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Offset training for strength & performance

offset training
What is offset training?

Offset training, or offset loading, is a technique in which you take a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or specialty bar movement and you intentionally load one side more than the other. Alternatively, this technique can also apply a resistance band or chain to one side instead. Below is an example of using a barbell movement and adding an offset load.

You can view this offset loading as a blend of conventional bilateral and unilateral loading. For example, think about doing a conventional barbell deadlift, now think about doing a contralateral single leg deadlift. With an offset conventional barbell deadlift, we are getting a blend of both methods, in which one side is stressed slightly more than the other, but the opposite side musculature is still involved.

offset training
4 Reasons to Incorporate Offset Training into Your Program:
Reason #1

Using offset loading can be a great way to effectively expose asymmetries and imbalances but it can also be used to help eliminate them.  As Dr. Joel Seedman states, it forces the weaker side to catch up to the stronger side particularly when it comes to:

  • neural drive
  • muscle activation patterns
  • motor control
  • intramuscular tension
  • and motor unit synchronization

For instance, when you perform movements with even loads, your dominant side will often take more load. Adding in some offset loading will target those weak links and help even out your imbalances

offset training
Reason #2

Offset loading will help improve your core strength in the often neglected planes of movement (frontal/transverse). In fact, when you are performing offset movements, you essentially resist rotation and lateral flexion throughout each movement. This resistance makes the exercise incredibly effective for hitting the spinal stabilizers and core musculature.

When you have more weight on one side, you create flexion and rotational forces at the hips and trunk that wouldn’t be there with regular bilateral exercises. This is a result of you not leaning or rotating to the side the heavier load is on. 

A stronger foundation will ensure that we train the core in full 360 degrees which will lead to improved performance and reduce the risk of a spinal injury.

offset training
Reason #3

One of my favorite features of the offset method is that it teaches the lifter to stay tight by forcing them to create intramuscular tension throughout their entire body. This helps improve:

  • Mechanics of the movement
  • Neural drive (better mind-muscle connection)
  • Muscle Hypertrophy (more muscle damage due to protein degradation which will lead larger & stronger muscles).

Ultimately, having greater intramuscular tension will help eliminate energy leaks and clean up form. This can result in stronger lifts with standard loading. 

offset training
Reason #4

If you are coming off an injury or dealing with some joint issues where heavy loading might exacerbate symptoms then offset method may be very good for you. Since you won’t be able to handle as heavy a load as you typically would, it allows increased training intensity and activation with decreased soreness and less demands on recovery.

Furthermore, it will allow you to train more frequently yet still with a relatively high intensity. This method is what you want to achieve when you are coming off an injury or dealing with an injury.

Closing thoughts

There are many smart professionals like Dr. Joel Seedman implementing offset training methods into their programs and their clients programs. However, just because you see someone else doing something doesn’t mean it will be good for you.

Every single exercise in a program should have purpose for being there. Offset loading should be used as a piece to your training program. By no means am I suggesting you do away with tried & true conventional lifts or standard  bilateral loading.

Second, If you look to any pro athletes training, you will also see offset loads being utilized during workout sessions. Although it’s hard to prove anything as “effective,” it is clear that if some of the most knowledgeable fitness trainers have put merit into offset loading, it must be worth it.

Before doing anything with a barbell, I would recommend using uneven dumbbells/kettlebells first. This tends to be easier on the athlete, and easier for them to grasp the concept.

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