How to- Overhead squat

The overhead squat is one of the most challenging exercises within strength and conditioning. The great range of motion that is travelled requires large ranges of joint mobility. Why? Well the placement of the bar is the furthest away from the centre of gravity that it is ever going to be, thus making it extremely hard to control. It requires great midline and shoulder strength to stabilise the bar and great strength to just stand it up out of the bottom of the squat. It is one of the key functional and foundational movements that we teach at CrossFit Cambridgeshire. It is a progression that must be learnt before moving onto more complex movements such as the Olympic weightlifting exercise, the snatch.

So lets run through the points and then break it down.

Lets start with the grip of the bar – you want to be taking hold of the bar in your snatch grip, this is usually wide enough so that the bar is resting just above the pubic bone with your arms straight. Place your feet in your normal squat stance, shoulder width apart. Now bring the bar above your shoulders so that the bar is aligned and balanced over your shoulders, hips, knees and heels. To initiate the movement reach your hips and hamstrings back whilst simultaneously bending the knees. Descend until the crease of the hip is below the knee. When at the bottom of the squat maintain an upright torso and a natural and neutral lumbar curve.  It is important to ensure that the bar stays centred over mid foot in order to maintain balance and control.

Shoulder position in the overhead squat is a highly important to maintain a neutral and balanced position. When positioning the shoulder we must aim to keep the shoulder blade pulled into the body by making sure your arm pits are facing forwards (imagine you are trying to show your armpit to someone). At the same time ensure that the inner part of your elbow is facing towards the sky. Try to maintain an active shoulder position by pushing up against the weight of the bar, ensure you do not internally rotate your shoulders into a vulnerable and unstable position. An active shoulder refers to the action of applying force opposite to the force that is being applied to you.

Once at the bottom of the squat drive your feet through the floor and bring your body to a fully standing position. Ensure that the hips and knees are locked under the tension of the muscles for a full repetition.

Lets recap:

1. Take a grip that is wide enough for the bar to sit at the crease of the hip or around 6 inches above your head.

2. With the bar above your shoulders and head, create tension at the shoulder by trying to snap the bar in half. This will help create an externally rotated and stable position at the shoulder.

3. Once the bar is overhead assume your squat stance keeping your butt and your belly tight.

4. Draw your hamstrings back and descend through your squat sequence in the same way you would on a front squat and air squat.

5. Once you have achieved full range of motion draw your shins back and stand maintaining an upright torso. Imagine the bar is lifting you out of the bottom position to encourage an active shoulder position.

Common faults in the overhead squat:

Faults in the overhead squat are very similar to that of the air squat. Lets quickly run through them.

1. Back rounding off at the bottom of the squat. This is basically when the lumbar curve is lost. It is often caused by a lack of mobility. It is also caused by a lack of motor control, common in people who might have the mobility but seem to dive into the bottom of the squat with no control.

2. Valgus Knee. This is a posh way of saying knees collapsing inwards.

3. Not maintaining the bar over the shoulder. This can be caused by a restriction in range somewhere in the system, or through motor control.

4. Internally rotating the shoulders. This can also be caused by a lack of range and motor control. You may find your body does this to try to relieve the tension that builds up during the movement. This tension is important in maintaining stability.

In summary, the overhead squat is a highly effective strength exercise and diagnostic tool. A coach may use this to help improve your midline stability or even as a tool to highlight areas of weakness. Its more common use is as a progression onto the Olympic lift, the snatch!

This variation of the squat is an integral part of full functionality, both in life and in the gym. Its ability to improve overall strength in many other areas of fitness is extremely high.

So if you want to improve your strength or Olympic lifts it is highly recommended to master this movement.

Keep practicing and happy squatting.


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