Overhead squats for mobility and strength

Overhead squats for mobility and strength

For the past few months, I have been working on improving my squat mobility. I used to have almost perfect form while squatting – until about six months ago when I began to find it increasingly difficult to keep my torso upright. Due to a combination of tight hip flexors and limited upper back mobility, my upper body is folding slightly as I deepen my squat.

Alongside devoting plenty of time to stretching and foam rolling, I have been practicing my overhead squat (I previously wrote two posts on fixing your back squat here and here). Not only is an overhead squat one of the most beastly strength exercises you can do, but it is also one of the best overall mobility exercises.

Purpose: If you can perfect an overhead squat, you have pretty damn good mobility. 90 per cent of the population cannot keep their backs upright as they lower into a squat. This is an intermediate to advanced exercise (depending on the load on the barbell), so proceed with caution.

Overhead squats are ideal for correcting any muscle imbalances present in the hips, glutes, lower back and upper back. Because you are holding a weight overhead, your core is activated to a greater extent than it is during many other exercises. Overhead squats are great preparation for attempting Olympic lifts such as the snatch.

Set-up: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, with your toes pointing outwards. Start by raising a light, unweighted bar above your head with a wide overhand grip. Pack your shoulders down and lock your elbows out (to do the former, imagine that you are trying to break the bar apart and maintain that force throughout the set – this will stabilise your shoulders and trapezius muscles and prevent injury).

Most gyms should have a light bar, broomstick or PVC pipe for mobility purposes (I warm up with the BodyPump bars at my gym – it’s all they’re good for!) or at the very least a lighter women’s Olympic bar. Don’t jump straight into a full-sized Olympic bar if you have never attempted this exercise before. Make sure you complete a full dynamic warm up before attempting overhead squats, as they can be quite intense on the shoulders.


Execution: Stick your butt out and squat down until you reach parallel or just below, and then push through the heels and squeeze your glutes to return to standing. Your back should be straight the entire time, and your arms should be locked slightly behind your head – do not let them move forwards or you will drop the weight. Keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes.

Do not be fooled by appearances. The first time you try this exercise, you will probably suck at it and hate it – don’t be discouraged, as that simply means you definitely need to start practicing!

Do you perform overhead squats for mobility purposes?

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