Written by Lauren Salerno
According to Greg Glassmen, “The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. This functional gem trains for efficient transfer of energy from large to small body parts – the essence of sport movement. For this reason it is an indispensable tool for developing speed and power. The overhead squat also demands and develops functional flexibility, and similarly develops the squat by amplifying and cruelly punishing faults in squat posture, movement, and stability.”
The founder of Crossfit puts a lot of weight (pun intended) on this movement, yet so many people admittedly struggle with seeing the value in the overhead squat that they avoid it when possible. I would venture to guess that it would rank among the most humbling movements for many athletes. I see the frustration on your faces, and hear the cries of defeat when the PVC pipe has gotten the best of you. There is no quick fix to becoming an expert at the overhead squat, but with practice we can all get there.
It’s not a coincidence that the Functional Movement Screen (a tool that evaluates movement patterns in people to determine weaknesses/imbalances) uses the Deep Squat Movement Pattern as their first test.
The overhead squat identifies deficiencies in many areas, which is why it’s the king of not only detecting motor pattern errors, but body control, mobility, flexibility, strength, and more…
So now the question is, why can’t you overhead squat? Below are the top reasons that you may struggle with this movement…if you need help identifying the area that’s holding you back, ask your coach which one(s) apply to you and let’s get busy with fixing them!
1. Mobility, Mobility, Mobility
The overhead SQUAT, obviously requires good squat mechanics, just as the front squat and back squat do. You need good ankle and hip mobility in order to reach the bottom of any squat. To start nailing down the culprit, try this ankle mobility test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3UGl2rHz18
The biggest mobility challenge with the OHS is in the thoracic spine and shoulders. In order to descend in the squat, the bar must be directly over the ankles in order to maintain balance. Focusing on opening up your thoracic spine will help you get the bar into a better position without such a struggle. Tackle the t-spine mobility first before shoulders, that is the usually the issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2j1cGdFAhM
2. Midline Stability
Having a strong core is paramount in all we do in Crossfit, it’s no different in the overhead squat. Having to stabilize the bar in the “sweet spot” makes you engage your entire trunk, more so than the front squat. That strong core helps recover the bar during the descent or ascent when it sways forward or backward. Adding in accessory core work to your routine will translate to improvement in all of our movements (think hollow body tabata).
3. Muscle Activation
Keeping the bar locked out during the descent into the squat is a challenge for many. Fighting gravity is tricky, and knowing what muscles to lock in place is key. The cause of instability with the bar overhead can be one of two things: bent elbows causing internal shoulder rotation (can’t see armpits) or inability to activate the shoulders (think about breaking the bar in half).
4. Wrist Pain
Wrist pain during overhead squats could be due to a faulty grip (wrists cocked back, grip too wide) or because of poor wrist mobility (do you sit at a computer and type all day?). Check out these mobility ideas (click on image to enlarge):
Now is the time to work your overhead squat. Did 15.1 put a sour taste in your mouth? Maybe you will have a chance to work on your OHS this week (hint, hint).