice blend of strength and size gains. The 10/8/6 wave loading scheme is a perfect example for this. The reps are high enough to foster hypertrophy gains but low enough to improve your overall strength levels.

Other wave loading schemes are designed for all-out strength gains. The 3/2/1 wave loading scheme as described above is the best example for this.

In this article I will teach you the following points:

  • The science behind why wave loading works
  • How to pick the right weights for every set in your wave loading workouts
  • The best wave loading protocols for a blend of size and strength gains
  • The best wave loading protocols for all-out strength gains
  • The best ways to periodize your wave loading workouts for consistent long-term progress

Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting edge information! Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Why Does Wave Loading Work?

Wave loading is easily one of the most effective strength training methods ever invented. But why is it so effective? Wave loading works for three different reasons:

  1. Neurological
  2. Physiological 
  3. Psychological

Let’s take a closer look at each of these mechanisms.

Reason #1: Wave Loading Works Because It Potentiates Your Nervous System!

One of the really interesting things about wave loading is that your strength actually increases during the workout! Most trainees find that they are stronger on their second wave than they were on their first wave. If they perform a third or even a fourth wave then their strength continues to go up.

For example here is a sample progression during a 7/5/3 wave:

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 200 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #2: 215 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #3: 230 pounds x 3 reps

Wave #2: 

  • Set #4: 205 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #5: 220 pounds x 5 reps
  • Set #6: 235 pounds x 3 reps

As you can see the athlete is lifting more weight on the second wave than they did on the first! Normally this would be impossible. After all you accumulate fatigue as you perform more and more sets.

Wave loading works because it takes advantage of a principle called “post-tetanic potentiation.” This is just a fancy way of saying that the varying rep ranges actually excites your central nervous system.

The waves teach your body to actually recruit more muscle fibers on each set. By the time your second (or third, or even fourth!) wave starts your muscles are able to recruit more muscle fibers which means your strength goes up!

Reason #2: Wave Loading Works Because It Is A Novel Training Stimulus!

You may have heard the following phrase before: a training program is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it. This is just a fancy way of saying that your body will eventually get “bored” of any workout that you do.

Every workout routine will be effective for a little while. However, eventually your body will get tired of it and stop responding. This is one of the reasons professional bodybuilders and powerlifters change their workouts so quickly: they are preventing their bodies from getting bored of their routines.

One of the reasons wave loading is so valuable is because it is a novel training stimulus. If you have never performed a wave loading workout before then your body will respond very quickly.

Your body has to perform a different number of reps from one set to the next. This means your body is being challenged in a different way on each set. This also prevents your body from accumulating too much fatigue in any one rep range.

Wave loading lets you flirt with lower-rep sets but without performing so many of them that you burn out your central nervous system. The bottom line is that wave loading will force your body to adapt to a novel training stimulus that it has never seen before.

Reason #3: Wave Loading Works Because It Is Psychologically Stimulating!

In other words wave loading is a very fun or exciting way to train! The world-class strength coach Christian Thibadeau says that the more excited you are to train the more progress you will make.

Wave loading is exciting because you are doing something different on every set.

Let’s take a look at the 5/3/1 wave loading scheme. On your first set you are performing a set of 5 reps. This is a reasonably heavy set but nothing too crazy. Then on your second set the weight gets much heavier and you only perform 3 reps. Finally on your third set you are performing a maximum single!

Every single set represents a new challenge. Then the entire process is repeated with the next 1-2 waves. Immediately after performing a maximum single you now have to perform a set of 5!

If you have a short attention span like me then you will love wave loading. It prevents you from getting bored during the workout and motivates you to put everything you have into every set. If you are someone who is easily bored in the gym then wave loading will be perfect for you. 

Part 2: Properly Applying Wave Loading

Whenever you perform wave loading you should be very conservative on your first wave. In other words you want to pick weights that are slightly below what you can lift for the target rep range.

The role of the first wave is to excite your central nervous system without accumulating too much fatigue. Then when you perform your 2nd, 3rd or even 4th wave your strength will be higher and you can safely increase the weight.

Let’s take a look at a sample 3/2/1 wave loading workout.

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 85% x 3 reps
  • Set #2: 87.5% x 2 reps
  • Set #3: 90% x 1 rep

The 3/2/1 wave loading scheme can be performed for anywhere from 2-4 total waves. For this reason you want to be very conservative with the weights you use on your first wave. This gives you plenty of room to improve on your 2nd, 3rd and 4th wave.

Most trainees can perform 3 reps at about 90% of their 1-rep max. The percentages used in this first wave are heavy enough that they will help to excite your central nervous system but light enough that they do not create too much fatigue in your muscles or your central nervous system.

Wave #2

  • Set #4: 87.5% x 3 reps
  • Set #5: 90% x 2 reps
  • Set #6: 92.5% x 1 rep

The percentages are increased for the second wave. Overall these weights are still slightly submaximal. After all the average trainee will be able to perform 3 reps at 90% of their 1-rep max.

After the second wave your body should be fully primed to lift near-maximal loads in the third wave.

Wave #3:

  • Set #7: 90% x 3 reps
  • Set #8: 92.5% x 2 reps
  • Set #9: 95% x 1 rep

At this point you are lifting maximal loads for both your 3-rep set and your 2-rep set. If you are feeling tired after your 9th set then it would be perfectly OK to call it a day. However, if you are having one of those days where you feel unstoppable then it may be a good idea to go for a fourth wave.

Wave #4: 

  • Set #10: 92.5% x 3 reps
  • Set #11: 95% x 2 reps
  • Set #12: 97.5% x 1 rep

Normally it would be impossible to use these percentages with your 3-rep or 2-rep sets. Of course wave loading is no ordinary training method. Wave loading operates on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation so you actually become stronger as the workout progresses.

If you are having a perfect training day then using these percentages on your 4th wave may actually be possible.

Please note that you do not have to use training percentages for every set in a wave loading workout. Another option is to let the reps dictate the load. In other words you just pick your weights based on the rep range you are using and how strong you feel on that particular day.

If you are using the 6/4/2 wave loading scheme then you may pick a weight that is a little bit below your estimated 6-rep max for the first set and go from there. Using training percentages works but so does letting your target rep ranges dictate the load.

The choice is up to you.

Part 3: Wave Loading For Size And Strength Gains

There are many wave loading protocols that you can use to build strength and size simultaneously. Here are some of the best wave loading protocols for “power building”: 

  • 10/8/6 waves
  • 8/6/4 waves
  • 7/5/3 waves

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

10/8/6 Wave Loading

The 10/8/6 wave is great for building strength and size gains simultaneously. The reps are high enough to build some muscle mass while the 6-rep sets are low enough that you can actually get some decent strength gains as well. Here is what it looks like in practice:

  • Set #1: 10 reps
  • Set #2: 8 reps
  • Set #3: 6 reps
  • Set #4: 10 reps
  • Set #5: 8 reps
  • Set #6: 6 reps

I recommend you perform a maximum of 6 sets or 2 total waves with this method. Your muscles would be too fatigued to get anything out of a third consecutive wave.

Here is a sample upper body workout that you may want to try:

10/8/6 Wave Loading Upper Body Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 6 x 10/8/6**, 3/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip chin ups, 6 x 10/8/6**, 3/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 45 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope row, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 45 seconds rest
  • C1: Flat ez-bar extension (to chin), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest

**Performed as a 10/8/6 wave loading workout

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

This type of workout focuses on antagonistic body part supersets. You would perform a set of 30 degree incline bench presses, rest 75 seconds, perform a set of narrow neutral grip chin ups, rest 75 seconds, and then perform another set of incline bench presses etc.

Antagonistic body part supersets have many advantages. The main benefits of them during a wave loading workout is that they increase the number of muscle fibers you can recruit during your sets and they improve your endurance over the course of the workout.

Of course you do not have to use antagonistic supersets during your wave loading workouts. I will provide plenty of workouts featuring more traditional “straight sets.”

8/6/4 Wave Loading

The 8/6/4 wave scheme is another great way to train for strength and size gains. Here is what it looks like in practice:

  • Set #1: 8 reps
  • Set #2: 6 reps
  • Set #3: 4 reps
  • Set #4: 8 reps
  • Set #5: 6 reps
  • Set #6: 4 reps

This wave loading scheme features slightly lower rep ranges and is a great choice for a bodybuilder who wants to perform more of a strength-based routine. Here is a sample lower body workout that you may want to try:

8/6/4 Wave Loading Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 6 x 8/6/4**, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 6 x 8/6/4**, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Machine hack squat (wide stance), 4 x 8-10, 2/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated good morning, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an 8/6/4 wave as described above.

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

This type of workout is especially good for building functional hypertrophy. Functional hypertrophy refers to an increase in the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

One of the best ways to hypertrophy the fast-twitch muscle fibers is to perform most of your sets in the 4-8 rep range. The 10/8/6 wave loading scheme obviously accomplishes this.

7/5/3 Wave Loading

The 7/5/3 wave loading scheme is probably one of my favourite training methods covered in this article. Here is what it looks like in practice:

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

Once again I recommend you only perform 2 total waves or 6 total sets. 7/5/3 waves give you the opportunity to flirt with some heavy triples but without necessarily burning out your central nervous system.

If you are someone who likes to train heavy but has a hard time recovering from low-rep workouts then the 7/5/3 scheme will work awesome for you. Here is a sample 7/5/3 wave loading arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

7/5/3 Wave Loading Arm Workout

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing bilateral overhead rope cable extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

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

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

Wave loading works great when you want a mix of strength and size gains. However, wave loading truly shines when you are training for all-out strength gains.

Part 4: Wave Loading For All-Out Strength Gains

Wave loading is most effective when you are training for all-out strength gains. The fact that your reps are decreasing from one set to the next literally forces your central nervous system to become more efficient at whatever exercise(s) you are doing.

There are many different wave loading protocols you can use for absolute strength gains. Here are some of my favorites:

  • 6/4/2 wave loading
  • 5/4/3 wave loading
  • 5/3/1 wave loading
  • 3/2/1 wave loading

Let’s take a closer look at each of these protocols.

6/4/2 Wave Loading

This wave loading scheme reminds me of the 7/5/3 protocol. It works great for athletes who like to lift heavy but have a hard time recovering from a large number of lower-rep sets. Here is what a 6/4/2 wave loading workout looks like on paper:

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

After your second wave you are done for the day. The rep ranges are still too high to justify a third or fourth wave in a row. Your muscles will be too fatigued to benefit from any additional sets.

In my experience both powerlifters and bodybuilders stand to benefit from the 6/4/2 wave loading protocol. It is just an all-around awesome way to train for strength gains.

Here is a sample chest / shoulder / triceps 6/4/2 wave workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

6/4/2 Wave Loading Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workout

  • A1: Bench press against chains (shoulder width grip), 6 x 6/4/2**, 2/1/X/1, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: DB floor fly, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Seated Poliquin lateral raise****, 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave loading scheme as described above.

****Bend your arms to 90 degrees during the concentric range and fully straighten out your arms on the eccentric range. This will allow you to eccentrically overload your side delts.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise D1.

5/4/3 Wave Loading

5/4/3 waves are another awesome way to train for strength. They can also be quite effective for boosting functional hypertrophy levels. This is especially true if you were born with a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here is what a 5/4/3 wave workout might look like on paper:

  • Set #1: 5 reps
  • Set #2: 4 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps
  • Set #4: 5 reps
  • Set #5: 4 reps
  • Set #6: 3 reps
  • Set #7: 5 reps
  • Set #8: 4 reps
  • Set #9: 3 reps

For the 5/4/3 scheme I recommend you perform 6-9 total sets or 2-3 total waves. The third wave is really optional.

If you are having a crappy workout then you are probably better off stopping at 2 waves. On the other hand if you feel like Tom Cruise during an Oprah Winfrey interview then go ahead and give that third wave everything you’ve got!

Here is a sample 5/4/3 wave loading leg workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

5/4/3 Wave Loading Legs Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 5/4/3**, 4/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out)****, 4 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Leg press, 2 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree back extension against bands, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 5/4/3 wave loading scheme as described above.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range

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

Now let’s check out two of the most powerful wave loading protocols ever invented: 5/3/1 and 3/2/1. Both of these protocols feature single repetitions. They are both extremely effective at both building strength and peaking your 1-rep max strength.

5/3/1 Wave Loading

This is an unbelievably effective training protocol. I love using it with my online coaching clients who are more interested in building strength than muscle mass. You get a nice blend of medium, low, and extremely low reps with this method.

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform 2-3 total 5/3/1 waves per exercise. For example:

  • Set #1: 5 reps @ 83%
  • Set #2: 3 reps @ 88%
  • Set #3: 1 rep @ 95%
  • Set #4: 5 reps @ 84%
  • Set #5: 3 reps @ 89%
  • Set #6: 1 rep @ 96%
  • Set #7: 5 reps @ 85%
  • Set #8: 3 reps @ 90%
  • Set #9: 1 rep @ 97%

These are just sample training percentages. The most important thing is to pick weights for your first wave that are slightly below your 5-rep max, 3-rep max or 1-rep max. This lets you build momentum during the workout so that your strength actually increases on the second and third wave.

Here is a sample chest and biceps workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

5/3/1 Wave Loading Chest / Biceps Workout

  • A1: 45 degree incline bench press (wide grip), 6-9 x 5/3/1**, 3/2/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 6-9 x 5/3/1**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Slight decline DB press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest

**Performed as a 5/3/1 wave as described above

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

If your primary goal is to build strength then I am very confident that the 5/3/1 wave method will work awesome for you. I highly recommend you give it a shot!

3/2/1 Wave Loading

The 3/2/1 scheme is one of the most popular and most effective wave loading protocols. It is simply fantastic for both building maximal strength and peaking your strength on a particular lift. This is the only wave loading protocol where you can perform up to 4 total waves per exercise in a workout. For example:

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 85% x 3 reps
  • Set #2: 87.5% x 2 reps
  • Set #3: 90% x 1 rep

Wave #2

  • Set #4: 87.5% x 3 reps
  • Set #5: 90% x 2 reps
  • Set #6: 92.5% x 1 rep

Wave #3 (OPTIONAL):

  • Set #7: 90% x 3 reps
  • Set #8: 92.5% x 2 reps
  • Set #9: 95% x 1 rep

Wave #4: (OPTIONAL):

  • Set #10: 92.5% x 3 reps
  • Set #11: 95% x 2 reps
  • Set #12: 97.5% x 1 rep

If you are having a so-so workout where the weights feel heavy then it is probably better to stick to 2 total waves. On the other hand if you feel like Elf when he discovered the revolving door then seize the day and perform 3-4 total waves. Here is a sample lower body workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

3/2/1 Wave Loading Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels elevated), 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in)****, 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 5-7, 3/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest

**Performed as a 3/2/1 wave as described above.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

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

I must warn you that the 3/2/1 wave loading protocol is very taxing on your central nervous system. You will feel extremely fatigued following this workout. The 3/2/1 wave loading scheme works best at the end of a long peaking cycle.

For example you might want to use the 3/2/1 wave loading method in the last 2-4 weeks of an 8-16 week training cycle designed to peak your strength on a particular lift. I cover how to do this in more detail in part 7 of this article.

Part 5: Advanced Contrast Set Methods

A contrast set is very similar to a strength training wave. The main difference is that you are going to perform a series of 2 sets with decreasing rep ranges rather than a series of three sets.

A typical contrast set may involve alternating back and forth between sets of 3 reps and sets of 1 rep. For example:

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

Contrast sets have a very similar effect on the central nervous system as traditional wave loading sets. The varying rep ranges help to excite your central nervous system and trick your body into recruiting more muscle fibers in your working muscles.

They are also very fun to perform. Just like with wave loading the varying rep ranges challenge you on every set. Contrast sets are anything but boring! 

It is debatable as to whether contrast sets qualify as wave loading sets. Some coaches say they count while others say they are two different training methods. Regardless of how they are classified contrast sets are very similar to wave loading and have a very similar effect on the body.

I will finish this article by covering 3 of the most effective contrast set methods of all time:

  1. The 1/6 contrast set method
  2. The triple with chains, single with straight weight method
  3. The 3 then 1 method

All three of these methods were either popularized or outright invented by Charles Poliquin. If you have not heard of Charles then I highly recommend you read up on his ideas on strength training. These articles will get you started:

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these advanced contrast set methods.

The 1/6 Contrast Set Method

The 1/6 contrast set is a very powerful training method. It is simply fantastic for building both maximal strength and functional hypertrophy. You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers. The idea is simple: you are going to alternate between sets of 1 rep and sets of 6 reps on an exercise. For example:

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

You should perform no more than 6 total sets when using the 1/6 contrast set method. I don’t care if you feel like Kel when he opens a new bottle of orange soda – you cannot perform more than 6 total sets with this method!

The 1/6 contrast set is an extreme application of the post-tetanic potentiation principle. The maximum singles excite your nervous system and force your body to activate as many muscle fibers as possible to lift the load.

When you go to perform your 6-rep set your brain still thinks that your 1-rep max is on the bar. In other words you will still achieve maximum motor unit recruitment even on your 6-rep set!

If you perform this method properly then you will be able to use more weight than usual for your 6-rep sets. This in turn creates a powerful stimulus for strength and size gains. Here is a sample 1/6 contrast set method arm workout that you may want to try.

Check it out:

1/6 Method Arm Workout

  • A1: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 1/6**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 6 x 1/6**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB extension, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 1/6 contrast set as described above.

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

One of the most difficult aspects of the 1/6 method is figuring out how to incorporate it into your long-term programming.

Some strength coaches believe that it is primarily an accumulation method that should be used during a higher rep muscle building phase. I disagree!

If you are performing maximal singles during your higher-rep phases then what the heck are you going to do in your low-rep phases of training? In my experience the 1/6 method works best during an intensification phase of training where you are trying to build maximal strength.

It will still help you to develop functional hypertrophy. However, it is too demanding on the nervous system to be used during an accumulation phase.

The Triple With Chains, Single With Straight Weight Method

This contrast set protocol was invented by Charles Poliquin. Charles never gave it an official name so I have done my best to give it an appropriate name here.

As the name suggests you are going to alternate back and forth between sets of 3 reps with chains on the bar and sets of singles with straight weight. For example:

  • Set #1: Triple with chains
  • Set #2: Single with straight weight
  • Set #3: Triple with chains
  • Set #4: Single with straight weight
  • Set #5: Triple with chains
  • Set #6: Single with straight weight

This is an extremely advanced training method. You obviously need to have access to a pair of strength training chains to train this way. If you do not have access to chains then you have two options: pick a different training method or pick a different gym! 

Chains have many benefits. They overload the top portion of an exercise and teach you to accelerate as hard as possible throughout the entire lift. If you do not move the weight as fast as possible then you will get “stuck” in the middle of the lift.

There is a reason Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell training club continues to use chains with his athletes: they work!

Of course chains do have one major drawback: sometimes your strength gains with chains don’t carry over to straight weight. In other words you can become super strong with chains but struggle when you go back to training with just weight on the bar.

The chains can really screw up your form with straight weight if you are not careful. The triple with chains, single with straight weight method solves this problem!

The triple with chains sets teach your body to accelerate the bar as fast as possible. Then when you perform your next set with straight weight your brain still thinks that the chains are on the bar so you learn to maximally accelerate the bar even when the chains are gone!

The 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw learned this method from Charles Poliquin and regularly uses it in his own training.

Here is a sample lower body workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Triples With Chains, Single With Straight Weight Leg Workout

  • A1: Back squat with chains (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3-5 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A3: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 1, 3/2/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A4: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3-5 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: DB stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

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

With this method you can perform anywhere from 6-10 total sets per exercise. I strongly recommend that you perform your first couple of sets with submaximal weights. You want to give your body a chance to build some momentum with the first 2 sets before bumping up the weight.

For example you might use a weight you can lift 4 times for your first triple and a weight you can lift 2 times for your first maximum single. This will increase the effectiveness of the rest of your workout.

The 3 Then 1 Method

As you get stronger you have to experiment with more and more advanced strength training methods in order to continue making progress. The 3 then 1 method is easily one of the most advanced strength training methods ever invented.

If you are stuck at a training plateau then this will increase your strength faster than just about anything else. The basic idea is to alternate between triples with straight weight and eccentric-only singles with weight releasers.

For example:

  • Set #1: 3 reps
  • Set #2: 1 eccentric-only rep with weight releasers
  • Set #3: 3 reps
  • Set #4: 1 eccentric-only rep with weight releasers
  • Set #5: 3 reps
  • Set #6: 1 eccentric-only rep with weight releasers

The singles with weight releasers are grueling. You can actually lower a weight that is greater than your 1-rep max with these tools! These singles will activate what Charles Poliquin calls your “survival fibers.” In other words these are the muscle fibers that your body will activate to prevent you from getting squashed like a bug by the barbell!

When you go to perform your next triple the weight will feel so light that it will practically fly out of your hands or off your back! This is an extreme application of the post-tetanic potentiation principle.

In case you are more of a visual learner here is Charles Poliquin discussing the 3 then 1 method with Marc Bell:

Talk about a brutal training method! Here is a 3 then 1 bench press workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

3 Then 1 Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workout

  • A1: Bench press (medium grip), 3 x 3, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • A2: Bench press with weight releasers (medium grip)**, 3 x 1, 10/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Dead stop DB extension, 3 x 7-9, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the bar and at least an additional 20% on the weight releasers. The total weight during the eccentric phase should be at least 100% of your 1-rep max. As long as you can lower the weight over 10 seconds then you can keep increasing the weight.

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

These advanced contrast set methods are some of the fastest ways to build strength and functional hypertrophy. Charles Poliquin even considers the 3 then 1 method to be his #3 training method for building functional muscle mass.

I highly recommend you give these contrast set methods a shot. You won’t be disappointed with the results!

Conclusion

Wave Loading

Wave Loading is by far one of the most effective strength training methods of all time. It builds both muscle mass and strength at an unbelievably fast rate. It is also one of the most versatile training methods.

You can use wave loading with high, medium and low rep ranges depending on your specific goals.

If you want more help with using wave loading to build size and strength then check out my online coaching program. I regularly use wave loading with my clients because it produces results and it is a very exciting way to train.

“All I know is that the first step is to create a vision, because when you see the vision – the beautiful vision – that creates the want power.”

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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