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How Hard Can It Be: The Overhead Squat

How hard can an overhead squat be? You can squat and you can hold a bar overhead so you can obviously overhead squat. Kind of like how hot dogs taste good and so does cake, so obviously a hot dog cake would be delicious, right? No? There is obviously more to it than combining good things and assuming they work.

The overhead squat is a challenge of thoracic (upper body) stability, hip mobility, shoulder mobility, abdominal ability, and of course strength. So when someone can do an efficient overhead squat, they're basically showing that they have an ability that 99% of people do not. It's you body's way of bragging about it's athleticism.



Just the other day I had one of my athletes who struggles with imbalanced shoulders perform the Overhead Squat. Not only did he struggle with squatting to depth with the bar, he could barely hold the bar overhead without his shoulders stretching. It was a challenge for him to keep the bar locked out overhead.

So the first obstacle in overhead squatting is the overhead position. Common sense says to just hold the bar over your head right? Common sense is wrong. When we hold the bar over our head in this position we want to remember a few key things. First is to grip the bar wide. I teach athletes their grip by making them hold the bar in front of them at their hips, they then grip the bar wide enough so that when they lift their knees up it doesn't hit the bar. When the bar is overhead with a wide grip the next tip is to open your armpits. Hold the bar and turn your arms so that the pocket of your elbows and armpits face forward. One way to force this is to squeeze your shoulder blades and turn your arms under your wrists. Another thing to remember is that the bar should be behind your head over your shoulders. A lot of people naturally hold the bar directly over their head, and I tell them "Head through the window." The final tip for the overhead position is to pull the bar apart. A classic mistake that lifters make is trying to relax with the bar overhead. Instead you should actively squeeze the bar and pull it in opposite directions.

Now that you have the bar secure overhead it's time to squat right? Almost. Now we have to prepare for the squat. The first thing you need to do is create a lordotic curve in your lower back - pop your butt out - and sit all of your weight on your heels and pinky toes. As you lower yourself to the floor push your knees away from eachother while simultaneously driving your knees forward.

Now, what a lot of people don't realize is that the shoulder mobility and hip mobility are directly connected to each other. When you hold your hands over your head and squat down either your hands will fall forward or your squat will look awful. When your hips get tight, like in the bottom squat position, then your shoulders will feel that tightness. Unfortunately a lot of lifters will relax either their hips or shoulders  to compensate for each other and they will lose the bar. Aside from aggressive stretching prior to doing the overhead squat there are a couple of tips to finishing the bottom of the squat. The lower you get in the squat the more likely you will lose the bar, to fight this keep your head forward and pull the bar behind you. While squatting down don't think "Squat by bending my knees." Although this is accurate, you will miss some key body movements, instead think butt back and belly to the floor. If you try and squat by taking your stomach to the floor you will ensure that you get between your knees, and you will also keep your abs properly loaded.

After all of that is said and done, squat back up and claim your prize. Doing a proper overhead squat is a marker of a great athlete, and it puts you in a small category. You're a 1 percenter.

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance


The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.