Master Your Barbell Squat With Offset Elevation

Master Your Barbell Squat With Offset Elevation

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Here’s one of my awesome bodybuilders Ben Lai demonstrating the offset elevation barbell back squat.  Before I begin talking about this specific protocol and exercise I wanted to give a big shoutout and huge congrats to Ben for crushing his OCB physique show last weekend and placing top 5 in a very stacked and competitive class.  Ben is one of the hardest working clients I’ve ever worked with and also incredibly bright in the field of exercise science and kinesiology.  Very excited to see what the future holds for Ben.

This particular exercise is one of many we used with Ben not only to build slabs of muscle mass on his frame but also for perfecting his movement mechanics.  With that said that I’ve found the offset elevation back squat to be one of the single most effective variations for cleaning up squat form.  

As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of offset training for a number of reasons.  Not only does it require greater motor control and body awareness but it also places incredible intramuscular tension on the targeted muscles.  While the most common versions of offset training typically involve loading different weights on each side of the body, implementing an offset elevation by positioning one foot or hand on a several inch platform provides several additional benefits.  Here are 7 reasons why it’s so effective.

1. One of the biggest issues that can contribute to asymmetrical positioning occurs when individuals get overly concerned and distracted with how symmetrical a movement feels.  While it’s critical to pay attention to symmetrical loading and symmetrical positioning it’s actually more important to focus on executing the basic steps of a movement with proper cues such as tight core, proper posture, controlled eccentric, foot alignment, and general limb position etc. 

Becoming overly concerned with symmetrical positioning can distract the lifter from these other more important cues.  Ironically this can degrade their symmetrical positioning even more so.  This offset elevation squat helps address this as the lifter inherently approaches each set understanding that the movement will feel semi asymmetrical throughout therefore they don’t have to be overly concerned with their sense of symmetry.  Instead they can focus more so on basic squatting cues and general biomechanics with less distraction about how symmetrically aligned or symmetrically loaded they are.  As previously mentioned I’ve seen this be one of the most effective methods for enhancing symmetrical loading and positioning.

2. When it comes to cleaning up the squat or any movement pattern for that matter, learning to engage the core is always a surefire way to produce immediate improvements in form.  Offset elevation forces the lifter to activate their core to a greater degree as a means of stabilizing an asymmetrical hip and pelvic position.

3. Offset elevation squats are one of the most effective drills I’ve used for teaching the lifter to set the hips back. That’s because in order to create a stable and comfortable position with the offset elevation, the hips (especially on the elevated side) will have to hinge back.   Simply put, the lifter is forced to flex the hips and produce ample hip hinge before they even begin the rep all of which must be maintained throughout the set.

4. The offset elevation squat is one of the most effective squats for reinforcing proper squat depth and eliminating collapsing at the bottom.  Because of the semi-awkward nature of the offset elevation, it feels incredibly awkward and unnatural to use excessive depth.  In fact, some individuals may even feel a slight pinching sensation in their hips and pelvis when using excessive depth particularly in the elevated foot.  However, this actually provides productive and beneficial feedback as its teaches the lifter ideal squatting depth and mechanics.  To avoid this pinching sensation and very uncomfortable hip position the lifter will be required to use approximately 90-degree joint mechanics

5. The offset elevation squat variation requires significantly lighter loads than what would be used for traditional squats.  For instance Ben is using 315 in this video, which represents the heaviest load he would use for the offset elevation squat.  However for traditional squats he’ll go significantly past 405.  As a result the lifter can produce an intense training stimulus with lighter loads thereby taking stress of the joints and spine.

6. The offset elevation squat produces significant metabolic stress due to the constant tension that the elevated leg will be required to maintain throughout. That’s because the elevated leg will have to stay slightly bent throughout the entire set thereby keeping a degree of constant tension on the lower body that you normally wouldn’t experience during other squats. This makes it a highly effective hypertrophy stimulus and functional mass builder.

7. As asymmetrical as it is, the offset squat actually helps address asymmetries and weakness as you’re pushing slightly more with the elevated leg, somewhat similar to a single leg exercise, although the lifter should try to push as equally as possible with both legs.  In fact whenever I see any form of asymmetry with my clients and their barbell squat position, the offset elevation squat is one of my go-to variations for producing almost immediate improvements in symmetry. 

Quick Tips

Although the offset elevation squat is fairly self explanatory here are several important cues and tips you’ll want to remember.

1. Make sure the elevated foot/leg is slightly in front of the other leg (roughly 3-5 inches in front).

2. Use an offset elevation of approximately 3-6 inches.

3. Keep both feet relatively straight

4. Push as equally as possible through both sides although the elevated leg will most likely feel like it’s performing more of the work.

5. Focus on keeping the bar and shoulders as parallel to the floor as possible.

6. I suggest performing several sets of 3-5 reps on each side of the body. In addition start with 50% of your typical squat load and progress from there.

7. The offset elevation technique can be applied to any and all squat variations including front squats, goblet squats, Zercher squats, and more.

Here's an example of applying it to the goblet squat as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients Elizabeth Yates. 

The offset elevation technique is very useful for goblet squats as one of the most common issues I see on the goblet squat is lifters dropping excessively low and using ATG depth with extrme toe flare simply because it feels more natural to do so than with a barbell back squat setup.  While it may not produce the same negative ramifications as using ATG depth on barbell squats it still represents faulty mechanics that will produce various forms of muscle dysfunction and joint issues over time.  The goblet squat performed with offset elevation helps eliminate these issues and teach proper goblet squat form and depth.

Additional Variations

Offset squats can also be performed in a more traditional sense using offset loading as demonstrated below by several of my NFL and collegiate athletes.  Read more about offset squats here.

You can also perform them using a continuously adjusting offset load with accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains.  Try them eyes closed to make them even more challenging as Ben shows here.

If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates