Leg Exercises

How to Master the Overhead Squat

Perform overhead squats for lower-body strength and power, as well as improved mobility.

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If the barbell squat is the king of exercises, then the overhead (OH) squat is the king’s ultraversatile right-hand man. Overhead squats not only develop lower-body strength and power like the back squat but also offer a host of other benefits.

“The overhead squat provides a good test of mobility and stability of the shoulders, core, lower back, hips, and ankles—more so than a standard back squat,” says Brian Strump, owner of CrossFit Steele Creek in Charlotte, NC (crossfitsteelecreek.com). “It also tests balance and focus. To do an overhead squat properly, you’re forced to improve your squat technique.”

HOW TO DO IT

Grasp the bar with hands about double-shoulder-width apart and press it overhead. Stand with toes pointed outward. Bend your hips back and squat as low as you can without losing your back’s arch.

Grip Wisely

To determine your ideal grip placement, hold a barbell down in front of you, arms fully extended, as if you were at the top of a deadlift. The bar should line up with your hip crease. If it doesn’t, adjust your arms wider or narrower.

Pull Apart

To best stabilize the upper back during the lift, think about pulling the bar apart—that is, applying outward tension to the bar—while overhead. Maintain that isometric pulling for the entire lift.

Start Empty

If you’re new to overhead squats, begin with an empty (unloaded) Olympic barbell to practice proper technique and get consistent. But don’t use a broomstick or PVC pipe to practice; the weight is so insufficient, says Strump, you won’t get the feedback you need. Instead, try a fixed barbell less than 45 pounds.

THE WORKOUT

When to do it: On your next leg day, plug overhead squats into your routine instead of back squats or front squats. Use these sets and reps, depending on your level.

Beginners: Start with 3 sets of 12 reps with very light weight to get comfortable with the movement under fatigue.

Advanced Lifters: Try 3 sets of 5 reps, 7 sets of 2 reps, or something in that ballpark, with a relatively heavy weight.

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