Have you seen a crappy Overhead Squat?
I have seen enough.
Have you seen the heels coming off the floor during the Overhead Squat?
Or the athlete holding the bar literally in front of the body, rather than over the body?
The arms bent and not extended?
The back is round almost like a turtle, not to mention the inability to achieve full depth and much more.
Why are you ranting?
No, I am not ranting, this is what I am going through for years when I teach athletes how to Overhead Squat.
But the good news is, it can be corrected and almost everyone can achieve a proper Overhead Squat form.
But let’s get started by detecting why the Overhead Squat technique is so hard to learn and execute.
This article and video discusses
- Why is the Overhead Squat so hard
- What are mobility and flexibility requirements to perform a proper Overhead Squat
- What are balance and stability requirements for a successful Overhead Squat
- Why the Overhead Squat requires a high level of focus
The Overhead Squat offers numerous benefits for athletes and ambitiously training people, however, the Overhead Squat is disliked by many people for the simple reason, that it is hard to execute.
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard to execute?
The Overhead Squat is a real head to toe exercise, which means everything between the bar and the ground has to work in conjunction to execute the Overhead Squat form flawlessly.
This is the reason, why the overhead Squat assessment is used in a performance setting, injury prevention setting, as well as in a rehabilitation setting because it detects the weak spots in the movement.
Or as Gray Cook, the FMS guy describes it in his book Athletic Body in Balance as ‘energy leaks’, which basically means that not all energy that is needed to perform a task goes into the task, the energy is leaking.
In very simple words, if there is any problem or weakness in the whole chain of the movement, it becomes quickly evident in the Overhead Squat.
Check out the article
That outlines the joint-by-joint approach and how the Overhead Squat is a great assessment for that, as it assesses all joints from ankle, knee, hip, lower back, thoracic spine, shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
Let’s have a look at some common ‘Why is the Overhead Squat so hard’ questions I have received over the years and if any of them applies to you, or maybe more than just one?
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard on my wrist?
The Overhead Squat grip, requires you have a wide grip in order to keep the bar close to your head, to reduce the lever, for that the wrist needs to abduct or so-called radial diviate.
If you are not used to this movement, the Overhead Squat grip can be challenging and cause discomfort during the Overhead Squat.
Usually, the discomfort disappears quickly, but from experience, I have seen the discomfort can last until a few hours after the strength training session.
In most cases, you get used to the Overhead Squat grip over the course of a few weeks.
With regards to the limited wrist abduction flexibility, I advise adding some extra flexibility exercises for the wrist to your strength training routine.
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard, that I can’t keep my elbows straight?
When you do an Overhead Squat your arms are starting to bend and the bar comes down towards you.
This problem can have to main causes.
Cause number 1: Short arm flexors / biceps, which can be a result of having ‘big guns’ or if you are an athlete in a sport, where you are hitting or throwing (tennis, badminton, baseball, etc) the biceps of the dominant arm tends to be shortened.
Cause number 2: Once you get stronger in the Overhead Squat, the extensor of your arm, the triceps, is not strong enough to maintain an extended arm during the squatting movement.
In this case, you need to do some additional strengthening of your triceps.
A quick tip here, stay away from triceps cable extension or kickbacks or whatever fancy triceps exercises are out there.
Do some dips with added weight and close grip Bench Press.
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard on my shoulders?
There are two possibilities, how you can feel that the Overhead Squat is hard on your shoulders.
Possibility number 1: you lack shoulder external rotation and can’t get the bar into the right position overhead or you force yourself in a position, you are yet not able to do. This will result in a sharp pain, that you feel inside of your shoulder.
My solution to that problem, work on your shoulder external rotation flexibility and continue Overhead Squatting with a load, that you can squat pain-free.
I guess you know, by now, that I am not a big fan of taking out the fundamental movements completely. I have outlined my rationale in the article How to improve the Overhead Squat?
Possibility number 2: Is very similar to the point, I have mentioned in the previous point ‘Why is the Overhead Squat so hard, that I can’t keep my elbows straight?’ where it is simply a strength issue.
At some point, when you become strong at the Overhead Squat the limiting factor in the Overhead Squat will be your upper body strength, especially the strength of the shoulder girdle.
I have outlined that point in the articles
This pain is not so much a sharp pain, as in the previous point, but much rather feels like a heavy load on the outside of your shoulders (the deltoids). Very often you see athletes having their arms crossed and holding the hands on their shoulders. This pain and discomfort usually disappear within a few seconds after the cessation of the exercise.
What is the solution?
Well, continue to Overhead Squat and accept, the shoulder girdle is the weakest point in the movement. You can put some extra effort into strengthening the shoulder girdle, but you will never squat any loads, that come close to your Front Squat loads or Back Squat loads.
There are always exceptions to the rule, like one of my athletes Steffie van der Peet who can Overhead Squat more than 95% of her Back Squat max. Check out Steffie van der Peet’s Overhead Squat
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard, I can’t hold the bar over my head?
This is probably the most common problem and why the Overhead Squat is disliked so much by many athletes and people.
When you squat, the bar moves forward and you can’t hold the bar aligned over your head.
Reason for that is limited thoracic spine mobility.
In our daily lives, we do most things in front of our body and we adopt a bit of a hunched over posture from sitting and either working on the computer or doing something on our smartphone.
Limited thoracic spine mobility won’t allow you to keep the bar overhead.
What is the solution?
Work on your thoracic spine mobility!
Believe it or not, actually continuing to do Overhead Squat will improve your thoracic spine mobility.
Over time, once your thoracic spine mobility improves, you can also use the Overhead Squat with a close grit as a mobility exercise for the thoracic spine.
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard, that I can’t keep my lower back straight?
This problem also called the butt wink is very common for more squat variations than just the Overhead Squat.
The butt wink can be caused by many factors, most common are either limited ankle mobility or tight hamstrings.
For more information, check out the resources
- Beat Butt Wink: Squat Big Without Hurting Your Back from Bodybuilding.com
- What really causes butt wink? from Strength & Conditioning Research
- Fixing The Squat Butt Wink from the Barbell Physio
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard on my hips?
In my experience, this is not so common, but can occur, is that athletes experience discomfort in the hips, especially the lower they descend into the squat.
I remember, I actually had one athlete, who had problems descending into a full squat position (even with Back Squats), due to limited hip mobility.
As I just mentioned, the problem is limited hip mobility.
My first advice is to have a look at your squat stance and check whether a wider or closer stance makes a difference.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, add some additional hip mobility drills to your strength training routine.
Why is the Overhead Squat so hard on my ankles?
The ankle plays a crucial role in the Overhead Squat.
Why, because the Overhead Squat requires the upper body to stay more upright than for example the Front Squat or the Back Squat.
This upright body posture can only be achieved if you are able to push the knees forward.
Yes, the knees do travel past the toes, otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to do a full Overhead Squat.
Athletes and people with limited ankle mobility either experience discomfort in the lower back, as I have outlined in the point ‘Why is the Overhead Squat so hard, that I can’t keep my lower back straight?’ or directly in the ankle itself.
What is the solution?
You guessed it, work on your ankle mobility.
Be aware increasing ankle mobility takes time. It is possible, but it takes time and you have to do it regularly.
Further resources on the topic of ‘Why is the Overhead Squat so hard?’ check out
- The Overhead Squat Is A Punk: Advice From Experts On How To Make It Better from Breaking Muscle
- Overhead Squats: 5 Reasons Why You’re Still Struggling (Part 1) from Boxrox
- Why Can’t You Overhead Squat? from Crossfit 717
- Why is the Overhead Squat so Difficult? from Train Heroic
Concluding Why is the Overhead Squat so hard?
The Overhead Squat is a real head to toe exercise and requires all joints from the wrist to the ankle not only to function optimally but also to work optimally together to let you Overhead Squat successfully.
Any weakness or problem in the entire chain of movement becomes quickly evident, therefore the Overhead Squat assessment is a great tool for the performance environment, as well as the rehabilitation environment.
More information on Overhead Squats
More Overhead Squat impressions in the Overhead Squat video library