5 Training Techniques to Improve your Overhead Squat

The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. This demanding exercise reveals every lack of mobility without mercy.

If you can’t execute a rock-solid air squat, then there’s no point in trying to progress to an overhead squat.

Make sure you have a solid squat foundation first, then try a couple of OH squats with a training bar as you will likely discover additional mobility issues. The Overhead Squat requires extreme flexibility in your:

  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Adductors

It’s unlikely that you are highly mobile in all of these areas—which is why the overhead squat is often avoided by so many athletes.  You MUST invest the time into sufficiently mobilizing the above muscle groups in order to externally rotate your hips and become comfortable squatting with the bar overhead.

The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. This functional gem trains for efficient transfer of energy from large to small body parts – the essence of sport movement. For this reason it is an indispensable tool for developing speed and power. The overhead squat also demands and develops functional flexibility, and similarly develops the squat by amplifying and cruelly punishing faults in squat posture, movement, and stability.”

-Greg Glassman, CrossFit Journal 

 Let´s break this exercise down in order to understand and analyse

1. GRIP

  • The bar should be in the palm, slightly behind the center line of the forearm.
  • Grip the bar so that when it is placed overhead it is about 6-8 inches / 20cm above the top of your head.
  • The hand and wrist are allowed to settle with the wrist extended. Don’t try to hold the wrist in a neutral position.

If the bar is placed in the proper position in the hand, it will not place undue strain on the wrist. Don’t hold the bar way behind the wrist as some mistakenly grip it. In every case the proper hand and wrist position does require a good deal of mobility, which should be worked on to allow you to hold the bar properly. If you are flexible enough, the hook grip can be maintained overhead, but the grip must be relaxed to allow the hand and wrist to settle in properly.

camille leblanc bazinet overhead squat
The Overhead Squat – A tough exercise to get right

The bar should be positioned over the back of the neck or the top of the traps, with the head pushed slightly forward through the arms.

If the head is straight up or pushed back as some try to hold it, the shoulder blades cannot be held in a safe position and the arms will not be balanced as effectively to support the weight. Be cautious of pushing the head too far forward, this will encourage your chest to lean forward and tip you out of good form.

The wider the grip, the more likely a lifter is to over rotate and drop the bar behind. Additionally, as the grip gets wider, it becomes more difficult to extend the elbows forcefully to enter the overhead squat position. Different grips make muscles work in different ways. A narrow-hand grip allows for much more shoulder mobility and flexibility, which is crucial for powerful overhead squats.

Lockout stability – The bar must be locked out over your base so tightly that if your coach stood behind you and pressed down on the bar, it will not move.

2. SHOULDERS

A good grip and solid shoulders are inextricably connected during the Overhead Squat.  If you are forced to use an extremely wide grip when overhead squatting and find it challenging to get in a good overhead position even when standing at the top of the squat, your upper back, chest and shoulders may be so tight as to not allow for good overhead squat movement. Working on this point should be a top priority but it might not be enough just to stretch them.

If you are that tight, try to loosen it up by taking a lacrosse ball, tennis ball or some similar round object and lay down on it. The ball should be on the muscles between your shoulder blade and your spine. Put as much of your body weight on the ball as you can stand without wincing (you know the feeling!) and start to make snow angels. Start at the top of your traps and work your way down on both sides. If your pectorals are tight, this same process can be done by laying flat down on top of the ball starting where the pec and the deltoid meet. This active release method can do wonders for loosening up the musculature.

crossfit injury male athlete snatch lift weightlifting overhead squat
The overhead Squat is highly useful for developing your snatch

3. CORE

The overhead squat demands a high amount of midline stability, and therefore a high amount of core stability.

Given that this movement requires you to hold a weighted bar overhead, much of the stability work will go to the core, most predominately the lower back. If you do not have an active midline when performing the Overhead Squat, you are disposed to hyper-extending the lower back, resulting in an unfavorable overhead position—AND putting yourself at risk of injury. It is therefore imperative that you strengthen your core muscles and mobilise your lower back as often as possible.

You surely know these exercises to strengthen your core, but try this one to improve it even more:

Paused Overhead Squat

4. KNEES

The overhead squat works to the same cues as with any squat variation. However, it’s a good idea to focus on a knee break over a hip break because of the position of the load. This means that you should start your descent at the knees, not the hips. Control your descent and maintain tightness in the upper back and posterior chain through the movement.

Knee stiffness is a very common occurrence with squatters. In the overhead position, knee flexion is maximized to allow for a vertical torso. Tightness in the calves, hamstrings, and quads can all be linked to poor knee joint movement

5 Common Causes of Knee Pain

When you sink into the lowest part of the squat, it’s important not to rush out of it too soon as you risk losing form.

Instead take a moment to stabilize yourself and the bar. Make sure that you’re flatfooted, weight in your heels and your elbows and shoulders are turned out (active shoulders). This will reduce the risk of losing control of the bar path when you rise out of the squat and keep you moving efficiently: However; don´t stay there too long, anyone who is familiar with dead stop exercises knows why!

7 Dead Stop Exercises to Develop Explosive Strength and Power

5. FEET

The feet MUST stay just outside the hips. The reason for this is to allow the hips to squat right in between the heels. This does two things for the lifter. Firstly, it keeps the lifter upright and maintains a vertical torso. Second, it allows the lifter to keep their hips under the bar which allows the bar to be more stable over the center of gravity. Often you will find athletes try to go too wide with their feet which compromises their depth and prevents their knees from tracking over their toes. Furthermore, you may find athletes struggle to complete an OHS when their feet are too narrow. A narrow stance requires extreme ankle and hip flexibility and will create more problems for those without such capability.


camille leblanc bazinet overhead squat © crossfitshatter

crossfit injury male athlete snatch lift weightlifting overhead squat © RX'd Photography

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About The Author

Simon is the Assistant Editor at BOXROX.
He has been Sport addicted since childhood and comes from a swimming and bodybuilding backround to Crossfit, which he does for 4 years now and it still challenging him every day. He tries to combine his passions for sport and writing.

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