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The Overhead Squat – A Catch-All Mobility Tool

Whether you’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, CrossFitter, or just going to the gym for general health and wellness, we all want to move better. We hear the term “mobility” floating around often. For some people it looks like stretching, sometimes foam rolling, or you may grab a PVC pipe for some shoulder warm-up before a WOD. Those are all great, but what if you’re on a time crunch or maybe you just don’t want to sort through all of those different methods trying to find the one that works best for you? My friends – the overhead squat is your solution.

A textbook overhead squat top to bottom

What’s So Special About the Overhead Squat?

It combines a whole bunch of different mobility techniques in a dynamic movement under load, it will save you a ton of time, and it will help you identify what areas of your body may actually NE

ED a little extra warm-up instead of just blindly doing something you saw a friend do. In order to do a pro

per overhead squat, you must have proper mobility in your shoulders, mid/upper back, hips, and ankles. Essentially, the overhead squat requires adequate mobility in 4 majors regions of the body that are trouble areas for most people. Not everybody will struggle with all 4 of these regions and no two people will have the exact same movement deficiencies. This means that not everybody can just do the same bland warm-up or mobility routine to target his/her areas of tightness. In this way, the overhead squat is not only a great exercise to mobilize your body, but to screen for areas to pay extra attention to.

Overhead Squat Proper Practices

  1. Be sure to take your snatch grip on the bar to begin
  2. Try to keep the bar over your shoulder and ankle
  3. Arms should remain locked out – think about continuing to push the bar up as you pull yourself down into the squat
  4. Lastly, be patient. This is a very difficult movement, and if you’re not experienced with it, it will feel strange at first.

For this movement, start very light – just the barbell or even the technique specialty bars or PVC pipe. If you want to use this strictly as a mobility drill before your workout, start with a set or two of 5-10 repetitions until you can start to feel your shoulders, hips, and ankles warm up. As you start to get better and stronger with the movement, it’s great to load it up and go for lower repetitions as well. Plus it gives you an opportunity to work on your behind-the-neck snatch-grip push press – a Katie Feeley favorite. To give you an estimate, you should be able to overhead squat around 55% of your best back squat.

Identifying Mobility Limitations with the Overhead Squat

So what should you look for in doing this exercise? When you squat, if you can’t get your knees to come to your toes or past them, you probably need to address your ankle mobility. Foam rolling and stretching your calves is a great place to start for this.

Improved ankle mobility would help get that barbell over her midline

If you feel like you can’t keep your chest up during your descent, you probably have a tight upper back. There are lots of little postural muscles in the upper back. Using a foam roller or a lacrosse ball to release those muscles is a good place to start. Once you’re loosened up, performing a drill like the one pictured below can help reinforce good positioning. After you practice with the band, it’s very important to try with a barbell.

An extreme case of upper back tightness will limit how much weight you can handle overhead
With improved upper back mobility, she will be able to achieve a deeper overhead squat
A great drill to improve positioning for those with tight upper backs











Lastly, if you feel like you can’t naturally keep your arms overhead or feel any pain through your shoulder, then you probably want to mobilize your shoulders. This could be caused by issues stemming from your rotator cuff, so be sure to strengthen those small muscles. Additionally, you may have tight traps, which can be released with a foam roller or lacrosse ball.

Improved shoulder mobility could help improve his depth and positioning

As always, if you’re not sure of what to do to try and improve your mobility in one of these areas, just ask one of the many competent Power Plant coaches. Happy (overhead) squatting!



P.S. No athletes’ feelings were harmed in the making of this blog post. They’re all aware that their likenesses were used. Furthermore, they’re working to improve their overhead squats 🙂

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