Want to squat heavier, optimize mobility, stability, and balance and become stronger? Here are nine Overhead Squat benefits that can help you achieve this.
Before I start listing the Overhead Squat benefits, let’s look first at what the Overhead Squat is.
What is an Overhead Squat?
In very simple terms, the Overhead Squat is a squat variation, where you hold an implement overhead. The most common variation is holding a barbell overhead, but you could also use different implements. At different times, we use a variety of implements and we do overhead squat with dumbbells or we do overhead squat with kettle bells. We use the dumbbell overhead squat and/or kettle bell overhead squat uni-laterally (holding the dumbbell or kettle bell in one arm, while no implement is in the other arm) or bi-laterally (holding a dumbbell or a kettle bell in each arm). Each variation of the exercise has a designated purpose and none is better than the other.
What is the Overhead Squat good for
The Overhead Squat offers a variety of benefits that the Back Squat or Front Squat do not offer. Amongst those benefits are
- Squatting form or squatting technique
- Upper and lower body assessment
- Improving the Snatch
Looks like too good to be true, right? Let’s go through it one by one.
Overhead Squat Technique
Squatting is a fundamental movement skill and the Overhead Squat is one exercise, if not the best exercise to learn and teach the fundamental movement skill of squatting. The Overhead Squat is a cornerstone in our squatting progression to learn the movement pattern of the squat and lays the foundation for proper Back Squat technique and Front Squat technique.
And the cornerstone of squatting heavier is the proper squatting technique!
Due to the bar position overhead, the athlete is forced to keep the bar in place. A slight deviation of the bar position forward or backward will result in losing the bar.
Not only does the Overhead Squat improve Back Squat technique and Front Squat technique, it will also allow you to Back Squat heavier and Front Squat heavier in the long run. For more information, how the Overhead Squat can help the Back Squat and the Front Squat, have a look the articles
Overhead Squat Assessment
The Overhead Squat is also an awesome assessment tool, it’s not surprising that the Overhead Squat has made its’ way into sports therapy and rehabilitation. The Overhead Squat assessment can detect areas for improvement for the lower body as well as for the upper body within one exercise, therefore it’s such a valuable assessment tool.
Overhead Squat Mobility
In order to execute the Overhead Squat correctly, the athlete needs to have sufficient mobility in the ankle, hip, and thoracic spine. Here we can see the interlink with the previous point ‘ Overhead Squat Assessment’ if the athlete lacks mobility in one of these areas it becomes quickly apparent and consequently training becomes assessment as well.
Overhead Squat Flexibility
Often mobility and flexibility are used interchangeably, but strictly speaking, they are not. An in-depth explanation would go far beyond the scope of this article. To put it simple,
- flexibility refers to the length of a muscle surrounding a joint
- mobility refers to the ROM (range of motion) that is influenced by multiple factors (amongst them muscle length, muscle tissue, muscle tension, and nervous system activation)
Thus strictly speaking flexibility is part of mobility.
Anyway, back to the question on Overhead Squat Flexibility, in order to execute an Overhead Squat, the athlete needs to have appropriate flexibility in the calf, hamstring and shoulder girdle. Believe me, I have worked with professional tennis player and beach volleyball players and I have seen some tight shoulder girdles!
Overhead Squat Stability
As much as the Overhead Squat works on mobility, it works as well on stability.
If the concept of mobility and stability isn’t fully clear to you, I would recommend reading the article ‘A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training’
The Overhead Squat requires like no other exercise a stable shoulder girdle and trunk.
Hang on a second, in the previous point ‘Overhead Squat Flexibility’ you said the Overhead Squat requires a flexible shoulder girdle, so can the Overhead Squat require a flexible shoulder girdle as well as a stable shoulder girdle? The answer is yes, a flexible shoulder girdle allows to get the bar overhead in the right position, a stable shoulder girdle ensures, that the bar remains in the right position overhead.
Due to the extended lever of the bar being overhead it the Overhead Squat calls for a stable and strong trunk, which is basically the link between the lower body and the upper body.
Overhead Squat Balance
If you have ever seen an athlete working with his or her maximum weight or near maximum weight, you have seen the athlete shaking already in the start position with the weight overhead. Or maybe you have done Overhead Squats yourself and have experienced that first hand. Either case shows the influence on the Overhead Squat on balance.
The bar needs to be perfectly placed over the center of the body and needs to be kept aligned over the center of the body while descending and ascending. The video below shows that perfectly.
Overhead Squat Strength
The Overhead Squat requires an energy transfer or force application from the ground to the bar which is held overhead and everything in between those two points has to work hard to transfer the energy and force effective and efficiently. In consequence, the Overhead Squat becomes a true ‘head-to-toe’ whole body strength exercise.
Overhead Squat Focus
I am always amazed how much the Overhead Squat with maximum weight or near maximum weight changes the focus of an athlete instantaneously. As a result of the aforementioned points on ‘Overhead Squat Technique’, ‘Overhead Squat Strength’ and ‘Overhead Squat Balance’, focus or the ability to focus is an absolute prerequisite for performing an Overhead Squat.
Have a look at this video of Steffie van der Peet and you will see what I mean. She overhead squats more than her body weight and in order to do that, you can see her being fully focused on the lift.
Improving the Snatch or Power Snatch
There is a debate in the world of weightlifting whether the Overhead Squat is beneficial to improve the Snatch or the Power Snatch or whether it is detrimental.
In my experience, the majority of athletes I work with and worked with (so we are talking about athletes using strength training and incorporating the Olympic lifts to get better at their sport, not competitive Olympic Weightlifters) have the weakest link in the entire exercise chain, when stabilizing the bar overhead towards the end of the catch phase and beginning of the recovery phase. In my opinion, one of the most suitable exercises to train and improve this position is the Overhead Squat.
This video shows a combination of a Power Snatch and an Overhead Squat
A few words of caution
- Don’t take a weight that is too heavy!
In my experiences, a weight that is too heavy will lead to compensations, which will be sacrificed in squat depth or improper positioning of the body.
- Don’t take a weight that is too light!
Sounds contradictive to the previous point? Yes and no, sometimes I see athletes taking a weight that is so light, that even when the bar is not over the center of the body the athlete is able to hold the bar with the strength of the shoulders and arms. When that happens, you will have none of the above benefits and simply wasting your time.
How much should I Overhead Squat
How much should I Overhead Squat in a week
The answer to that question is dependent on how you want to use and for what you want to use the Overhead Squat.
In the early stages of an athlete’s career, we use the Overhead Squat (with the Front Squat) as the core exercise for the squatting movement pattern, strictly speaking, the main squat exercise in the strength program.
Once the athlete progresses and has consolidated the movement pattern of the squat, the program is built around Front Squats and Back Squats and I like to use the Overhead Squat in the warm-up as a warm-up exercise. There are two main reasons for that.
- With increasing strength levels the Overhead Squat will not provide a sufficient strength stimulus for the lower body. Actually, the upper body becomes the weakest link and the lower body is essentially able to squat more than the upper body can carry (with extended arms overhead).
- As mentioned before, the Overhead Squat teaches proper squatting technique and since the technique is not a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of thing you constantly need to train and rehearse the squatting technique and the Overhead Squat form is one of the best ways to rehearse squatting form.
How much should I Overhead Squat for my bodyweight?
First and foremost I want you to focus on learning how to overhead squat and the weight you can lift will follow.
The table shows a general guideline of strength standards for the Overhead Squat, based on my experience with athletes from a variety of sports and not weightlifters, that’s why the numbers might be lower than what you find in other sources.
|Achievable||0.7 – 0.8 times bodyweight||0.8 – 0.9 time bodyweight|
|Good||0.8 – 0.9 time bodyweight||1 times bodyweight|
|Very good||0.9 – 1 times bodyweight||1 – 1.2 times bodyweight|
|Excellent||More than 1 time bodyweight||More than 1.2 times bodyweight|
Please be careful with these numbers, as they serve as a general guideline and are not written in stone.
How much should I Overhead Squat to improve my Snatch and Power Snatch?
I mentioned before that there is a debate, whether the Overhead Squat is a viable exercise to help the Snatch or Power Snatch.
In my experience, the Overhead Squat is a valuable exercise to improve the catch phase and the recovery phase of the Snatch and Power Snatch.
As a rule of thumb, you should be able to do 3 repetitions with your Snatch max.
These rules of thumb are useful because they can give you immediate feedback, where you need to focus on. I have had athletes, that could even overhead squat their Snatch max and purely by focusing on increasing strength in the Overhead Squat, they could increase their Snatch max. And vice-versa, I have athletes that can easily squat the Snatch max for multiple repetitions, we know there is no strength deficit, it’s probably more a coordinative and technical issue. We all know these athletes, strong like a bull, but they need to work on their ability to use the strength effectively.
How much should I Overhead Squat for Strength, Power, Mass and Endurance
It’s important to note, that the Overhead Squat as opposed to the Back Squat, doesn’t allow the same repetition spectrum. What does that mean in simple words?
You just can’t do a lot of reps in the Overhead Squat. In my experience, more than 3 reps become increasingly difficult.
For this reason, the Overhead Squat is not a good exercise, if you want to maximize strength, power, mass or endurance. But – a big but – the Overhead Squat will help you improve the exercises (such as the Back Squat for example) that will maximize strength, power, mass or endurance.
Overhead Squat Conclusions
By reason of all the previously mentioned points, it takes effort and time to learn and dominate the Overhead Squat. My advice, be patient, work hard and consistently to learn the Overhead Squat technique and don’t be too ambitious by focusing on the numbers you lift. Master the Overhead Squat form and the numbers will increase as a by-product of that!
Sadly enough, I have seen too many athletes not persevering and finally not mastering the exercise and not reaping the fruits of the Overhead Squat labor.
Once you dominate the Overhead Squat, the Overhead Squat will help to improve
- Squatting form
- Improving the Snatch
More information on Overhead Squats
More Overhead Squat impressions in the Overhead Squat video library