If you’ve been doing overhead squats for a while and haven’t been able to lift more weight than you’re currently lifting, something may be missing. The Overhead Squat is a very demanding movement.

As Greg Glassman says

“it is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch and peerless in developing effective athletic movement.”

To improve the overhead squat, it takes preparation and practice. This is one move that requires focus and total body cooperation to execute properly.

To start you’ll need a solid foundation. That is, you need to be able to perform a proper squat and have flexibility in the shoulders, hips, and ankles. Without these, you could spend months without seeing improvements in your overhead squat. You can also be hurting yourself.

So let’s start with the foundation.

Air Squats

air squat

This is the basic move for other exercises as well such as the front squat and back squat. Below is how to execute a proper air squat:

  • Feet shoulder width apart and slightly angled out.
  • Keeping the abs firm, inhale and sit back (or stick your butt out).
  • Your knees should be tracking your toes (not buckling in or going excessively beyond the toes.)
  • Bring your butt down to below the knees as much as is comfortable for you without losing your natural low back curve. If this happens don’t go down as far.
  • Lift the arms up in front of you so they’re parallel to the floor or you can keep them up overhead throughout the whole movement.
  • Look straight ahead at all times, keeping your torso as upright and elongated as possible. Never look down at the floor. Your posture will follow your eyes and you’ll lose your form.
  • Don’t hang out at the bottom of the squat. Once you’ve hit your bottom, start exhaling, tighten the abs, and begin to stand up.
  • Push with your heels, legs, and glutes. And don’t forget to let the abs help.
  • When in the final standing position, your hip flexors should be extended. In other words, you should be standing straight (there shouldn’t be a crease in your hips).

If there are any faults with your squats, you need to fix them before thinking of using heavier weights with the overhead squats.

Flexibility

Flexibility can’t be stressed enough. Being flexible is just as important as being strong. Tight muscles are injuries waiting to happen. For good overhead squats, shoulders, hips, and ankles need to be flexible.

Learn more about improving your mobility

  • For shoulder flexibility, you can do pass-throughs with a PVC pipe. Other stretches you can do are shoulder rolls (forward and back), shoulder shrugs, and arm circles. You can also use a foam roller.
  • For hip flexibility you can do leg swings – sideways and forward/backward. Other good ones are Pigeon Pose and lunging with a twist.
  • For ankles you can do feet rotations. Another stretch is to kneel on the floor and sit on your legs.

If your air squat is good, and you don’t see improvements in your overhead squat, chances are you need to work on shoulder flexibility. Let a coach help you find the fault and then take steps to fix them.

Once the foundation is set, you can start improving your overhead squat technique. Similar to learning the art of fighting or self-defense, there are many components to the overhead squat that need to be focused on at the same time. That’s what makes it a challenging move to master.

Useful tips to help you improve your overhead squat technique:

1) Warm up – It’s very important that you warm up before starting any workout and more so before starting the overhead squat. Since it’s a total body move, you want to increase blood circulation in preparation for it. For a good warm up, do dynamic stretches.

2) Hand position – Your hands should be more than shoulder-width apart (about 5-6 inches away from shoulders). You may need to find a position that works best for you; if you feel any pain in the wrist. But don’t let your hands be too narrow because it might compromise your form.

3) Grip – You want to have a firm grip. Your thumbs should go around the bar. When the bar is overhead, the palms should be facing up so the bar is “resting” on your palms.

4) Holding the bar overhead – Keep the delts and traps engaged at all times. The way to do this is to:

  • Rotate the shoulders forward (a person looking at you should see your armpits). Keep the elbows locked. A cue that might help with this one is to turn the elbows forward.
  • Actively push the bar up.
  • Pull the bar sideways as if you were trying to stretch out a resistance band.

5) Squat – Review the steps to the squat above. Go slower than you would doing an air squat and keep focused.

6) Bar path – While squatting, the path of the bar should be straight down and up. If you feel yourself start to become unstable and can’t stop it, let the bar drop.

Part of the reason overhead squat is so challenging is that it involves the whole body. There isn’t a body part that isn’t doing something to help you execute the move.

overhead squat technique

The overhead squat is a process. You want to make sure you have the squat and flexibility foundations before you start working on technique. Take your time with reps. Every rep needs the same amount of focus. If you compromise just one, the set won’t be successful. And keep practicing. Practice makes almost perfect.

Overhead Squat and Mobility Video