Using offset loading to improve athleticism

In what feels like a never ending journey to find the best ways to build, strong, powerful, and agile athletes, we often seek out new training techniques to optimise the results of our training.

Now a bit of a disclaimer: I am firm believer that the basics will get you almost all of the way. This includes training foundational movement patterns (Squat, Hinge, Split Squat, Row, and Press) for strength development, increasing power development with jump and Olympic lifting variations, and working on jumping, landing, and sprint mechanics.

But, in addition to these basic training methods, there are a few training techniques that can be implemented to further maximise your results. And one of which is the use of offset loading.

 

What is Offset Loading?

Offset loading is an extremely simple training method where one side of the body is loaded to a greater degree than the other. An example of this would be farmer carries performed with a heavier load in one hand than the other (which is then repeated on the other side to ensure balance development).

This exact same loading method can be applied to squat and split squat variations, bilateral and unilateral deadlift variations, and upper body pushing and pulling variations (for example single arm dumbbell presses and single arm dumbbell rows).

This can be done by completely unloading one side while adding significant load to the other side, or using a slightly lighter load on one side and then a slightly heavier load on the other side.

Kettlebell-Swings-Youre-Doing-Them-Wrong

 

The Benefits of offset loading

While offset loading is extremely simple in both concept and to implement, it can have a host of benefits that are extremely beneficial when discussing athletic development.

Firstly offset loading increases stability demands considerably. By loading more on one side we create flexion and rotation forces at the trunk and the hip that would not be there with regular loading parameters. As a result, the muscles of the trunk and hip must work extremely hard to maintain a neutral lumbo-pelvic position.

As a result, offset loaded exercises provide massive bang-for-your-buck, as they allow us to improve core stability while also loading either the upper or lower body. And not only will this increased demand for stability increase trunk and hip strength, it also provides a great opportunity to work on any unilateral imbalances we may have.

Moreover, offset loading is a fantastic way to introduce more total volume into your training as we have to do twice as much work than we would with normal loading methods.

This increase in total volume can directly increase our total time under tension AND the metabolic demand placed on the muscle tissue – both of which can contribute to increased muscle hypertrophy.

And while using offset loading is not the best way to build strength on its own (because the total load used is reduced), correcting imbalances can indirectly lead to greater improvements in strength over time, as well as an improved resilience to injuries.

Finally, while these are important, offset loading also provide us an opportunity to develop strength in uniquely loaded positions that replicate those observed in sporting situations (to a certain degree). While these movements are not by any means sport specific, offset loading does improve the capacity to resist movement at the trunk while producing force at the extremities – which is something that happens in sporting situations regularly.

 

Offset Loading Programming Considerations

The benefits of offset loading are apparent. But the way in which we implemented it into our training is also important.

Firstly, irrespective of whether our goal is hypertrophy or performance based, exercises using offset loading should be used strictly as assistance exercises, and should not replace our key strength lifts. This is because their capacity to build strength is limited because they do not provide the mechanical stress necessary to increase maximal force production.

BUT, due to the various other benefits that offset loading can have, they should be used as either the first or second assistance exercise in our training program.

 

Example Lower Body Workout

Back Squat 4×6
Romanian Deadlift 3×8
Offset loaded Bulgarian Split Squat 3×8 /side
Walking Lunges 3×10/side

Example Upper Body Workout

Bench Press 5×5
High Bench Row 4×8
Single arm Landmine Press 3×8 / side
Single arm Renegade Row 3×8 /side

 

Incorporating offset loading into our training can be a great way to increase core and hip stability, correct any muscular imbalances, promote additional muscular hypertrophy, and improve athleticism.

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