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Perfecting The Overhead Squat

Perfecting The Overhead Squat

This is one of the key movements of mobility and strength. The beauty of the overhead squat is that it is limited by the greatest weaknesses in the chain of motion. That means that the limiting factor could be shoulder, hip, calf or back mobility, or a strength weakness from the posterior or anterior chain, the core, or the shoulders and arms.
Since there are so many elements involved in this movement, you can get an incredible amount of feedback from it! As a coach this is one of my favorites to find out what is going on with each athlete. If you want to perfect the overhead squat, you must practice it!
Hit 6 to 8 sets of 4 to 8 repetitions at least three times per week. This is the first step to improving your overhead squat. If you’re not that great at something, practice it! A lot of people look for other tips and tricks that are supposed to be shortcuts, but they don’t really work! Doing the movement is really the biggest key to improving the movement! These are my other keys:


Using The Correct Grip

Overhead squat grip is dependent on the flexibility of the lats muscles. These attach at the posterior aspect of the humerus and attach all the way down at the pelvis. With arms straight overhead holding a narrow grip, the muscle is stretched out more than if you had a wider grip, creating a 45degree angle at the shoulder.

A wider grip is better for those with less shoulder mobility. But for those with poor shoulder strength, a narrower grip is stronger.

Ideally, your grip should be somewhere between these two points:

  • At the largest, your overhead squat grip is found like this: hang a bar in your hands, at your waist. Widen your grip until the bar is at your hip height. That is, above your pubic bone and below your pelvic bones. Test this out by popping the barbell (or stick) overhead and squatting. Be sure to lock your elbows.

  • At the narrowest, your overhead squat grip would be with your arms directly overhead. The ability to squat with this grip is extremely rare! Unless you have extraordinary mobility, this grip is too narrow.

      Warming Up For An Overhead Squat

      Warm ups before overhead squats ensure that you have your shoulders, core and hips heated, flexible and ready to fire up. Perform several air squats, very light shoulder press, and wide grip, behind the neck press, also called “snatch press”. Start with a stick or dowel before using a barbell. Add small increments each set.

      The most common queues are:

      • “keep your chest up” – this encourages good posture by extending the spine.

      • “push your knees out” – this helps to open the hips, engage the glutes, and create a more stable base.

      • “Place your feet comfortably, with toes out”- the exact position and angle of the feet is one of those individual things. You will find your ideal stance depending on the width and angle of the pelvis and the angle and shape of the greater trochanter. Play around with these to find the best position to perform a deep overhead squat.

      • “Engage the core” – this helps with balance and stability. It prevents that wobbly, shaky effect and helps to maintain good posture.


      Improving Shoulder And Lat Mobility

      As we mentioned before, the latissimus dorsi muscles can limit range of motion as you dip deeper into an overhead squat. Loosen up your lats and shoulders by performing arm circles, shoulder rotations, and then some dynamic movements, “I”, “T”, “Y”.


      Improving Hip Mobility

      Start off with some dynamic movements, like hip swings front and back and then side to side. This helps to loosen up the joint, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting.

      Simply hold onto a support, keep your body as straight and rigid as possible and swing one leg as far forwards and backwards as you can. Start with easy ones, then add some amplitude as you loosen up. Get 10 to 15 reps on each leg.

      After you are warm, doing movements such as a pigeon stretch, frog pose and Samson stretch are great ways to open the hips!

      Pigeon stretch: this stretches glutes and piriformis muscles, one side at a time. Lying face-down on the floor with one leg extended back, bend the other knee and hip to bring your shin under your stomach. The lifted leg is the activated side. Your foot should be pointing towards the opposite side hip.

      Frog stretch is a adductor stretch position. These are the muscles at the inside of the thighs. Facing down again on the floor, bring both knees up and to your sides. Support your body weight on your hands with arms extended. Slide your knees out as far as possible, keeping the knees and ankles contacting the floor. Relax before you feel pain, then lean back to add some stretch, if needed.

      Finally, the Samson stretch is a hip flexor stretch. Kneeling on the right knee, you’ll stretch the right side. Reach up with the right arm, maintaining a good posture. Push your hips forwards to induce the stretch, squeezing your glutes at the same time. Push forward for 1-2 seconds then relax. Repeat 8 to 12 times, then switch sides.

      A good warm up and consistent practice are the best ways to improve your overhead squat. Keep in mind that it is difficult for nearly everyone to master this movement, so be patient and work hard!

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      Christie Leclair
      Christie Leclair - Author

      FD Bulsara, BSc is a competitive athlete in Olympic weightlifting and a student in Osteopathy. She coaches private and group fitness classes and freelance writing about her passions: fitness, health, sport, nutrition, weightlifting, CrossFit, injury prevention, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, and the latest research on all these topics! She is a dog person and spends free time training at the lake. Find her at

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