Movement mechanics are important in sport, as they are the foundation for performance. If you cannot move correctly you will not play at a high level, no matter how skilled you are. But, movement is not the sole purpose of working out. Sports require the constant absorption and controlling of outside forces. This is especially true in contact sports. Working out aims to also address this need. The better an athlete can control the outside forces around him or her, the more effective, not to mention injury resistant (which is a whole other topic), the athlete will become.
Enter offset loading.
First off, what is offset loading? Offset loading is a way of adding load to an exercise in an unbalanced manner. Examples of this are holding 1 DB instead of 2, holding 1 DB in a front rack position and the other at your side, and holding 1 heavy DB and 1 light DB. There are many variations of offset loading, but all variations offer a unique challenge for an athlete through added movement and force variability.
I like offset loading in respects to hockey performance because of the unbalanced nature of it. In skating, a player’s weight is constantly being transferred from side to side, and the center of gravity is changing as a player extends his or her stride. When shooting, a player transfers weight from one foot to the other, while rotating the core from one direction to another, and moving the arms through a range of motion that can be both linear and rotational. Body checking requires the imparting of a sporadic force that can be applied in a plethora of directions; the opposite is true for receiving a body check. All of these scenarios involve the controlling of an unbalanced force.
Possibly the most predominate force direction in hockey is diagonal, meaning that the force is acting through the body from high on one side to low on the other. This is true in both a stabilization and application context. While medicine ball throws offer a good prescription for training diagonal force application, standard loading schemes do not effectively address the stabilization component. Offset loading addresses this issue.
Performing a squat with 1 DB in a front rack position, and the other by your side creates torsion through the spine, which the core musculature must work to stabilize. Performing a heavy carry with only 1DB creates an unbalanced force that the body must fight against. Taking that DB and carrying it overhead creates an even harder unbalanced challenge. Step ups performed with a DB in the contralateral arm require a great deal of hip abductor stability. Split squats with a front racked DB in the contralateral arm create a spinal and hip stabilization challenge.
There are many ways to manipulate an offset loading scheme, and the above are just a few examples. Programming offset loaded exercises into workouts is, in my opinion, required for an athlete to perform at a high level. Sports are inherently chaotic, with forces acting on players in every which direction. Players need to be prepared for those chaotic forces to effectively mitigate any excessive injury risk. Offset loading is one solution to that problem. Will it ever replace traditional exercises as a primary means of building brute strength? Probably not. But, offset loading does offer an effective means of preparing a hockey player’s body for competition, and for that reason it belongs in a player’s training program.