Fix Your Overhead Squat…

In my last blog post, I gave three basic tips for improving your split jerk. Today, I’d like to do something similar for the overhead squat.
Commonly referred to as the “bane of their existence” for many CrossFitters, the overhead squat for a coach is an almost unfiltered view into the movement potential of each client. It “makes the invisible visible.” While it is easy to get by with a pretty crummy version of the movement, whereby you simply meet the requisite standards of movement (bar held overhead, pass below parallel in the squat, and stand back up), a truly well executed overhead squat is not only a thing of beauty, its tough for most folks.
People clamor all the time for us needing to do more “core” work. I chuckle. What is the overhead squat if not the ultimate core exercise? But I digress, this is about how to improve yours!

  1. Test Different Hand Positions –  just last week, a client complained of a bit of wrist discomfort while overhead squatting. He was doing nearly everything right, but I suggested he move his hands in about half an inch on each side and see how that felt. Result? Dramatic improvement – no pain! What really changed? Well, when the hands are out too wide, the wrist has to be cocked at an extreme angle in order to maintain full contact with, and control of, the barbell being held overhead. In anatomical terms, this position is called radial deviation. In this case, that half an inch difference simply introduced too much radial deviation. The second thing that moving the hands inward does is create the more stacked position that I talked about last week. Note that the more narrow your overhead grip is, the more shoulder flexibility that you need. Michael Grant and Tabrez Noorani are great examples of this. Take a look at this stellar picture that I draw to illustrate the difference that hand position makes:


    Left: Fairly extreme radial deviation vs Right: Almost None
    Left: Fairly extreme radial deviation vs Right: Almost None

  2. Take your time – The nature of having a barbell held overhead means that your balance will be challenged more than if the bar were on your shoulders or non-existent. In physics terms, this is known as having your center of mass at a higher level. As your balance is challenged more, like in an overhead squat, you need to slow down your speed of descent to allow your body to stay in control of its own movement. When doing an air squat, or even warming up with light front and back squats, people tend to fall into the trap of simply getting the movement done with minimal amount of effort and control. Translation: they fall to the bottom, bounce off their soft tissues, and explode back up. Not sure if this is you? Pay attention to your air squats the next time they are called out in your warm-up. There’s a great story that James Hobart tells about walking into CrossFit Mayhem as Rich Froning was warming up one day – “5 minutes, every 30s, he’d do 10 air squats. Slow, good air squats.” (Click here to listen to full podcast) This is the same guy who can overhead squat almost 400lb…and oh yea, he’s also won the title of Fittest on Earth four times in a row.  Look how slow and deliberate these guys and gals are moving! (Scroll ahead to about 1:34 in the video below to see Rich)

Hopefully these two tips offer you something to try out next time overhead squats show up…hint hint…

people working out in a group fitness class


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