How to improve the Overhead Squat?

Now that you have mastered the basic Overhead Squat technique,  you ask yourself ‘How to improve the Overhead Squat?’

The Overhead Squat has gained a lot of popularity in recent years and there is merit to this popularity as I have outlined in the articles

This article on how to improve the Overhead Squat discusses

  • How to improve the overhead squat
  • What are different ways to improve the overhead squat
  • What are common problems, that you might face when performing the Overhead Squat

How to improve the Overhead Squat? Do Overhead Squats!

The basic principle of training is the SAID principle, which is the acronym for specific adaptations to imposed demands. Which basically says you need to do, what you want to improve.

Do sounds like a no-brainer?

Well, Steven Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change has put it in nice words ‘What is common sense isn’t always common practice.’

Too often I have seen that myself.

Athletes want to improve the Overhead Squat and they start working on ankle mobility, thoracic spine mobility and whatsoever without doing a single Overhead Squat.

Don’t get me wrong, ankle mobility and thoracic spine mobility are essential for the Overhead Squat and I will discuss that further down, but the most important thing is doing the activity in itself.

If you want to acquire or consolidate any movement pattern, you need to train this movement pattern with a fairly high frequency. Remember Aristotle  stated that over 2000 years ago ‘We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.’

Bottom-line, if you want to improve the Overhead Squat, practice the Overhead Squat.

How to improve the Overhead Squat? Check the movement.

I believe the Overhead Squat is one of the best exercises to teach the movement pattern of squatting, as I have outlined my rationale in the articles

When my athletes and I are working on improving technique(s) or movements, I let them perform the movement and determine where the weakest part of the movement is.

When doing so, I have two objectives

  • Finding the weakest link in the movement
  • Understanding cause and effect

Finding the weakest link is based on the idea, that a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link. Pretty simple and straight forward.

Understanding cause and effect are more difficult. As a very simple example, if an athlete can’t squat all the way down with bodyweight, there could be a couple of reason. It could be the movement pattern he or she isn’t used to, it could be some form of limitation in mobility or flexibility or various other reasons.

The solution is not jumping on assumptions too early and starting with interventions without a solid understanding what is the cause and what is the effect.

This is also known as a false premise, which basically means, if the assumption is flawed, the conclusion is drawn in error.

How does that look for the Overhead Squat? Let’s go through it step by step.

How to improve the Overhead Squat? Check the movement step by step.

If you want to know how to improve the Overhead Squat and check the movement step by step, I recommend executing the full movement from descending into the bottom position, holding the bottom position and ascending into the end position/start position for the next repetition.

When you check the movement, you can choose between checking top-down (start from the top and work your way down) or bottom-up (start from the bottom and work your way up).

Let’s do a top-down check.

Wrist: Holding the bar overhead and maintaining the bar overhead, the wrist needs to be mobile and flexible enough to do that. Often athletes starting out with the Overhead Squat experience discomfort in the wrist, not only while performing the exercise but also in the period after the training which can last a few hours. In most cases, the wrists adapt over time and that discomfort disappears. Additional mobility work for the wrist is recommended.

Shoulders: Having the bar overhead, maintaining the bar overhead and keep the bar aligned over the center of the body requires sufficient mobility in the shoulder girdle. How often have you seen someone doing an Overhead Squat with an unloaded bar and the bar moves forwards? Your shoulders need to have sufficient mobility to do that (plus thoracic spine mobility, which is the next point). In addition to the mobility requirements, there are certain strength requirements. As I have outlined in previous articles, in most cases the stronger you get in the Overhead Squat, the more your upper body strength will be the limiting factor to hold the bar overhead.

Thoracic spine: Having sufficient mobility in the thoracic spine will allow you to keep the bar in the right position. A lack of thoracic spine mobility will lead to the bar moving forward and athletes tend to experience discomfort between the shoulder blades. In some cases just by continuing to do the Overhead Squat the problem resolves, in some cases, additional thoracic spine mobility work is needed.

Hip and lower back: Going into the full squat position at the bottom requires enough hip mobility to do that, as well as strength in the lower back to maintain the correct alignment. Here we can see the cause and effect relation in action, a very typical phenomenon is the rounding of the lower back in the bottom position, also called butt-wink. The possible reasons for this phenomenon can be manifold. It could be a lack of hamstring flexibility, it can be a lack of lower back strength, it can be ankle mobility or it can be an insufficient movement pattern, athletes who are not able to sit back and balance the weight tend to round the lower back to compensate for that.

Ankle: Insufficient ankle mobility is one of the biggest challenges associated with squatting in general and the Overhead Squat in particular. During the Overhead Squat, the upper body stays more upright as compared to the Back Squat or Front Squat and that requires moving the knees further forwards in order to achieve the desired alignment.

If you consider all the key points you will understand, why the Overhead Squat is such a valuable assessment tool in training and rehabilitation.

The Overhead Squat enables you to get a complete picture how different segments of the body work together and it’s easy to spot the weakest link in the interplay of segments.

Concluding How to improve the Overhead Squat 

The Overhead Squat is a complex exercise, that requires the lower body and upper body to work in synchrony.

If you want to improve the Overhead Squat, first and foremost you need to train the Overhead Squat. An Overhead Squat assessment will expose the weakest link in the movement and help you determine which areas you need to put additional focus on.

More information on Overhead Squats

9 Benefits of the Overhead Squat and counting… 

2 Facts On What The Overhead Squat Works

What Is An Overhead Squat

What Is The Overhead Squat Good For

What do Overhead Squats work?

What Muscles Do Overhead Squats Work?

How much should I Overhead Squat?

More Overhead Squat impressions in the Overhead Squat video library