Should you pick unilateral or bilateral lifts? YES.
Should you pick offset or symmetrical loads? YES.
Should you pick long or short range of motion? YES.
Look, it ALL works. There are benefits to each, and so you should be doing it all. The challenge is fitting it all in a training session, or even an entire week.
One of the ways that I’ve had success implementing more purposeful variations of training is in something I will name THE MULTI-STIMMY-VARIANT RAMP PROTOCOL.
I’m kidding. Please don’t call it that
I just needed a reason to use the term “STIMMY” because it’s great. Call it whatever you want to call it, but the premise is this: we can get more out of our ramp sets by performing slight variations of our principle sets.
Let’s look at how this would be structured with a couple examples, then we’ll look at what the benefits here could be.
RAMP 1 – SUITCASE DEADLIFT (OFFSET LOAD)
RAMP 2 – 1.5 STANCE DEADLIFT (STABILITY)
RAMP 3 – DEFICIT DEADLIFT (RANGE)
WORK SETS – BILATERAL DEADLIFT
RAMP 1 – SINGLE RACK SQUAT (OFFSET LOAD)
RAMP 2 – 1.5 STANCE SINGLE LOADED SQUATS (STABILITY)
RAMP 3 – HEELS ELEVATED (RANGE)
WORK SETS – BILATERAL SQUAT
Now this, of course, is not inclusive of every potential variation under the sun. But the problem I’m putting forward is that, generally speaking, the lower load ramp sets are effectively non-stimulatory sets because the total load being used is not heavy enough to cause any adaptation. Effectively they are often just additional low-ish level warm-up sets. *side bar: this would absolutely be appropriate and probably preferred for your newer clients* If you were running the 6-Phase warm-up taught in our PPSC Certifications then you probably wouldn’t even feel the need to keep warming up because you just crushed a great warmup and were already primed to go.
Now, I’m not saying that you should go from the warm-up straight to top-end work sets to try and set PRs. Ramping up is still definitely a good idea, BUT, we can ramp in ways where we are trying to create additional stimuli in the ramp sets that we wouldn’t get in the work sets.
Assuming we are discussing bilaterally loaded classic deadlift variations or some sort of bilateral stance and evenly loaded squat variation, we are after either increasing strength or hypertrophy. To drive strength it needs to be heavy, to drive hypertrophy we need to hit the stimulatory reps (the last 3-5 reps in a set that are very difficult and therefore stimulate growth). Typically our ramp sets don’t do those things. Yet they still cost some of our total energy we have available for that training session, so why not try to get more out of those sets?
We can develop other attributes during the ramp sets. I think there are three principal categories that work very well in the ramp sets, and those are:
The main and potentially only reason to use bilateral lifts is to distribute high levels of stress and weight across the distribution of the entire body. While this ego-driving technique is what most people stick to, like any movement, each circumstance has its trade off’s. The bilateral demand means there is less necessity for the body to require stability aspects being we are actively using both sides. This collaborative work from the two sides will also downregulate certain smaller muscular systems as well as limit our range of motion in specific joint systems. Again, every movement has its place but its important to identify the pro’s and con’s of each of these without just aimlessly programming movements without the intention of why we are using them.
It’s always important to stay ready
If you want to work offset loads, the clear disadvantage will be from a static hold perspective. While the weight increases, you will find yourself with highly increasing demand on non-primary systems such as the shoulder girdle to which the demand will eventually become too great. The weight increase will not be the variable you will want to (or have the option to) change. The benefits are you will build better resiliency throughout the torso from some of the anti’s (rotation, lateral flexion, flexion, extension) and some balance through unique center of gravity demands. Just don’t forget those increased challenges come at the expense of using more weight.
If you want to work unilateral stances, stability and balance challenges will be the largest hurdle in your path. Just remember you are minimizing your weight down to one singular point of contact to complete a task your body generally wants as much help as possible to complete. Going down to one point means you will challenge your stability and balance more. In these scenarios, there is an abundance of sensory feedback shooting back and forth between our limbs and our brain. The ability to lift some seriously heavy weight is not likely but that doesn’t mean our body isn’t working at incredibly high demands. Think Amazon during the holiday season type high demands.
If you want to work on increasing range of motion, which you should, you will be limited by the ranges where you are weakest. All this means is you won’t have a strong stimulatory effect through most of the lift, and this is appropriate! In longer ranges we are simply at a higher risk when loaded, and we should not strive to develop 1,3, or even 5rm maxes in drills where we are exploring very long muscle lengths. So the range developments come at the expense of lbs on the bar.
Because we see that the loading capacity of offset exercises, unilateral exercises, and longer range of motion exercises is diminished, we often cut them completely because we want that heavier overload for the sweet, sweet gainz. Which we totally get and understand by the way.
But let’s just be like Warren G and take the approach of “I want it all”.
That’s where changing your ramp sets can come into play. Since we know we’ll be ramping with lighter loads, we can pick load placements that develop other attributes during those ramp sets. We can pick unilateral foot contacts to ramp up with and wake up our reflexive stabilizers and proprioceptors. We can move through a larger range of motion safely with the smaller weights and develop our flexibility while ramping.
I find 2-3 ramp sets for your principal lift of the day (we call it the KPI at the PPSC) to be good. You could mix different protocols from above and do a super deep offset stance squat with an offset kb load, but practically it is probably best to pick one attribute to try and develop further during the ramp sets for our clients. We do want them to have enough focus that they are successful with the performance of the exercises, and if we try to do too many variations in the ramps it could be counter productive.
- If someone wants/needs more flexibility, explore greater ranges in the ramp sets.
- If someone wants/needs more core, load in an offset position.
- If someone wants/needs more stability or balance work, use single leg biased setups for the ramp sets.
From the softer side of coaching – the psychological and emotional side – this also seems to be more enjoyable for most clients. Just think: how many clients prefer less variety? Certainly there are some, but for the most part clients will always pick more varieties because it’s the spice of life (or whatever). If we create a more enjoyable training session, be it in group or one-on-one training, the clients will enjoy the session more and that enjoyment often leads to better effort. Better effort leads to better results.
This is the first article in a series of articles discussing what I call Purposeful Variety. We aren’t rolling the dice here to be random, rather we are specifically setting up our programs with the thought process that the more positions and movements which we can perform confidently and competently the better we are prepared to dominate our lives.