If you are thinking about adding offset load exercises into your training program, you are probably wondering “what are the benefits of offset loading and how can I effectively and efficiently program uneven loads into my current training regimen?” These are two important questions to tackle, and we are here to give you the answers.
In this post, we will look at what exactly is offset loading (also referred to as uneven or unbalanced loading) and how it compares to unilateral exercises, the benefits of offset loading and why you should implement it into your routine, what equipment can be used for offset exercises, and how you can program offset loading into your training regimen in an effective manner.
Offset loading is a training method where you lift a weight that is heavier on one side than it is on the other. It can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even cable pulleys and plate loaded machines. Moreover, there are training tools that are designed with an offset weight, like the steel mace.
An example would be doing DB bench press with a 25LB dumbbell in one hand and a 40LB dumbbell in the other…or farmer carries with a 50lb kettlebell in one hand and a 80lb kettlebell in the other…or a barbell squat with a 45 pound plate on one side and nothing on the other side…or any steel mace exercise where the mace is held horizontally, as the weight of a steel mace is offset by nature of design.
Offset loading is like that time you added a plate on one side of a barbell when pyramiding up and forgot to put it on the other side, then you realized your mistake after you unracked it...except, in this case, you did it on purpose.
It’s really that simple. We don’t need to overcomplicate the meaning of offset loading…so, let’s move on.
Some people confuse offset exercises with unilateral exercises.
Although the two work your body in a very similar manner, there is a difference.
Put simply, unilateral exercises are single leg or single arm movements, while offset exercises involve both extremities but one side has a heavier load. Offset loading is uneven/unbalanced loading.
The names really do a good job of explaining it.
Examples of unilateral exercises:
Examples of offset exercises:
Offset loading is like a bilateral and unilateral hybrid exercise.
Bilateral, Unilateral, Offset exercises are all utilized by pro athletes and pro fitness trainers. Why? Because they are all effective and they all play a role in enhancing performance.
Now, as for the benefits of offset and unilateral exercises, they are very similar. Unilateral exercises increase strength on a weaker side, improve balance and kinesthetic awareness, enhance core strength, and they help people break plateaus...
Now, let’s have an in-depth look at some of the benefits of offset loading, specifically.
Have a look at the benefits of offset load training so you can get a sense of how it can help your training and overall fitness…
Offset loading is arguably the best course of action in fitness when it comes to exposing and fixing asymmetries and imbalances. Performing exercises with an offset load will allow your weaker side to catch up to your stronger side.
Offset loading is particularly effective for neural drive (teaching the brain to fire the correct muscles), motor control, muscle activation patterns, intramuscular tension (deep muscle tension), and motor unit synchronization and neuromuscular performance (muscles working together to coordinate the contraction of a single muscle).
With even loads, your dominant side often does more work. Offset loading will pinpoint your weaknesses and help you even out your imbalances.
What’s more, offset loading directly leads to strength gains. Even though you are using a reduced load during offset exercises, simply correcting imbalances will grant you considerable strength improvements. It also will reduce your chance of injury, as a balanced body is a resilient body.
Overall, offset loading coupled with standard loading lifts is key to achieving high-level strength and performance…
Now, it’s important to understand that uneven loading targets your body differently than even loading. It is not as if they just work one side more than the other. Any particular exercise performed offset will target muscles and the body differently than the same exercise done with an even weight load. Even if you are trying to make a weaker side catch up, you still need to perform offset loading exercises on both sides.
Offset loading is a way to directly train the core without directly training it. Paradoxical? Well, let us explain. With offset loading, you are going to be working your core and spinal stability as every exercise is going to require you to resist rotation and/or lateral flexion.
If you load more weight on one side, you create flexion and rotation forces at the hips and trunk that wouldn’t be there with regular bilateral exercises.
You will be required to keep your body squared forward, not leaning or rotating to the side the heavier load is on. This is going to crush your core…in a good way. It will work all of your spinal stabilizers, your entire core musculature, your hips, AND your sling system.
As for the benefits of a stable core, it’s important for preventing injury and enhancing performance in sports, lifting, and pretty much every single activity. A strong core also means a stable spine.
So, offset loading exercises fill two needs with one deed - you work the primary muscle that you are targeting and your core. In a world that puts great emphasis on core strength and stability, what better way to optimize your time and your strength than with offset exercises…
Word of Caution: If you have a spinal injury history, tread lightly with offset load training. That doesn’t mean don’t do it. As offset loading will strengthen your spinal stabilizers and help you become more resilient, but don’t go too heavy. A steel mace is the perfect place to start. In any case, consult your doctor.
With normal loading parameters, it is easy to use momentum and jerky mechanics to lift the weight. This is especially common when using heavy loads. Conversely, offset loading is very effective for eliminating the use of momentum and jerky movement patterns. With offset loading, you will have to lift the weight in a controlled way, with both sides of your body in unison. Every shifting and jerky movement will be noticeable as it will throw off your coordination. You’ll need to synchronize your entire body to complete the movement. This effectively eliminates the habit to use momentum and leads to much improved body mechanics in the long run.
With better mechanics comes better form. Offset loading helps eliminate excessive range of motion, which often comes with momentum and jerky mechanics.
You will have full body tension at all times, which promotes stable and strong right-angles, rather than unrestrained range of motion. This is very common in lifters and is often a cause of injury.
So, if you are looking for a way to clean up your form, instantly, offset loading is the way. The integration of core stability, complete full body tension and better body mechanics leads to cleaner form and ultimately stronger lifts.
With good mechanics and form comes more tension on the targeted muscles. Offset exercises really zone in on the targeted muscles, which is great for hypertrophy. Moreover, this makes a lighter weight offset tool like the steel mace more effective than using even load of the same weight.
Another benefit within the benefit of having good mechanics - strict movement and keeping tight throughout the entire exercise - is you will be increasing intramuscular tension. Intramuscular tension causes a surge in the worked muscle’s rate of protein degradation and the ensuing post-workout amino acid intake. This leads to larger and stronger muscles.
What’s more, your neural drive will improve, allowing for a better mind to muscle connection.
Ultimately, this will make you more powerful when doing standard even loading. It will be particularly noticeable with lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press and military press.
Offset loading is tough on both the mind and the body. The strict movement, which requires full body tension at all times (especially the core and hips), means you will need to seriously concentrate during an exercise. All the stress of life fades away as your focus drills in on the movement. This leads to an incredible improvement in mental toughness and fortitude as well as overall strength and conditioning
Every set is going to test your conditioning and your ability to focus….You could say offset load training is only for the strong minded, yet offset loading creates a strong mind. Moreover, it de-stresses the mind when it’s all said and done.
One of our favorite aspects of offset loading is how it greatly improves balance, coordination and motor control. The offset load will put your balance and coordination to the test, requiring your core and hip stability to take control. You become much more aware of your coordination as well. The results over time is a noticeable improvement in motor control. This is especially apparent with the steel mace training, as many exercises involve movement patterns that move your through multiple planes of motion. This will constantly put your stability, balance and coordination in check.
With offset exercises, you need a good foundation to begin with, or else it will be very difficult to perform the exercises. If you are really lacking in the balance and coordination department, start light. A light weight steel mace (10lb mace) is a good place to start. The great thing about the mace is depending on your hand position on the handle, you can make the weight more or less offset. So with a 10 or 15LB mace, you can slowly improve your balance and coordination by gradually chaining your hand positioning.
When performing the same exercise that you would with an even load in an uneven load format, you will be targeting your body differently, and completely changing the dynamic of the exercise, as we mentioned earlier.
The main thing you will notice is your stabilizer muscles are being worked more. So, while you will be targeting the same muscles that you would with a even bilateral load (albeit in a different way) you will have the added benefit of a considerable increase in stabilizer muscle strength for any given exercise.
Now, there are no specific stabilizer muscles to speak, each exercise targets primary muscles, secondary muscles and stabilizer muscles differently.
For example, with bent over rows, the hamstrings are one of the stabilizer muscles. However, with stiff-legged deadlifts, hamstrings are the primary muscle. So, it all depends on the exercise.
The point is, your stabilizer muscles will be noticeably working harder, as well as your core (which is often a stabilizer for many even weight load exercises).
Why are strong stabilizer muscles important? First, it creates a more injury resilient body. Second, it makes your stronger in your lifts. It also plays a big role in the benefit we mentioned above, strong form.
If lifting heavy is not your thing, offset loading will be. Offset loading demolishes the muscles with minimal loading. It’s not as if you will be doing half the weight you would with standard evenly balanced loading. You will be doing 1/3 or less as the dynamics make even a third of the weight extremely challenging.
There are a few reasons why lighter loads are good, especially when they have a similar effectiveness for strength and conditioning:
Lighter loads put less tension on the joints, less chance of muscle damage (the 4+ days of soreness kind of damage), and they allow for an increase in training frequency, which means quicker fitness results. Although offset loading increases training intensity and activation, it decreases soreness and requires less recovery. This means you can train more frequently at a high level of intensity. Again, this is key to improving fitness quickly.
Furthermore, offset loading is a smart method for increasing total training volume without overtraining. You will be required to do twice as much work with offset load training (you gotta hit both sides after all). This means more time under tension. What’s more, you should be able to limit your rest time as the weight is lighter. Both increased tension under time and metabolic conditioning (low rest time) cause greater hypertrophy and/or fat loss, depending on your diet of course.
The Steel Mace may seem light but it is incredibly challenging.
Offset load training is very practical for sports performance and daily life. Day to day, much of what we deal with is uneven. It’s not a perfectly balanced world. Moreover, we are constantly relying on our balance and stability.
For example, when you carry groceries, there is a very slim chance the bag in your left hand is going to weigh as much as the bag in your right hand. Or let’s say you have your kid in one arm and a bag in the other. Maybe you are moving furniture, is the furniture perfectly balanced? Nope. We could go on and on. It’s a beautifully unbalanced world.
In sports (and daily life), we twist, turn, lean, accelerate, and decelerate. We have to resist motion (anti-rotation) as much as we have to create it. We even have to resist it as we create it. For example, when throwing a punch in boxing, you have to create force through your extremities while resisting force at the trunk as you land the punch. The same thing applies to throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball, hitting a baseball, and so on.
Overall, offset loading is a practical and effective way to increase your capacity for all of these things. It will make you more powerful and it will make you more resilient to injury, which is often caused by an inability to resist force. Stability is a key component to longevity.
In a nutshell, offset loading exercises will benefit any fitness enthusiast. The biggest impact you will see after employing offset loading is an improvement in core strength and stability (in a functional manner), overall strength gains, and injury resilience.
Offset loading can be done with most fitness equipment, such as dumbbells, barbell, kettlebells, cable pulleys and plate loaded machines.
All you need to do is have one side heavier than the other.
As for exercises, offset loading can be applied to any exercise. Chest presses, squats, lunges, rows, overhead presses, curls, and so on. You can even for it with push up and pull ups depending on how you position yourself and your hands.
There are truly so many ways to utilize offset loading. Pretty much any exercise can be done in an offset variation.
The steel mace is a fitness training tool that is offset by design. For those just getting into offset training, steel maces are the best place to start.
All of the benefits above apply to steel mace training. You can read more about the steel mace benefits here. The practical benefits the steel mace provides is one of the reasons it is spreading like wildfire in the fitness world. It offers a completely unique way of training, and one that is the definition of functional (and not in the beaten down sense of the word that we are so use to hearing in the fitness realm)
This video by Paulina Kairys is the perfect example of what you can do with a steel mace in terms of offset loading.
Note: Although the steel mace is our essential tool for offset load training, we do like to employ offset barbell exercises and some offset dumbbell and kettlebell offset exercises, as they are great as well. We also try other offset training techniques here and there to test and explore our capabilities. Ultimately, to see what works best. Steel mace training and offset barbell exercises have proven to be our most effective techniques for reaping the benefits of offset loading.
First, let us be clear. Offset Loading should not replace standard weight lifting. It is simply an effective ancillary modality to put into effect. What we are recommending is that you combine offset loading with standard strength training, with offset exercises taking the auxiliary role.
Here’s an analogy for how we feel about offset exercises…
If fitness was a movie, conventional lifts would be the main actor and offset exercises (as well as unilateral exercises) would be the supporting actor.
Another way to look at it if you aren’t doing offset loading…
Think of offset loading as the missing piece of a 4-piece puzzle. You have the general picture without it, but you are missing a vital chunk of the picture.
The four pillars of fitness are strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. Offset loading helps make a couple of those pillars a lot stronger.
So, how to program offset loading into your training regimen?
The best and most efficient way to program offset loading into your training program is simply adding one or two offset exercises into each workout.
Here is an example of a shoulder day:
1A: Military Press x 5 sets
1B: Steel Mace Overhead Press x 4
2A: Arnold Presses x 3
2B: Lateral Raises x 3
2C: Front Raises x 3
3A: Upright Rows x 3
3B: Offset KB Farmer Carries x 3
4A: Hanging Leg Raises x 4
As you can see, the base of the workout are standard conventional lifts. The offset exercises are ancillary.
One of the best things about offset loading is you are targeting your core, so on days where you are doing offset exercises, you can eliminate one or two of your core exercises (eliminate the supplemental core exercises - i.e. if you do hanging leg raises and crunches, remove the crunches and place the offset load exercise into your primary workout).
Here is another example of programming offset loading. For this one let’s look at leg day.
1A: Squats x 4
1B: Offset Barbell Back Squats x 3
2A: Stiff Legged Deadlifts x 4
2B: Offset Barbell Stiff-Legged Deadlifts x 3
3A: Split Squats x 3
3B: Single-leg Leg Press x 3
4A: Good Mornings x 3
4B: Ham Curls x 3
5A: Offset Steel Mace Lunges x 3 (each side of course)
With all of the offset exercises, you are doing the exercise on both sides (so three sets is 3 sets each side)
For steel mace offset exercises, depending on the weight, we recommend a 5-10 rep range, although you could go higher. For barbell exercises, we recommend a 3-5 rep range. Make it so it’s challenging in that range. If you aren’t sure how heavy to start, simply go light. You will get an understanding of what you can do with time. Moreover, for barbell offset loading, start with a smaller difference in the offset weight, around 5-10 pounds compared to the lighter side. So if you have 45 on one side, add 55 to the other side.
There are a lot of seasoned professionals out there implementing offset training into their programs and their client's programs. With a simple YouTube search, you will see plenty of examples of this. 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 smartest and most knowledgeable fitness trainers have put merit into offset loading, it must be worth it. We are sure offset loading has been used by the pros for a long time, people are simply just becoming aware of offset loading’s what, how, when and why thanks to social media.
New to offset loading? We highly recommend Steel Maces. They are an easy and effective way to lay the first stones of offset training. Moreover, you will find them useful in the long run and in many other ways.
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