Why Can’t I Overhead Squat?

marcos ohs.jpg

By: Marcos Hernandez

A well performed overhead squat is easy to spot, even to the untrained eye. Both coaches and athletes can spot the markers of quality: bar over the base of the neck, locked elbows, upright torso, hips finishing below the knees, and control exhibited throughout the movement. It’s even easier to spot when someone is having trouble with the overhead squat: torso bent over, shoulders at weird angles, questionable elbow lockout, hips far behind their feet, and general instability and/or tightness throughout.

Funny thing is, if one thing is wrong in the system it can throw off the entire movement.

There are four main areas that need to be good enough in order to overhead squat well. If you find yourself having trouble with overhead squats, check this list and make sure you’ve addressed all the things which could go wrong. If you think you have and still have trouble, talk to a coach and they’ll fill you in on what you missed.

Lets start from the inside out.

1.    The Shoulders. Assuming you can lock your elbows, the easiest way to find the correct shoulder position is to set up with the pits of your elbows facing up. Try it out with PVC by pressing overhead from a behind the neck position while keeping your abs engaged. If this position is difficult to achieve without lifting your ribs or extending your lower back then we have some work to do! 

a.    The Quick Fix: Hit PVC passthroughs, slowly and with a progressively narrower grip, while keeping your abs engaged (think crunch). Over time, you’ll gain the necessary control in your shoulders

2.    The Hips. Once we’ve secured the bar overhead, we need to get down with it. The best way to think about the proper hip position is to keep your hips beneath your shoulders all the way down. This will keep your torso upright. There might be a point when you need to “sit back” a bit more than how you set up but as long as you are working to stay upright you won’t get out of position. 

a.    The Quick Fix: Warm up the squat pattern by holding a light weight (10-25lb plate) straight ahead of you and squat while keeping your hips directly beneath you. As you get used to the position, bring the plate closer and closer to your body until it’s held against your chest.

Now, there are two things at the ends of your body which could impact your ability to overhead squat. Both the ankles and wrists need to be able move through a full range of motion, any limitations will cause pain and/or cause a compensation in the shoulder or hip.

1.    Wrists. Is the push up plank position alright? Are you able to put your knees down, shift your weight forward, and rock back and forth pain free? These should be warm up moves and shouldn’t cause any pain.

a.    The Quick Fix: Forward and Reverse Baby Crawls. Focus on pushing the ground away and this will strengthen the shoulders and wrist at the same time

2.    Ankles. From a lunge stance, can you drive your front knee forward over the toes without lifting your heel off the floor? 

a.    The Quick Fix: Practice! Stand close to a wall and drive your knees forward to try and touch the wall. Start with your toes touching the wall and work your way out.

If you can get your shoulders and hips in the correct position, and you have good enough ankle/wrist mobility, it’s a coordination issue. It’s one thing to hit the correct positions without moving but a whole other can of worms when things start moving. Tempo work, namely taking your time on the way down, will be your best friend. Soon, the move won’t feel so foreign and you’ll be able to throw more and more weight on as you challenge your ability to maintain movement quality as the load increases.