Overhead Squat overview – Sun 4.17.16

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The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise. The overhead squat develops core control by punishing any forward wobble of the load with an immediate increase in the moment about the hip and back.

When the bar is held perfectly overhead and still, which is nearly impossible, the overhead squat does not present greater load on the hip or back, but moving too fast, along the wrong line of action, or wiggling can bring even the lightest loads down or make you work harder to maintain it!

The overhead squat also develops functional flexibility, and further develops the squat by amplifying and punishing faults in squat posture, movement, and stability.

There are two major obstacles to learning the overhead squat:  1) a weak squat–you need to have a rock-solid squat to learn the overhead squat. 2) starting with or adding too much weight. You need to use a dowel or PVC pipe; use anything over five pounds to learn this move and your overhead squat progress will be stagnant.

Learning The Overhead Squat (cues from the CrossFit Journal):

  1. Start only when you have a strong squat and use a dowel or PVC pipe, not a weight. You should be able to maintain a rock-bottom squat with your back arched, head and eyes forward, and body-weight predominantly on your heels for several minutes as a prerequisite to the overhead squat.
  2. Learn locked-arm “dislocates” or “pass-throughs” with the dowel. You want to be able to move the dowel nearly 360 degrees starting with the dowel down and at arms length in front of your body, and then move it in a wide arc until it comes to rest down and behind you without so much as slightly bending your arms at any point in its travel. Start with a grip wide enough to easily pass through, and then repeatedly bring the hands in closer until passing through presents a moderate stretch of the shoulders. This is your training grip
  3. Be able to perform the pass-through at the top, the bottom, and everywhere in between while descending into the squat. Practice by stopping at several points on the path to the bottom, hold, and gently, slowly, swing the dowel from front to back, again, with locked arms. At the bottom of each squat, slowly bring the dowel back and forth moving from front to back.
  4. Learn to find the frontal plane with the dowel from every position in the squat. Practice this with your eyes closed. You want to develop a keen sense of where the frontal plane is located. This is the same drill as step 3 but this time you are bringing the dowel to a stop in the frontal plane and holding briefly with each pass-through. Have a training partner check to see if at each stop the dowel is in the frontal plane.
  5. Start the overhead squat by standing tall with the dowel held as high as possible in the frontal plane. You want to start with the dowel directly overhead, not behind you, or, worse yet, even a little bit in front.
  6. Very slowly lower to the bottom of the squat, keeping the dowel in the frontal plane the entire time. Have a training partner watch from your side to make sure that the dowel does not move forward or backward as you squat to bottom. Moving slightly behind the frontal plane is acceptable, but forward is dead wrong. If you cannot keep the dowel from coming forward your grip may be too narrow. The dowel will not stay in the frontal plane automatically; you will have to pull it back very deliberately as you descend (particularly if your chest comes forward).

Overview of Overhead Squat:

  • Grip as wide as needed to perform a pass-through and keep the bar in the frontal plane
  • Use active shoulders
  • The mechanics are otherwise like the air squat

The overhead squat is an important stretch, perfect for warm-ups, integral to the snatch and will expose most functional inflexibility and any mechanical deficiency in your squat.  So get out there and work on it!


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