Overhead Squat: The Ultimate Exercise?

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This question is always asked, if you could only do one exercise in the gym, what would it be? Well I think that is an extremely stupid question and I am not going to answer it. But, I’m going to tell you about one of my favourites, the Overhead Squat. Want a great warm up exercise that doubles as a killer strength manoeuvre? To simply look at this exercise you know it’s good for you. You get strength, co-ordination, balance, flexibility, range of motion, and a big workout…all in one.

What Is This So Called Ultimate Exercise?

Check out this Video I found.

Use a light bar to begin with. Unless you are already an accomplished Olympic lifter, light is the way to start; even a broomstick is a good place to begin. The Overhead Squat is a challenging exercise and one that needs a little bit of neural learning before getting on the heavy weights, and in some cases, where range of motion in the warm-up is the goal, heavy weights don’t need to be utilized.

Coaching Points

  • Get bar overhead in a wide snatch grip
  • Lock out elbows
  • Try to bring your shoulder blades together
  • Lock in ‘core’
  • Drift hips back, and begin squatting down
  • Keep weight over heels at all time, remember, shoulders back.
  • Get as low as you can (basically before you fall down through lack of range)
  • Come back up; remember to push through your heels.

Don’t be discouraged by your terrible performance straight up (if you haven’t tried this exercise before, or anything similar). Chances are you have poor range, due to a variety of reasons, or you simply haven’t tried to get down that low before and you feel extremely un-coordinated. Don’t worry, I guarantee even by the second set you will feel more comfortable.

Benefits of the Ultimate Exercise

  • Opens up your hips, stretches out your fascia
  • Strength through a large range of motion
  • Gives you a large range of motion
  • Full body stimulus (i.e. hard work…good for weight loss too!)
  • Works the ‘core’, whilst stabilizing the lumbar region and the shoulder region
  • Great progression for learning the Snatch (Olympic Lift)

When To Use The Ultimate Exercise

The Overhead Squat is one of my favorite warm-up exercises. It gets you going, gives a full body stimulus, and gets you some range early in the program. However, it’s also a great strength exercise by itself. If you can Overhead Squat a decent amount of weight, I am tipping you have pretty good overall strength, balance, range of motion. All very desirable things. So, the Overhead Squat can be used at any point in your program, as a Range of motion exercise in the warm-up, or as a killer strength exercise in the main program.

Progressions for the Ultimate Exercise

The main progression is depth and weight. When you start, you may not have full range of motion. This will increase very quickly as you start to force your hips through a greater range of motion. Weight can be increased as normal.

Once you have mastered this (i.e. you are squatting right down with quite a massive weight over your head!), you can give the Single Arm Overhead Squat a burl (use a dumbbell). Similar principles, but you are adding a massive core component because your body needs to correct the fact that it wants to fall pretty hard to the ground.

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  1. Marcellus says

    Whoever that is in the video has some hip mobility issues. The back flattening would be fine, but to get adequate depth she rounds her back from atlas to sacrum, which shows off her exemplary shoulder flexibility but is otherwise horrifying. She starts with too much arch, like she’s trying to compensate for the hip tuck by hyperextending her spine, and her knees drift forward.

    She should push the knees way out to the sides and keep the chest up and core tight as she pulls herself down into the squat. Spending some time in the bottom of the squat would help loosen up the hips.

    For watching:
    For reading:

  2. Lauren says

    Very good points Marcellus I have replaced it with a better example. Thanks for the two links they will be very helpful to my readers.

  3. says

    This is a great exercise, I’m glad you’ve shared it with your community. I use overhead squat as an assistance exercise. I often do light overhead squats after a heavy back squat session as I am already nicely warmed up and prepped to lift a decent amount of weight.

  4. says

    I saw that you popped into my blog for a visit, so I returned the favor. Glad I did. I’m about to begin these overhead squats and didn’t have the proper form down yet.

    glad to have found it.


    ps, I’m looking for another personal trainer writer for my blog. Let me know if you want to contribute something on an ongoing basis.

  5. says

    Ok so I was sold on the value of the overhead squat and I’ve given it a go, just using a wooden rod/broomstick. I think I’ve got the squatting bit fine but I’m having difficulty with the overhead bit – I keep my arms straight and chest up and back straight but can’t keep my arms back. I suspect if I was holding any weight it would end in disaster! Any pointers??

  6. Lauren says

    @Lady G

    Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. That will automatically keep your arms back. If thats not working it’s probably more of a flexibility problem. Do some overhead presses with the broom stick, finishing in that position, arms straight, bar behind your head and shoulder blades together. As you go through your reps you will gradually get more flexibility.

    Good Luck!

  7. says

    I love the OHS and use it every day as a warm-up using a pvc and then an empty bar. I can make an entire training session with this lift, but if I could only name one, it would be the deadlift. Nice site, BTW.

  8. says

    Dan John has an interesting way to teach it. He has the person do a “potato sack” to the floor and stay there, setting the heels and making sure the belly is between the legs. He hands them a stick and has them put it over their head while still squatting. After he sets the position, has them stand up. I am up to 72 kg for a single. Started with the pvc and still use the pvc in warm-ups along with dislocates.

  9. says

    I use the overhead squat for one of my initial full body movement assessments with new clients. For general fitness clients it only takes a couple of repetitions to spot the common mobility/stability issues.

    Over-pronation of the entire lower body is very common. Transverse plane external rotation at the foot/ankle, as well as frontal plane eversion, and lack of dorsiflexion in the sagittal plane. At the knee, excessive adduction and internal rotation often occur. At the hip, excessive hip flexion, and increased pelvic tilt is common due to tight hip flexors.

    Decreased shoulder mobility due to postural issue and lat tightness is common. The arms fall forward during the decent of the squat, and excess hip flexion can be exacerbated due to the lat attachment at the pelvis.

    I then test each joint for mobility and stability in an isolated fashion.

    The squat can be re-assessed as a component of full body dynamic movements in 4 to 8 weeks after necessary joint mobility, stability, and dynamic strength are improved.

    I did see you make an earlier comment on how to keep your arms overhead during the overhead squat, and you stated that keeping your shoulder blades together would automatically keep your arms back.

    I have to disagree in that:

    1. Many people have poor scapular mobility, and many cannot even retract their shoulder blades properly due to postural issues with tightness in the pectorals and lats. Tightness in these areas will create reciprocal inhibition in the rhomboid, mid traps etc. (scapular retractors) due to altered length tension relationship.

    I have had better success with improving sagittal plane shoulder flexion, as well as improving shoulder mobility and stability with stretching, and dynamic movements in all three planes of motion. Then incorporating the increased mobility and stability back into the overhead squat movement.

    Great blog and info…keep up the great work!

  10. beverly says

    i have a sicatica problem and it is down to my ankle
    I can’t stand on one foot with out help. the ankle buckles sometimes when I walk. what is a good tip to help that.

  11. says

    Good luck to anyone wanting to change there lifestyle for the better, stay strong focused and patient it can take time, accept this with the right knowledge realistic goals should be achievable. Please anyone trying to lose weight unhealthy change your thoughts and method do it the right way, the possitive healthy way and it will be easier to maintain for the long term

  12. says

    @ weight loss

    Patience and endurance are needed as well cause living a healthy lifestyle is now easy especially if you’re not use to. You need to avoid many things and sacrifice diets.

  13. says

    I did see you make an earlier comment on how to keep your arms overhead during the overhead squat, and you stated that keeping your shoulder blades together would automatically keep your arms back.


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