The Overhead Squat
The overhead squat exposes weaknesses in flexibility, balance, strength and coordination. For these reasons (and many more) most people will avoid putting in the hours needed to develop the tools required for a good overhead squat . Many an athlete will be content to have an average overhead squat, as their back squat, deadlift etc. is strong. BUT, before you head down that road, or if you’re getting frustrated with how your over head squat is progressing, have a read of what Coach Glassman has to say on the movement:
“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
The overhead squat will expose any deficiencies you have—this is why it is such a valuable tool to work on. Getting better at the over head squat will develop skills that transfer over to several other major movements and lifts (like the snatch) . So, stop neglecting your overhead squat training!
Tips for a better over head squat
1.Identify mobility issues—then work on them
You will have likely heard this countless times before, but if you can’t execute a 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 over head squats with a training bar as you will likely discover additional mobility issues most likely in your shoulders. The overhead squat requires excellent flexibility in the shoulders, hips, hamstrings, glutes and adductors (groin muscle). It’s unlikely that you are highly mobile in all of these areas—which is why the over head squat is avoided by so many. It may be frustrating, but you MUST invest the time into sufficiently mobilizing the afore-mentioned muscle groups in order to externally rotate your hips and become comfortable squatting with a bar overhead.
2.Develop midline stability
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 OH squat (or any lift where the weight is overhead), you are susceptible to hyper-extending the lower back, resulting in an unfavorable overhead position—not to mention putting yourself at risk of injury. It is therefore imperative that you strengthen your core muscles and mobilize your lower back as often as possible. Every time you do a movement in class, think tight butt, ribcage down—this will help develop a neutral pelvic position instead of an anterior pelvic tilt (i.e. hyper-extension of the lower back).
5.Stabilize in the hole
When you descend into the lowest part of the squat—the hole—it’s important not to rush out of it too soon as you risk losing your 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 (armpits facing forwards). Doing this will reduce the risk of losing control of the bar path when you rise out of the squat and keep you moving efficiently—but don’t take to long to stabilize as your muscles may lose tension and you could get stuck down there, which will likely lead to you bailing on the lift. When everything is set and you feel comfortable, go ahead and drive out of the squat, with good form.
6.Train with pause squats
Getting comfortable at the bottom of the squat is probably the trickiest part of the entire movement. To work on this element of the exercise, it’s important to get used to having the bar (and weight) above your head when you’re at the bottom of the squat—the hole. One way to do is by training with pause squats (this exercise can be utilized to develop your front and back squats as well). Pause squats are great for developing power out of the hole, building torso rigidity, taking stress off of the knees and developing confidence and comfort in the lift—to name just a few benefits.
There are a number of variations that you can play around when pause squatting, but one that I have personally found effective utilizes a four-second hold. To do this, start with the bar racked and at a much lighter weight than you would normally use for 3-4 reps. Take the bar off the rack and get into your overhead squat position and squat down into the lowest possible position you can achieve (while maintaining good form!). Hold this position for a count of four, then drive out of the hole. Repeat for a total of four reps, five sets, ascending in weight each set.