Time to read: 2 mins
The back squat is one of the most popular exercises done in the gym. It is an efficient exercise in that it targets a large amount of musculature and can be used to develop strength, power or endurance dependent upon the sets, reps and rest periods.
But the overhead squat is a much lesser used exercise, potentially due to the flexibility requirements of the exercise. Here, we explain how this diverse exercise should be performed and some reasons why its worth learning and adding into your training.
1. How do you do an overhead squat?
Place arms overhead and hold a bar or resistance (elastic theraband) band.
Flex the hips and knee to descend into a squatting motion.
Once the hips have broken parallel, drive through the heels to extend the hips and knees and return to an upright stance. The trunk should be braced throughout.
Maintain the position of the bar over the crown on the head throughout the entire movement. Feet should remain flat on the floor throughout the movement.
2. The benefits of doing overhead squats
The overhead squat offers many training benefits as well as simply developing strength. The stability challenges of this exercise mean you wont be able to load it as much as the front or back squat but the positioning of the bar challenges additional upper body muscles such as the lats and rotator cuff complex.
The overhead squat, done regularly, develops and maintains flexibility of the ankle, hip, shoulder and thoracic regions, and is good for postural training due to the challenges put on the posterior shoulder and upper back.
If you are into your Olympic lifting, developing your overhead squat goes a long way to improving your snatch and getting solid in the catch position.
3. The most common issues with the overhead squat
The primary reason people avoid the overhead squat is due to the fact it requires a fair amount of flexibility at the ankles, hips and shoulders. If people do not have sufficient dorsiflexion at the ankle, the tendency is to shift the load onto the front of the foot, causing the person to come onto their toes which causes a loss of balance.
A lack of dorsiflexion can also cause a forward trunk lean; which can also be the case with hip tightness. The means the person does not achieve much actual squat depth and is just compensating by leaning forward.
Shoulder flexibility is required to maintain the bar positioning over the crown of the head during the entire move. Thoracic tightness often plays a part in the inability to maintain correct bar position during the exercise.
4. So I can’t do the full exercise yet… how do I build up to it?
First add daily flexibility work into your schedule. Foam roll common areas of tightness that will impact your squatting ability - calfs, hip flexors and thoracic spine. Add in some specific exercises such as ankle mobility off a step.
Now to work on the actual move. Begin by holding an elastic theraband overhead. The flexibility of the band means it is easier to control whilst you learn the overhead positioning. Progress to a wooden stick when you feel ready.
When holding the bar overhead, aim to pull the two ends of the bar apart. This engages the lats, and increases the stability of the overhead bar position.
The overhead squat with a wooden bar is a great warm up exercise, and by including it in daily warm ups allows technique consolidation regularly. Eventually you’ll feel confident enough to try with a weighted bar.