Exercise Anatomy

Overhead Squat

Nothing will expose your weaknesses like the overhead squat.

Nothing will expose your weaknesses like the overhead squat. Of all the supporting lifts for Olympic weightlifting movements, the overhead squat requires the most complex combination of leg strength, midline strength, back and shoulder flexibility, and shoulder stability. Besides being an integral supporting lift for the snatch, it also makes an appearance in a number of CrossFit WODs, including “Nancy.”

1. Getting the Bar Overhead


If you’re not dealing with significant weight yet, you might be able to simply press the bar up overhead from any position. However, just in case, here’s a simple method: With the bar in the rack, position yourself as if you’re setting up for a back squat, with the bar behind your neck. Stand up out of the rack and step back. Take a wide grip. (See “Hand Position.”) Now execute a behind-the neck push press or push jerk to get the bar overhead.

2. The Setup


With the bar overhead and your hands at the proper width, stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out slightly. Tighten your back and your glutes. Rotate your lats forward (think of showing someone your armpits). Just before the squat, take a deep breath and hold it. Stabilize your midline. This is vital for a good overhead squat.


Some people might feel comfortable with their heads tipping well forward of the bar. This is acceptable, but be sure your head and chest do not point downward too much. Increasing flexibility will help minimize this movement.

3. The Squat


Keeping your weight mostly in your heels, squat down, making sure your knees track out over your toes. Maintain your upper-body position (i.e., keep showing off your armpits) and keep the bar directly over your center of mass. It should not tilt forward in front of your shoulders or you will lose control and fall forward. 


Hit the bottom of your squat, with the crease in your hips passing below your knees, then stand up, pushing through your heels and maintaining that tight upper-body posture.

Note: There are two schools of thought regarding shoulder position during the overhead squat. Standard CrossFit technique, as you might learn at a CrossFit Level 1 certification, is to use active shoulders. Think about pushing your shoulders up into your ears. However, a number of experienced Olympic lifters, including coaches at USAW weightlifting certifications, specify a more “flattened” shoulder. Note that this does not mean your shoulders are relaxed. You should remain very tight and set through your shoulder girdle.