Overhead Barbell Squat

The overhead barbell squat is an advanced exercise that requires strength in the legs, and stability of the shoulders and core. It mobilizes the thoracic spine, ankles, and hips, and improves the bottom of a squat, front squat, or snatch.

Muscles Worked – Overhead Squat

The primary muscle groups targeted by the overhead squat are:

  • Shoulders: The shoulders work in the overhead squat to keep the barbell overhead (with the assistance of the triceps) and stable throughout the entire movement. The shoulders work in an isometric fashion to stabilize the load overhead.
  • Quadriceps: The quadriceps are the prime mover in the overhead squat. Due to the vertical torso positioning, the lifter must go into deeper knee flexion, requiring them to ascend with higher amounts of knee extension to remain in position (rather than allowing the hips to push back, shifting weight into the hamstrings).
  • Trapezius: The trapezius muscles (upper traps) provide stability and strength while the load is overhead. Without adequate trapezius engagement and barbell placement, the shoulders are stressed excessively.
  • Core: The abdominals, (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and obliques) and lower back are all involved in stabilizing the lifter as they (1) support a load locked out overhead, (2) as they move throughout the full range of motion in the overhead squat, and (3) to remain braced and stable in the bottom of the overhead squat.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Establish Position

Start with the barbell placed overhead, with the grip set wide. The grip is typically taken with a snatch grip, however this can vary based on the goal, client’s mobility, and strength. The key is that the barbell should be placed over the back of the neck, with the biceps in line with the ears. The wrists should be slightly extended, with the elbows straight and ribs pulled in (neutral spine).

2. Begin Descent
During the descent be sure not to extend the lumbar spine, but rather keep the core braced and the hips neutral (as opposed to anterior or posterior tilting of the pelvis). This squat should be patterned in the same manner as a high bar back squat.

3. Maintain Control and Position
Once full depth is reached (slightly different for everyone), the hip crease should be slightly below the knees, with the full foot down. The lifter should keep the core tight and be actively push against the barbell to keep it into the correct positioning overhead (step one).4. Drive Up and Stand

From here, work to keep the barbell overhead and the chest up ascending out of the squat. Keep the core tight and actively push up against the barbell to aid in standing up from the overhead squat.5. Stabilize and Repeat

Once  the knees and hips are fully extended, stabilize the core and shoulders and repeat for repetitions. Keep the upper back and shoulders stable by actively pressing upwards through the barbell.

Overhead Squat Variations

Below are three (3) overhead squat variations that can be used:

Pause Overhead Squat

The pause overhead squat is done similar to other pause squat variations, and can be a great way to increase control, core stability, and balance in the bottom of the squat. In addition, it will teach lifters to remain engaged with the core and upper back muscles when paused and challenge them to increase concentric strength getting out of the squat.

Tempo Overhead Squat

The tempo overhead squat is done similar to other tempo squat variations, and can be done at set cadences to increase time under tension, increase a lifter’s movement control and strength at certain positions, and address sticking points or technical breakdowns in the overhead squat movement.

Clean Grip Overhead Squat

The clean grip overhead squat is a overhead squat done with a clean grip (also can be done with a jerk grip) versus a wider grip, like the one taken in a snatch. The narrower the grip, the more overhead mobility is needed. In addition, narrowing the grip will increase upper back, shoulder, and trapezius involvement.

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