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Overhead Squats: 5 Reasons Why You’re Still Struggling (Part 1)

Some people can learn the technical aspects extremely fast. They know how to keep balance and pretty much enjoy studying technically demanding exercises such as overhead squats. While on the other hand, there’s a lot of people who struggle with these movements.

‘Before giving in, keep in mind that hard work can beat talent, especially if talent doesn’t work hard.’

Same goes for your overhead squats: you can always improve them.

Photo credit: RX’d Photography

Related: If you’re a beginner, here’s our overhead squat how-to.


1. Your core strength needs more work

The foundation of many movements is core strength. The core’s function is to stabilise the spine and our bodies in general. Besides that, it is also involved in generating the force to initiate and perform movements.

Planks, hollow rocks, good mornings, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, etc. will all help, but a proper, technically strong back and front squat are essential. These will also teach you how to engage the core while squatting down (and getting back up) and keeping your body (and the movement) under control.

2. Lack of control and stability

A lot of the time people focus more on the weight, when instead they should focus instead on having control over their own bodies and the weight they’re lifting. So this is the point where core strength becomes useful.

When you load the weight (even if it’s just an empty barbell) your center of gravity changes. You’re holding an extra object and you need to stabilize your body together with the load you’ve just picked up. Focus on being one with the load and find the ‘new’ balance.


Load the bar on your shoulders and stabilize your body. Keep your core engaged. Jerk the weight overhead and stabilize it again. Find the balance, the point where you feel strong with having good control over the barbell/weight and your body. Don’t just try to survive the overhead squat. Look for the strong feeling of having good control over the movement. Lower the weights and do pause overhead squats instead.

It also helps to work on balance and body awareness exercises like drills on stability boards, bosu balls or walking on slacklines.

3. You’re not focused enough

The beautiful part of the overhead squat is the mental aspect. You need to focus and turn off your outer as well as your inner world. Calm down, focus on finding the balance and taking control. You should be so concentrated that you don’t even hear or see people around you.

The main problem I see is people studying too much about what they should fix or focus on. Overhead squats are also about finding balance, which means ‘feeling it’. Feel the movement and find the balance by paying attention to cues of your body.

4. Weak overhead stability

You already know you need to keep your elbows locked out, shoulders active and midline tight. But keeping the weight up (with your hands) is connected to your whole body activation. Get tight, activated and aggressive so your body gets tense. This way stabilizing your shoulders and locking out your elbows will be much easier.


Also as Greg Everett from Catalyst Athletics mentions in Overhead stability in snatch the barbell needs to be positioned over the back of the neck (or top of the traps) with the head pushed a little bit forward. You can as well try pulling the bar apart and holding/grabbing it really tight using the hookgrip.

5. Flexibility issues

I don’t think the excuse ‘I am not flexible enough’ is valid. I actually think overhead squats are a great exercise to achieve proper flexibility combined with stability. A lot of us spent hours behind the computer so our shoulders and upper back areas are tight, and hips (especially iliopsoas) are stiff. Kelly Starrett offers great videos on mobility, fox example: Overhead/snatch prep and tight ankles. Remember flexibility is daily work. Not as exciting as lifting, but crucial to wellbeing and health.

Find Part 2 here, where we offer tips to improve your overhead squats.

Sources: Catalyst Athletics, Physiopedia

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