Exercise of the Week

The exercise of the week this time is not really an exercise at all but rather a technique that can be applied to a number of different exercises: offset loading. Offset loading can be applied to almost any lift and can take many different forms, but this week I am going to focus on how to use it specifically for contralateral single leg knee-dominant work. I am not sure where this technique originated, but I have learned about it from Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, and Mike Robertson. It can really be applied to almost any single leg variation: lunges, step-ups, pistols, split squats, etc. Basically, rather than hold dumbells in two hands like you would normally do, hold the weight in the hand opposite of the leg you are trying to work (i.e. if you are working your right leg, hold the weight in your left hand).

Offsetting the load intrinsically changes the dynamics of the exercise. Just think about what happens when you pick up a heavy weight with your left hand; your shoulders tilt to the left, and your torso wants to rotate to the left towards the weight. If you tried to do a lunge while tilting and rotating to the left, you would almost assuredly tip over and make a fool out of yourself. Thus, to combat this from happening, your core, glutes, and hip stabilizers have to go into overdrive to keep your body balanced and prevent your working leg from caving in (valgus collapse) toward to weight. This added benefit of core and hip stabilization is something you don’t get as much with symmetrical loading. In his article 11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder, Eric Cressey writes that when using asymmetrical loading, “the goal, in most cases is, very simply, to stay symmetrical in spite of the destabilizing torques.” Simple? Sure. Easy? Not so much.

There are a few ways you can put this into practice. The first and most common is simply to hold a dumbell by your side. This works well for all single leg variations other than the pistol squat. Here I show it using a slideboard reverse lunge.

Another variation is to hold the weight in a goblet style position. This increases the difficulty of the exercise by raising the center of mass and forces the core to work through by anti-rotation and anti-flexion. This technique can be applied to basically any single leg movement, including the pistol squat. Here, I am demonstrating it on a rear foot elevated split squat (aka Bulgarian split squat).

A third variation could be holding the weight overhead. This raises the center of mass even further, which is theory should make the exercise more difficult. The problem I have found, however, is that the limiting factor becomes the shoulder and it just not possible to use enough weight to tax the legs in any meaningful way. If you are using the exercise primarily for the inherent core benefits, then this could work well, but if you also want to tax the legs, I’d suggest one of the two methods above.

While offset loading takes a higher degree of body control to be able to perform successfully, I still hesitate to call it a progression from standard symmetrical loading techniques. To me at least, progression implies that one method is superior and more difficult to another. This is not really the case here. In some ways, asymmetrical loading is in fact more difficult for the reasons I have outlined above. In some ways though, it is easier because the loads will naturally be less. Neither way is better; they are just different. Thus, I would call it a variation, but a variation that should try only after you have mastered symmetrical loading. Try it out for yourself and see how you like it.