What Muscles Do Overhead Squats Work?

Have you heard the Overhead Squat is one of the best movements you can do to improve athletic performance?

And looking at the complex movement of the Overhead Squat you also might have asked yourself is What muscles do Overhead Squats work?

The article and video discusses

Do you like the Overhead Squat? If you are like most people and athletes you probably don’t like the Overhead Squats and you have asked yourself What Is The Overhead Squat Good For?

Another common question I receive is: What muscles do the Overhead Squats work?

When I hear the question of ‘What are the Overhead Squat muscles worked’ I immediately think about the quote ‘train movements, not muscles’. This quote or phrase encapsulates the idea of how I preferably think about strength training and strength training priorities.

Much rather than the typical bodybuilding style of training, where muscles are trained in isolation, my priority is to make the make different muscle groups work together more effectively and efficiently. That is essentially what sport is about.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with bodybuilding, it’s simply a different training goal.

Strength training is a means to an end (the ultimate goal of the training), for me and my work the end is improving and maximizing sports performance, for bodybuilding, it’s maximizing muscle growth and size.

What movements do Overhead Squats work?

As I have outlined previously, there are 7 fundamental movements and the application of fundamental movements in the article

And the squatting pattern is one of these fundamental movements. I have explained how just by improving your squatting technique you can see an increase in the weight you are able to use in a Back Squat and Front Squat

The Overhead Squat is one of the best movements to work on squatting technique and the actual squatting movement pattern, which will ultimately lead to a better Back Squat technique and Front Squat technique.

Check out the example below, how the Overhead Squat requires Track Cyclist Steffie van der Peet to maintain proper alignment and good squatting technique.


The simple reason is, that the Overhead Squat ‘forces’ you to squat correctly. A small deviation of the movement will result in losing the bar to the front or to the back.

For more Overhead Squat benefits, check out the article

What Muscle Groups do Overhead Squats work?

For the simple reason of having the weight right over your head and you squatting while stabilizing that weight over your head, the Overhead Squat works every muscle group from head to toe.

Stabilizing the weight overhead requires the muscle groups of the shoulder girdle and the shoulder stabilizers to work extremely hard. The more of an experienced squatter you are, the more you will experience that the strength of your upper body and the shoulder girdle, in particular, will be the limiting factor in the Overhead Squat.

In plain words, your lower body will be able to squat much more, than your upper body can carry.

Additionally, the execution of the Overhead Squat requires the trunk to be stable and to work very hard to stabilize the weight overhead. Conversely to common practices of training the trunk in a horizontal position, the Overhead Squat trains the trunk in a vertical position and enhances the vertical stability. This vertical stability has more carryover to sports performance since most sporting activities are done in a vertical position (you are standing on your feet), than in a horizontal position, where you lie on your stomach or back (there are always exceptions to the rule). Also, check out the article Science Compares The Back Squat To The Overhead Squat from Breaking Muscle that discusses a stronger trunk activation in an Overhead Squat, compared to the Back Squat.

The Overhead Squat does not only require muscle groups to be strong and stable, it also requires some muscle groups to be flexible and mobile in order to perform an Overhead Squat. Check out the article The Overhead Squat: What Is It Good For? from Bodybuilding.com that discusses the topic of mobility and stability in detail.

This is the reason, why the Overhead Squat is also used as an assessment tool in rehabilitation. In order to perform the Overhead Squat correctly, you need to have sufficient mobility I the shoulder girdle, mainly the thoracic spine, hip and lower back and ankle.

What do Overhead Squats not work?

After all the praises on the Overhead Squat and what it can do for you, it looks like the Overhead Squat is the magic bullet, the holy grail that everyone is looking for.

Not really, if you are interested in building strength or size in the lower body the Overhead Squat is not the best squatting variation to choose for.

I mentioned earlier, that in most cases the lower body is able to handle much more weight, that the upper body is able to support overhead. Consequently, the upper body is the weakest link and if you want to maximize strength or size in your lower body you wouldn’t be able to set an appropriate stimulus for that with the Overhead Squat.

The Overhead Squat improves Squatting technique, which allows you to set a stimulus more effectively with the Back Squat or Front Squat, but not directly set an appropriate stimulus with Overhead squatting itself.

Concluding What Muscles Do The Overhead Squats Work?

The Overhead Squat is one of the best exercises to improve squatting mechanics and will lead to improvements in your Back Squat technique or Front Squat technique.

What are the most important Overhead Squat muscles?

The Overhead Squat requires a strong shoulder girdle to support the weight overhead and a strong and stable trunk to vertically stabilize the weight while squatting.

The Overhead Squat requires a mobile and flexible thoracic spine, hip and lower back and ankles.

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