Overhead Squat Do's

Posted on 19 Feb 2013 14:45

By Eric Troy

I saw a very interesting internet exchange concerning overhead squats the other day. This was actually in regards to my own writings. A keyboard legend apparently decided it was opposite day and proceeded to describe all the things NOT to do during the overhead squat…what seemed like exactly the opposite of everything I had said. This kind of thing is bound to happen but looking at some of the tips I figured they may be prevalent. I can think of a few big names who might even be preaching the kind of stuff the KL was preaching. So I thought I'd make a list of good habits for the overhead squat.

1. DO keep the bar right behind the ears

Precisely, that means to try to keep the bar between a sort of imaginary space between the ears and the scapula. You do not want to place the bar over the upper back, which is a style that is seen quite often. This requires you to hyper-extend the shoulders and lean forward with the torso. A very unstable and weak position to be in. Now, will you see Olympic lifters in this position from time to time during the snatch? Sure. But you'll see them in all sorts of positions they'd rather not be in! During competition it is about getting it done come what may.

2. DO squat straight down

You want to squat straight down between your knees, the bar staying over feet. You do not want to push the butt back like you are doing a low bar "powerlifting" squat. A moderate shoulder-width stance of a bit more should suffice. If you bring the butt back the bar must go back as well and the torso must come forward.

3. DO shrug the shoulders

The opposite day instruction was to actively depress the shoulders! Shrugging the shoulders gives you added stability in the shoulder. Depressing them does the opposite. Depressing also does another funny thing. It makes it more difficult to keep your elbows extended!

So, in plain English, you want to keep your arms completely straight and push the bar up toward the ceiling. This will have the effect of elevating the shoulder girdle.

4. DO rely on thoracic mobility, not shoulder extension

You should not have to hyper-extend the shoulders to do a good overhead squat. Having the shoulders in a hyper-extended position is not having them in a stable and strong position. Combine a hyper-extended shoulder with depression, and the elbows can be forced down so that you end up in a sort of externally rotated hyper-extended position. That is one of the number one scenarios for shoulder dislocation. It's not likely but it's not pretty either.

You will see many overhead squatters with very little thoracic extension and they are forced to pull the bar back actively at the shoulders, forcing the torso down facing the floor. Really difficult and ineffective way to squat, not to mention a recipe for a barbell planted on your neck.

This is not to say that your shoulder flexibility isn't a limiting factor. You'll want to start with a wider grip, i.e. snatch grip and it helps to pull outwards on the bar, or broom stick, or towel or whatever your using to learn with.

If you are trying to get into an overhead squat position and your arms are forced forward, look for your latissumus dorsi, pectoralis major and minor, and also the coracobrachialis to be tight and overactive. A typical scenario for a weight trainee. You'll want to loosen those up, do thoracic extension exercises, and strengthen the middle and lower trapezius and rhomboids.

By far the best way to develop the flexibility you need for the overhead squat is actively. Why? Well you may have heard the term active stretching. Active stretching involves using your own muscles to move your body and limbs into the stretched, or desired, position. In this way the prime movers, which may be weak, get worked, and the tight and overactive muscles get stretched. With the overhead squat, if you do the drills I outlined in Tweaking the Overhead Squat, even though these are mobility drills, you will be doing a kind of active stretching.

5. DO Use the Overhead Squat as a Warmup

Even if you do not wish to get a big overhead squat, the exercise itself makes a hell of a good warmup for any squatting session, and really, any "lower body" big lift type session. If you want to do a general warmup and then use some empty bar (or a little heavier) overhead squats in place of any kind of mobility routine, go for it.


This page created 19 Feb 2013 14:45
Last updated 19 Jul 2016 22:05

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