How and Why Overhead Squat?

If you find yourself asking why we do handstands, double unders, snatches, knees jumps, the Oly wall squat stretch or any other atypical exercise not seen in a traditional gym, it is because it falls under at least one category in the 10 fitness domains of CrossFit:

1)   Cardiovascular/Respiratory endurance

2)   Stamina

3)   Strength

4)   Flexibility

5)   Power

6)   Speed

7)   Agility

8)   Coordination

9)   Balance

10) Accuracy

CrossFit covers all of these domains. The softball throw event in the CrossFit Games? Think strength, power, speed, coordination and accuracy. Maybe it wasn’t such a weird event after all?

The overhead squat is a beautiful and unforgiving piece of fitness. This movement tests more than half of the 10 fitness domains listed above. It can also be a frustrating lift if you are lacking in any of these areas.

Here are some things to think about next time you are overhead squatting, starting from the feet and up:

Ankles: If your ankles lack flexibility, you can guess you will have more problems as you move up the body. According to K Starr, the toes should be pointed out between 5 and 12 degrees. If you are having a hard time with ankle flexibility, try smashing them down. Place a medium-sized kettlebell on your knee while sitting in the squat position. The extra weight will stretch your calves and ankles right out.

Knees: If your ankles have good mobility, the knees should be able to be shoved out externally.

Hips: All squats are initiated with pushing the hips back so that your weight is in your heels. Your hips should be loose enough to allow for this as well as external rotation. If you cannot do one or either of these, you will be at risk of losing stability in the trunk and/or affecting depth (hamstrings should be on the calves in the bottom of your squat.)  Also, if you lack hip flexibility, it could lead to a misconception that you are lacking flexibility in the shoulders because you are unable to keep a stable, upright torso.

Trunk: Your trunk should maintain a neutral position. Overextension (sticking your butt out too far) as well as flexion in the hole (butt-wink) will both jeopardize maintaining proper position.

Shoulders & elbows: The shoulders should be stable and mobile. Think about forcing your armpits forward and “packing down” the shoulders. As far as the elbows go, think about forcing the crease of your elbows to face the sky.

Wrists: Wrists should be in a flexed position, not stacked. The bar should be resting across the palm. If you experience wrist pain, try bringing your grip in a bit or wrapping with tape or wrist wraps.

Thanks to FuBarbell, you now have a solid foundation of what your overhead squat should look like. Work mobility and stability first and strength will soon follow.


Fu, Diane and David Bokman. “The OHS: Decoding Your Physicality.” Hella Life. Aug 6 2013.

One Response

  1. Joe H says:

    No, the softball throw was still pretty lame…*grin*

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