In what feels like a never ending quest to find the best ways to build muscle, increase strength, and improve athleticism, we are frequently looking for new training techniques to help us reach our goals as quickly and as effectively as possible.
While I am strong believer that the basics will get you MOST of the way there, there are definitely occasions when different methods of training can have a very positive effect on our results.
One of the methods that I have been having frequent success with (both personally, and with my clients) is offset loading.
Offset loading is a training technique that is extremely simple to implement, but can have huge benefits.
Pretty simply, it refers to loading one side of the body to a greater degree than the other.
So as a very simple example, we could do farmer carries with a heavier load in one hand than the other (which is then repeated on the other side – can’t have those imbalances...).
This exact same loading method can be applied to squat and split squat variations, both bilateral and unilateral deadlift variations, and upper body pushing and pulling variations (think 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.
Benefits of offset loading
While its method of application of simple, offset loading can have a number of benefits dependent on your training goal.
The initial benefit that we get from offset loading is due to the demand it places on the body to maintain stability. 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.
Therefore, the muscles of the trunk and hip must work overtime to maintain a neutral lumbo-pelvic position.
This makes offset loading a great tool to use when we are limited for time and want exercises that provide big bang-for-your-buck, as we can improve core stability while also loading the upper or lower body.
Not only will this increased demand for stability build core and hip stability strength, it also provides a great opportunity to work on any imbalances we may have in regards trunk and hip strength.
Additionally, 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 significantly.
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.
Offset Loading Programming Considerations
So now we know the benefits of offset loading, it is HOW we implement it into our training that makes all the difference.
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 core strength lifts. This is because their capacity to build strength is somewhat limited, as they will 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 4x6
Romanian Deadlift 3x8
Offset loaded Bulgarian Split Squat 3x8 /side
Walking Lunges 3x10/side
Example Upper Body Workout
Bench Press 5x5
High Bench Row 4x8
Single arm Landmine Press 3x8 / side
Single arm Renegade Row 3x8 /side
Incorporating offset loading into our training can be a great way to increase core and hip stability, correct any imbalances we may have, and promote muscular hypertrophy.
Additionally, using offset training can promote further strength development by improving stability and eliminating those imbalances!