I love Overhead Squats. I might be biased because I am pretty good at them now. That was not always the case.
I remember when I would start with an awkward descent that took forever so I assumed my hips were at my heels by the time I was done. They never were. I kept working at it though.
After a few weeks of implementing this exercise, my depth got significantly better with all squats. Also, getting my hips low enough for a deadlift was no longer a chore.
The Overhead (OH) Squat may be one of the best exercises/movements that can be performed. Not only is it a good way to switch up your program from traditional back and front squats, they can also help to improve your performance on those lifts.
I usually start everyone on this exercise by using a wooden dowel or a PVC pipe until I decide that they can load the pattern. I favor using the snatch grip at first because if someone has issues with a wider grip, they will have more with a narrower (or clean) grip.
To achieve this position I line the dowel up with the pubic bone and widen my hands until my arms are locked out. When the arms are overhead, they should be behind (ideal) or even with the ears. The pattern should then be a squat down, as deep as possible, with the chest up and weight on the full foot.
From an assessment standpoint, movement dysfunctions will be easily identified when performing the OH Squat. You can quickly determine is someone has movement restrictions in the hips, ankles, and thoracic spine.
Someone who cannot get into optimal depth has tight hips. If the dowel is coming forward of the ears when looking from the side then the person could use some work on their lats and T-spine. If the participant’s feet are turning out on the descent, there is probably a lack of mobility in the ankles.
A coach can take this information and program the client or athlete to improve their movement patterns.
Now I don’t just give OH squats to people so that they hate me for it. They are easy to implement and beneficial. Anyone can perform this exercise. Start with a dowel and only add weight when the exercise can be done with perfect form. Adding weight to dysfunctional movement is going to hinder performance and increase risk of injury.
Loading on the spine is minimized in this exercise for those that cannot tolerate it. Basically you get to work hard with lighter weights. Save the plates for your back and front squats.
The OH Squat requires whole body stability and a back that is set in a neutral spine. Performing the OH squat will improve your hip, ankle, and T-spine mobility. This will improve squatting depth. It will also help those with any back or lower extremity injuries.
So now that I’ve convinced you to make your hips and lats scream repeatedly, grab a dowel and start squatting with it over your head. Move on to bars when you are ready.