How to Do a Picture-Perfect Overhead Squat for Olympic Lifting, CrossFit, and More

Do you ever want you would carry out one motion that challenged your higher and decrease physique on the similar time? The overhead squat exams your mobility, stability, muscular power, and resilience suddenly. It’s additionally an integral part of the barbell snatch, one of many two actions in Olympic lifting.

Whereas it might appear intimidating at first, keep in mind — even the strongest athletes on the Olympics or CrossFit Video games as soon as struggled to study the overhead squat of their early days.

overhead squat
Credit score: Riley Stefan

With the correct information in your pocket, you can also carry out a picture-perfect overhead squat, regardless of how far alongside you’re by yourself athletic journey. Right here’s how you can do it. 

Do the Overhead Squat

To do an overhead squat, you’ll want a barbell, a rack to carry it in, bumper plates of acceptable weight on your ability stage, and a pair of collars to maintain every little thing locked in. When you’ve got this stuff on-hand, you’re able to go. 

Step 1 — Set up Your Setup

 A person establishing position for an overhead squat

Unrack an empty barbell from a rack as for those who had been going to carry out an ordinary again squat. Slide your fingers out huge throughout the barbell, double shoulder-width aside at minimal. Place your toes in your standard squat stance. In the event you don’t know the place that’s, begin by putting them beneath your hips, toes turned out barely. 

Coach’s Tip: Earlier than you undertake the overhead squat, ensure you can carry out an ordinary again squat to full depth. 

Step 2 — Find Your Overhead Place

A person establishing position for an overhead squat, with the bar over the back of the neck.

To get the barbell overhead, carry out a behind-the-neck press or push press. The barbell ought to fixate instantly above your shoulder joint, together with your arms behind your ears. Push your head ahead barely and be certain that your elbows lock and keep locked the complete time. 

Coach’s Tip: Whereas your torso angle could change as you sit into the squat, your arms ought to be perpendicular to the ground the complete time. 

Step 3 — Provoke Your Descent

A person in an overhead squat position.

As you slowly decrease into the squat, brace your core and maintain your weight throughout the heart of your foot whereas persevering with to assist the barbell overhead. Attempt to sit straight downward. 

Coach’s Tip: As you descend, take into consideration continually pushing the load up in the direction of the ceiling together with your arms. 

Step 4 — Climb Out of The Gap

A person ascending from an overhead squat position.

When you’re as little as you may get, reverse the movement and drive out of the underside of the squat together with your quads and glutes. Make sure that the barbell stays immobile overhead as you do that. 

Coach’s Tip: Think about that you just’re pushing the earth away from you together with your legs

Overhead Squat Units and Reps

You possibly can practice the overhead squat by means of numerous programming strategies. Listed below are some normal programming pointers for a spread of various training goals

  • For Motion Integrity: Carry out 3-5 units of 5 -10 with a PVC pipe or empty barbell. Relaxation 1-2 minutes between units.
  • For Strength: Carry out 3-5 working units of 1-5 reps, leaving 0-2 reps within the tank every set. Relaxation between 3-5 minutes between units.
  • For Endurance: Carry out 2-3 working units of 12+ reps. On the similar time, using a lighter load on the bar and resting 30-60 seconds between units.

Widespread Overhead Squat Errors

An adequate level of mobility is a prerequisite to performing the overhead squat within the first place. In the event you don’t have the mobility to lock your elbows over your head or drop your hips decrease than your knees, you received’t be capable to make the most of your power. Mobility deficits are the most typical concern with the overhead squat — you’ll wish to determine these potential issues early. 

Skipping the PVC Pipe

It doesn’t matter how robust your legs and shoulders are; for those who’ve by no means achieved an overhead squat earlier than, you’ll be unfamiliar with the motion sample. Begin training the overhead squat with a weightless PVC pipe or dowel moderately than the barbell

Practising the motion with a lightweight load will assist you determine the place your sticking factors or flexibility points are whilst you learn to compress your lower body together with your arms held above you. This isn’t a ability demanded by most different forms of squats, so it would really feel very overseas to start with.

Lack of Shoulder Vary of Movement

With out the suitable range of motion inside your shoulders, you received’t be capable to stabilize the barbell overhead. Spend time warming up the muscular tissues surrounding your shoulder to cut back stiffness and tightness. 

You might be able to carry out a standard overhead press whereas standing, however extending your arms over your head whereas additionally flexing your decrease physique is a special beast totally. 

Inadequate Thoracic Extension

Sufficient shoulder mobility is intrinsically linked to how versatile your torso is. You have to be capable to get your trunk right into a stable, upright place to permit your shoulders to do their job. 

You could discover that your shoulders can’t assist the barbell over your head as a result of your chest collapses as you sit into the overhead squat. To treatment this, apply some thoracic backbone mobilization drills or incorporate a gradual motion tempo.

Stiff Ankles

To carry out a squat, your knees should monitor over your toes to offer room on your pelvis to journey downward. Stiff or restricted ankles will usually require you to “discover” your flexibility elsewhere, mostly by sinking deeper on the hips.

A Middle-Eastern person doing an overhead squat position.
Credit score: Paul Aiken / Shutterstock

In the event you can’t get your knee at the least in step with the top of your huge toe, chances are you’ll wish to carry out some ankle mobility workouts. Extraordinarily versatile ankles aren’t required for the overhead squat, however they’ll make it a lot simpler to enhance your squat depth in addition to the way you handle the load itself. 

Overhead Squat Variations

Relying on what stage you’re at when studying the overhead squat, it might be useful to carry out totally different variations to progress, regress, or handle weaknesses — whereas on the similar time including some selection to keep your training fresh and enjoyable. 

Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Squat

This train will challenge your skill and mobility to carry out the overhead squat with a lot much less load; subsequently, it’s one other useful development device you possibly can wield. As well as, when you’ve got any imbalances, this train will expose these, and consequently, you possibly can spend time filling in these gaps with this train.

Along with being far more tough to stabilize (because you’re solely working with one arm), unilateral workouts just like the single-arm dumbbell overhead squat can assist you expose and handle any imbalances in power or mobility

Anderson Overhead Squat

In the event you’re nonetheless within the early phases of studying the overhead squat, you would possibly wish to incorporate this variation into your coaching. You’d often begin an overhead squat from a standing place — for brand new trainees, controlling a weight from the highest down will be very difficult and unfamiliar.

The Anderson overhead squat flips the elevate and has you start by standing up from a squatting place. Set the barbell in a rack at across the peak of your center torso after which wrangle your self beneath it together with your arms straight. This lets you start the elevate after utilizing the bar itself to stabilize your torso and safe your hips. 

Pause Overhead Squat

If it’s essential construct distinctive structural stability and, particularly, consolation throughout the backside of an overhead squat, you possibly can merely add a pause to the motion. 

Spending just a few seconds on the backside of the overhead squat holding your self immobile will switch fairly properly whenever you load up for a 1-rep max or heavy snatch. The extra consciousness and familiarity you may have with a given motion all through its range of motion, the extra assured you’ll be when it comes time to carry out. 

That is one other glorious variation to construct glorious structural stability and luxury throughout the backside of an overhead squat. Spending one to 5 seconds throughout the backside of an overhead squat can switch over fairly properly to construct a stronger overhead squat and snatch. The extra consciousness and familiarity you possibly can have in any respect positions of an train, the extra confidence you could have if you end up training the movement at higher loads

Overhead Squat Alternate options

Listed below are just a few really helpful overhead squat alternate options which will nonetheless problem your skills whereas barely altering the stimulus to present you extra variety in your training

Single-Arm Backside-Up Kettlebell Press

This is a wonderful train that you need to use to prep your shoulders earlier than doing the overhead squat, or as a regression device to construct power and stability of the musculature across the shoulder joint. 

Holding a kettlebell the wrong way up, with the bell itself on high, provides heaps of additional instability to the press. This could cue your scapulae and the encircling musculature to have interaction absolutely, which ought to carry over to the overhead squat. 

Dumbbell or Barbell Thruster

This train possesses two elements of the overhead squat, the squat itself and overhead portion, into one fluid movement. Thrusters problem your power, mobility, physique consciousness, and coordination. 

On the similar time, it may be carried out with numerous tools, from a dumbbell to a barbell, with a spread of hundreds relying on ability and power stage. You need to use thrusters as a dynamic conditioning device, or as a full-body power motion. 

Muscle tissues Labored by the Overhead Squat

The higher you possibly can perceive what muscle teams are at play throughout the overhead squat, the better you’ll know what muscle groups to train to fill in any potential deficiencies. In conjunction, the extra you recognize about how explicit muscle teams behave throughout an overhead squat, the higher a mind-muscle connection you’ll have. 


Your shoulders act as the principle anchor level throughout the overhead squat. Your scapulae retract and rotate upwards whenever you maintain the barbell over your head; many of the weight of the bar itself will fall throughout your shoulders and upper back consequently. 


You undoubtedly want a powerful posterior chain to carry out the overhead squat. Whereas there will likely be some load in your decrease back, many of the problem falls throughout your upper back — your latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and lots of the small tissues round your rotator cuff.

A person wearing a blue t-shirt lifts a bar overhead with a snatch grip in a partial squat.
Credit score: Combine Tape / Shutterstock

These muscles contract isometrically to offer a steady “shelf” whilst you squat, and likewise permit for ample shoulder flexion and stability. 


Your core — consisting of your rectus abdominals, inner and exterior obliques, and even your decrease again — offers structural stability whilst you carry out throughout the overhead squat.

Contracting your core creates an insane quantity of intra-abdominal pressure, making your trunk as stable as a rock whilst you transfer. This ensures you’re within the most secure and most steady place potential to steadiness the load over your head and concurrently rise up out of a deep squat.


The rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius make up the muscle on the entrance of your thigh, generally referred to as your quadriceps. Your quadriceps will help in getting you out of the underside of the squat by extending the knee that will help you return to a standing place. 

Advantages of the Overhead Squat

The overhead squat is a high-skill, multi-joint train that can problem you in additional methods than one. This train will maintain you in your toes by checking your power, stability, and mobility throughout a number of areas concurrently, all inside one motion. 

In the event you practice Olympic lifting, the overhead squat is a necessary prerequisite for the game, so that you’ll should get snug with it. 

Builds Shoulder Stability

The overhead squat will problem and enhance the steadiness and power of the musculature that makes up your shoulder joint. Shoulder well being is important for actions of each day residing in addition to its performance when performing different workouts. 

This makes the overhead squat a unbelievable alternative for isometric shoulder coaching, even for those who don’t partake in weightlifting or CrossFit.

Improves Flexibility

The overhead squat means that you can hit two birds with one stone. Whenever you carry out the train, you problem a number of joints directly with excessive ranges of movement.

Past that, although, working with a light-to-moderate load can be an efficient method of engraining that flexibility and making it everlasting. (1)

Improves Your Snatch

If you need a big snatch, it’s essential possess competence on the overhead squat first. Recovering from a heavy snatch actually requires you to face up out of the overhead squat within the first place. 

It follows, then, that for those who can strengthen your technique and energy throughout the overhead squat, a few of these gains will switch properly to the snatch

Provides Selection

The overhead squat some time to study and even longer to grasp. In that method, it may be an ideal addition to your training arsenal for those who’re searching for an train that challenges each your physique and thoughts. You need to use the overhead squat as a technical primer or as a part of your warm-up to get your physique engaged for the session forward. 

Who Ought to Do the Overhead Squat

Some people should carry out the overhead squat because it’s an important facet of their sport, whereas others do it purely for the problem and pleasure. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you possibly can absolutely profit from dabbling in it at the least a little bit.


In Olympic lifting, athletes are examined in each the snatch and the clean and jerk. Coaching the overhead squat has a direct benefit and correlation in bettering the 2 principal lifts that these athletes are examined at competitions — notably the snatch. 


You’ll very usually see overhead squats throughout CrossFit competitions or programmed into WODs. If you wish to up your CrossFit sport, it’s best to most likely be snug sitting within the gap of a squat with a bar over your head.

CrossFitter Samuel Cournoyer lunging with a single dumbbell over his head.
Picture by Patrick Clark

Including the overhead squat into your accent coaching arsenal is a clever alternative right here. 

Common Inhabitants

The overhead squat is a complicated weight coaching train. It’s not essentially acceptable for everybody that units foot in a fitness center. That mentioned, the on a regular basis gymgoer can actually experiment with the motion so as to add in some selection or take a look at their flexibility. There’s no disgrace in performing workouts which are, above all, enjoyable to do. 

Wrapping Up

Now that you recognize what the overhead squat is, why it’s so devilishly efficient, what you stand to realize from it and, most significantly, how you can do it, it’s time to ask your self the large query. Does the overhead squat belong in your workout routine?

Are you catching the aggressive bug? If you wish to practice for an Olympic lifting meet or CrossFit class, the reply is sure. In case your workouts are feeling a bit stale and repetitive, unsurprisingly, the reply can be sure. 


The overhead squat could be a actual head-scratcher. Listed below are a few frequent questions in regards to the train, addressed and unpacked. 

Why is the overhead squat so difficult?

It’s a multi-joint exercise requiring excessive mobility, stability, and physique consciousness. Many individuals can squat with a weight of their fingers, or press a weight over their heads whereas standing. It’s very tough to coordinate your decrease and higher physique on the similar time, although.

Do I’ve to do the overhead squat?

There’s no train it’s important to do, however for those who want to compete in a sport that requires the motion sample of a selected elevate, you’ll should do what the game or that fashion of coaching calls for. However no, you don’t should do the overhead squat to improve your physique or efficiency, but it surely’s actually an choice.

What’s the easiest way to get began doing overhead squats?

Discovering a very good instructor, both in particular person or on-line, will be very invaluable within the studying course of to present you suggestions. Follow with a PVC pipe first and work in your mobility for those who can’t but work with the barbell.


  1. Alizadeh, S., Daneshjoo, A., Zahiri, A. et al. Resistance Coaching Induces Enhancements in Vary of Movement: A Systematic Overview and Meta-Evaluation. Sports activities Med (2023). 

Featured Picture: William Johnson / @barbellstories

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