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Vertical vs Horizontal Loading

When it comes to the organization of training, many people fall back to basics they learned early on in their training career. Things that have been passed time from one lifter to the next and so on and so forth. Many times lifters are not even sure of the purpose or reasoning behind their training program, it’s what they’ve always done. This article will describe two different loading patterns that can be used when organizing your programming: horizontal loading and vertical loading. Horizontal loading is when all sets of a given exercise are done before moving on to the next exercise. Vertical loading is when the first set of 1 exercise is followed immediately by the first set of another exercise before returning back to the first exercise to begin set 2.  Read on to gain a better understanding of the effects both of this loading schemes have.

Horizontal Loading

Example:

Bench Press, work up to a heavy weight for 5 reps, do 3 sets of 5 reps with around a 2-3 minute break in between each

DB Bench Press, work up to a moderate weight for 10 reps and perform 3 total sets with a minute break in between each

Pec Deck Flys, work up to a moderate weight for 15 reps and perform 3 total sets with a minute break in between each

  • Hypertrophy: Horizontal loading can be manipulated in a variety of ways to allow complete or incomplete recovery. In the example above, we could extend or shorten the rest period in order to change our recovery. The idea being that total recovery may be better for strength development as maximum weight can be used while incomplete recovery may benefit hypertrophy training as more motor units are recruited and fatigued as the sets continue on.
  • Strength: Because horizontal loading allows for all sets of a given exercise to be completed prior to moving on to the next exercises, it is more beneficial for strength training of major movements (ie squat, bench, deadlift) because the lifter is allowed complete time to recover before his next heavy set. However, for isolation movements or major movements done without full recovery, horizontal loading will allow the lifter less time between sets and therefore potentially hamper strength.
  • Endurance: Because all sets for a given exercise are completed first and therefore require a break in between, horizontal loading may not have the same aerobic training affect as vertical loading. However, for alactic or lactic endurance in which output needs to be high with relatively low rest periods, horizontal loading can be useful to determine at what point output start to drop off.
  • Time: Horizontal loading can take more time to complete a workout than vertical loading, especially if full recovery is allowed between sets. However, training variables can be manipulated to make both take about the same time. When doing so incomplete recovery of individual muscle groups would occur with horizontal loading while full or at least close to full recovery would occur with vertical loading.
  • Gym Setup: Utilizing horizontal loading may be easier in an open gym as securing one piece of equipment for 5 minutes is easier than securing multiple pieces of equipment for the same time period.

Vertical Loading

Example A:

Complete 1 set of each exercise, minimal break in between, before returning back to the first exercise to begin set 2, complete 3 total sets

Bench Press, work up to a heavy weight for 5 reps

DB Bench Press, work up to a moderate weight for 10 reps

Pec Deck Flys, work up to a moderate weight for 15 reps

Example B:

Complete 1 set of each exercise, minimal break in between, before returning back to the first exercise to begin set 2, complete 3 total sets

DB Bench Press, work up to a moderate weight for 10 reps

DB Row, work up to a moderate weight for 10 reps

Seated DB Side Raise, work up to a moderate weight for 10 reps

  • Hypertrophy: When using vertical loading for exercises to target different muscle groups as in example B, full recovery of each specific muscle group will occur between sets (although systemic recovery may not). Because of this, activation of all motor units and muscle fibers may be limited. When using vertical loading for exercises of the same muscle group, full muscle recovery will no occur. When exercises are placed in order of compound, multi-joint movements that use more weight first with isolation movements placed later, the lifter can achieve full fatigue of the muscle group before recovering between exercise rounds. This may have some significant benefits for hypertrophy.
  • Strength: When vertical is done with same or similar muscle group exercises, strength is likely to diminish from one exercise to the next as fatigue sets in. However, if done using opposing muscle groups or non-similar muscle groups, then strength can be maintained between sets as a muscle has more time to full recover. This would be good for a strength athlete with limited training time or who needed to improve their aerobic capacity.
  • Endurance: Vertical loading can be used to develop aerobic capacity and improve the cardio-respiratory system. While recover of the individual muscle groups will be maximized, the lifter is still systemically stressed as their training becomes more dense. This works well for smaller accessory movements where total weight being used is not as high as in the main movements.
  • Time: Vertical loading should take less time to complete than horizontal loading if breaks between exercises and sets remain low to moderate.
  • Gym Setup: Setting up exercises for vertical loading is dependent on equipment availability, distance, and how crowded the gym is. If the gym is full, you may be limited in what equipment you can utilize. In this case, setting up multiple movements on once piece of equipment is ideal (like in example B).

The examples below are very basic and serve the purpose of creating a base understanding of the two loading schemes. Complexity can be grown from there to fit a lifter’s needs. Personally, I’ve enjoyed utilizing vertical loading for beginners who need a training program that will target multiple physical capacities within a limited time frame. I also like to utilize vertical loading after the main movement for strength athletes who need some improved aerobic capacity and who’s main lifts take up a lot of time already. Take what you’ve learned and apply it to your own training and see what more you can learn from these two loading patterns.

 

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