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October 09, 2021 9 min read

The overhead squat has been in the news quite a lot during the past few years, largely because of the ascendancy and popularity of CrossFit training.

The overhead squat can indeed be a good exercise for many weightlifters, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. In this article, you’ll find out how to do the overhead squat correctly and in a way that can promote better mobility, stability, and strength for your entire body.

The Overhead Squat Technique

As always, it is vital to avoid any type of risk of injury to your back or to your shoulders, so be sure to do a proper warm-up and use all of the information we are providing in this article to become familiar with the correct ways of doing this exercise in a way that will give you the maximum benefit.

Although getting in the squat position might seem like a painful exercise when you first attempt it, putting your upper body into an extended position like this can cause a great number of benefits when it comes to improving the health of your shoulders and your spine, improving your body strength, and increasing your overall range of motion. 

If you do this great exercise for an extended period of time, it will make your upper body far more lithe and agile, and the squat movement might translate into you experiencing less pain on a daily basis. But be sure not to hyperextend your lower back when doing these types of overhead squats. This can place too much strain on your back and lower body, which can sometimes lead to all kinds of serious injuries.

Man doing squats with heavy barbell overhead at the gym

The major function of the overhead squat should be as a shoulder mobility training exercise. It actually does not seem to have a large effect in terms of strength carryover to very many of the other squat variations you might be doing, such as the snatch, the goblet squat, back squat, front squat, the lunge, and the overhead press. 

So, if you want to do a bunch of repetitions of the overhead squat to make your legs stronger, it might not work quite as well as you think it will. The overhead squat is best for training the strength and stability of your  shoulders and core.

It is also a good way to mobilize your thoracic spine, ankles, and your hips.

Furthermore, it will help you feel more comfortable at the very bottom of a wide range of bar overhead exercises.

Mobility, Strength, and Core Stability

A lot of people tend to struggle with at least one of these mobility and stability issues: tight, overlifted pecs that pull the shoulders and upper back forward, a rigid thoracic spine that does not extend, a weak and unstable core, or inflexible hips, knees, and ankles. Doing overhead squats can sometimes relieve some of these issues. 

It is vital, though, to start with basic positioning and practice the correct form for this exercise. Never just throw a few plates on a bar and expect your body to be able to handle it, especially if you have experienced any of the above issues. The overhead squat can turn you into a stronger, well-rounded athlete, but it can also cause serious injuries if you do the exercise with poor form and without learning the fundamentals.

Extension Training 

A lot of people tend to sit hunched forward all day, and then they go straight into the gym and immediately start to train their mirror muscles. Building up to these exercises more slowly can be a far more effective strategy. If your torso is in constant flexion, your shoulders and scapulae will be pulled forward. This can make it very difficult for your shoulders to be comfortable and strong, especially if your arms are behind your head.

The overhead squat can help your body learn how to extend. Your thoracic spine and abdominal muscles need to learn how to move backward with as much ease as they flex forward. If your thoracic spine and core can be strong and flexible no matter what you are doing, you will have much more success in all of your lifts.

There are a few more important things to know about the overhead squat. Be aware of your back position. In most exercises, you need to think about  scapular retraction, which refers to the squeezing of the shoulder blades, which is good for your posture. This is especially important when you are doing the overhead squat. 

It is very difficult to crunch and contract your abs enough if you are trying too hard to squeeze your shoulder blades. For this exercise, always try to let everything come forward as naturally as possible and try to work on your abs at the same time as the shoulder muscles. 

Mobility of the Hips and Ankles

If you struggle to do a back squat without your knees caving in or your heels slowly coming off the ground, doing an overhead squat will make these issues even more apparent. Most people do not have the proper glute strength and hip mobility to make their posterior chain work as well as it should.

If you want to do an overhead squat, your calves, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and lower back will need to pitch in to move the weight. If you lean too far forward, you will put too much strain on your knees and this is not a good idea since it is a movement that relies too heavily on your quadriceps. 

If your knees keep on collapsing inward, try to focus instead on loading your glutes and hamstrings. Your knees should never fall inside of your toes. Learning how to consciously move your knees into the right position is something that will make your squatting technique so much better and all of your jumping movements a lot safer. 

Being able to sit with your hips between your knees and your back in an extended (but not hyperextended) position is also really healthy for your hips. The overhead squat can also be quite a good indicator of ankle mobility. If you are struggling to get more than 90 degrees out of your dorsi-flexed ankle, so that your toes point toward your face, you will need to work on the movement a little more.

Core Strength Training 

Your abdominals, obliques, and deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis are very important when it comes to deadlifts, kettlebells, squats, barbell overhead exercises, pull-ups, and other  similar exercises.

Your core can even be considered the basis for all of your weightlifting strength.

Muscled male torso with abs

If you are going to be doing a lot of reps with a loaded barbell on your back, your core must be able to prevent you from falling forward or backward and getting crushed. The overhead squat makes your core work a lot harder than usual because all of the weight is positioned right over your head.

This can cause your center of gravity to be much higher. Also, because your torso is elongated, the tension in your deep inner-core muscles will be very intense. Although there are a few weightlifters who train their abs mostly by doing crunches, the main jobs for your core should be antiextension and antiflexion. These are some of the key concepts to be aware of when you are starting your weightlifting journey.

Shoulder Stability Training

Putting something heavy over your head can feel really uncertain. When you are lifting weights, you really do not want to feel unstable, especially with a hundred pounds or more of heavy weights right above you. Having so much weight overhead can certainly feel daunting as you first start doing this exercise.

But the benefits to the stability of your shoulders cannot be denied. Including the overhead squat in your workout program, along with single-arm exercises like dumbbells or perhaps even standing Arnold press, can really train your shoulders to function so much more effectively in a wide variety of situations. 

To do the overhead squat exercise properly, it is vital to rotate your shoulders and retract your scapulae. Always be sure to keep your shoulders above your head in this overhead position without hyperextending your spine or shoving your chest forward. This is the safest position you can take when doing this exercise.

There are many reasons for being so specific about your positioning. For example, if you can train your shoulders to stay in a stacked, tight position when there is a lot of heavy weight over your head, they are much more likely to stay more resistant to injuries later on in your life. This applies to the muscles of your lower body as well.

Doing a Balancing Act 

Holding a heavy load above your head while you squat requires a great deal of balance. The weight needs to be perfectly placed above the center of gravity. If you lean too far back on your heels, you will risk losing the weight behind you. But if you are standing on the balls of your feet with your heels in the air, it can be dangerous. Some lifters might even completely miss the lift in a forward direction. Staying right in the middle is the sweet spot for this type of exercise.

Using The Overhead Squat Daily

Learning how to have better balance on the ground is actually a very important life skill to know as you get older. Although you will probably never need to do overhead squats in your daily life, it is really satisfying to be aware of your body enough to recognize when you are feeling off balance and be able to correct that type of imbalance as quickly and smoothly as you can. 

Especially if you are a little older, mastering the technique of overhead squats can really make some of your day to day tasks a little more manageable. Simply reaching up and changing a lightbulb can be something that feels a lot more comfortable if you are already used to the movement and technique involved in the overhead squat.

Learning the Correct Technique

The overhead squat can be a very difficult movement to do correctly if you have not done it before or if you do not have a personal trainer. To do it with the wrong technique is to do yourself a massive disservice.

So, before you put yourself in potential danger directly under a heavily loaded barbell, be sure to follow these steps.

  • First, stand with your back solidly against a wall and your feet at a width of about 8 or 9 inches apart.
  • Put your hands over your head and your shoulders against the wall. 
  • Keep your hands over your head and your shoulders against the wall as you squat down. 
  • Hold a hand towel and stretch it out between your hands. If you can do this without your shoulders coming off the wall or your knees collapsing in, try doing it without the wall for support. With only your body to rely on, only your core should be keeping you upright.
  • Grasp the towel over your head with a wide grip and start to squat down. Your heels should be on the ground and your shoulders and upper back should be straight up and down. Your knees should be pushed out and you should be using your glutes. 
  • Sit in this position and slowly push both of your knees in and out. 

If you can maintain an upright torso with your shoulders rotated and retracted, your heels on the ground, your knees pushed out, and your lower spine in a neutral position, then try the lift with a light barbell. A light barbell can sometimes make the lift feel easier because the weight will help you balance. 

If you get good at doing the overhead squat with a light barbell, we suggest that you work on your mobility before adding any extra weight. Move your hands closer together without using such a wide grip so that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders start to feel stacked on top of each other. This might feel a little more difficult at first, but this position will ultimately be a much more stable one.

Proceed Confidently but With Caution

Doing the exercise carefully like this can really lead to some phenomenal results. Combining it with some proper rest and recovery periods can also help your bodybuilding routine immensely.

A good supplement for you to include with this type of exercise is our  Hyperbolic Stack.

If you are worried about your body weight and you are trying to burn a bit of fat at the same time, you might prefer to try our  Shredded Stack.

Using a supplement like this can work wonders when combined with proper weightlifting technique and a nutritious diet.

Plenty of studies have shown that push presses and strength training exercises such as the overhead squat can help you manage and sometimes prevent health problems. Doing these types of exercises regularly can help you feel younger, make your day to day tasks more manageable, and lead to improved overall health.