Why Overhead Squats, if you can do Back Squats or Front Squats?
The answer to this question is fairly simple, the Overhead Squat (OHS) offers unique benefits, that the Front Squat or Back Squat does not offer.
What are these benefits?
In my opinion, the biggest benefit is, that the OHS demands proper squatting mechanics. Which means, that you have the bar over your head and you need to stabilize the bar in that position, while you are squatting.
For a detailed list of benefits, check out
A slight deviation of the bar to the front or to the back will result in you losing the bar, which refers to the bar simply falls down in front of you or behind you.
Consequently, you have to focus on proper squatting technique and execution during the OHS, whilst the Front Squat or Back Squat will always allow for some compensatory movements or compensation mechanisms.
What are these compensation mechanisms?
With the Front Squat you can always hold the barbell a little bit with your arms if you need to.
The Back Squat allows you to lean further forwards than you should, during the descent and ascent, if you are unfamiliar with the phases of the Back Squat technique check it out.
A common technical flaw in the Back Squat is that you ‘shoot your hips up’. ‘Shooting your hips’ refers to you come out of the bottom position of the squat, by lifting your hip and unnecessarily increase the forward lean.
The Overhead Squat simply does not allow that.
As a side-note, check out the article Science Compares The Back Squat To The Overhead Squat from Breaking Muscle looking at research comparing the OHS with the Back Squat. Whilst the research design wasn’t too great, it can still show the unique value the OHS offers.
Why Overhead Squats? The load is just not high enough!
True, the load you can use for the Overhead Squat is not high enough that it can stimulate any substantial increase in strength or muscular hypertrophy.
However, the OHS can be seen more as a technical exercise, that can be used in
- the acquisition phase of technical learning, when athletes start out to learn strength training and learn how to perform the basic strength training exercises.
- The consolidation phase of technical learning, when athletes are familiar with the basic techniques of the strength training exercises and need to manifest the technique of the basic strength training exercises.
What does that mean for advanced athletes?
Why Overhead Squats for advanced athletes?
As I just discussed the Overhead Squat can be used to train the technique of the squatting pattern, but how can the Overhead Squat be of use for advanced athletes, that have already manifested and consolidated the movement pattern of the squat?
The ‘use it or lose it’ principle explains, that everything we (humans) don’t use, we lose. Examples of that could be, if
- you don’t train for strength, you will lose your strength.
- You don’t train your endurance, you will lose your endurance
- you don’t use your brain, you will definitely not get smarter (to pick an example outside the world of sports)
The same is true for a skill or technique, if you don’t practice the skill, you will lose the technical proficiency within this skill.
If you don’t deliberately work on your skill of squatting – yes, squatting is a skill – your skill of squatting will decay.
What that means is, that also for advanced athletes, I program the OHS into the warm up to give them a chance to deliberately work on their Overhead Squat technique.
Why Overhead Squats are a real head to toe exercise
Another reason why you should have the OHS in your strength training program is, that it is a real head to toe exercise.
What does that mean?
Just imagine the OHS, the weight is right over your head, with your arms extended. Now everything between the weight and the ground, which is your entire body, has to work to stabilize and balance the weight.
The joint by joint approach or joint stacking theory explains, that every larger joint in the body is either made for stability or mobility.
And the OHS shows that joint by joint approach perfectly.
Check out the table to see the applied joint by joint approach from the top down
The OHS is one of the best head to toe exercises that is out there, as it assesses every joint. And not only in isolation, but also how these joints work together in conjunction while performing a movement.
This is also the reason why the Overhead Squat test is used in rehabilitation to assess, how the kinematic chain of the works together. Any limitation within one of these joints will become quickly evident when you perform the Overhead Squat test.
Check out the article The Overhead Squat: A Simple Exercise That Works Your Entire Body which explains the same idea from a slightly different angle.
For more information about the Joint-by-joint approach, check out Mike Boyle’s piece on T-Nation A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training no one could explain that better.
As a sharp reader, you probably saw, that I changed shoulder into scapula and shoulder (glenohumeral joint), whilst Mike Boyle only uses shoulder (glenohumeral joint). You can see, that Squat University followed the same approach in their article The Joint-By-Joint Concept
Why Overhead Squats are important for Olympic Weightlifters and Crossfit athletes?
If you are an Olympic Weightlifter or Crossfit athlete, you simply have to do the OHS, because it is part of your competition.
As an Olympic Weightlifter, the catch phase and the recovery phase of the Snatch are essentially an OHS.
As a Crossfit athlete, to the best of my knowledge, the OHS is an element or can be an element of the competition.
Concluding Why Overhead Squats
The Overhead Squat (OHS) is one of the best exercises to teach squatting mechanics. By mastering the Overhead Squat technique you can improve your Back Squat technique and Front Squat technique. Consequently, also advanced athletes benefit from having the OHS as a part of their strength training program.
The OHS is a real head to toe exercise and requires every joint in the body to, not only function optimally but also work optimally in conjunction with all other joints.
As an Olympic Weightlifter or Crossfit athlete, you need to have the OHS in your strength training routine, because it is part of your competition or a vital part of your competition lifts.
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