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Mastering the Overhead Squat (OHS) – A Step by Step Drill Guide to improvement (and Programming tips

The overhead squat is not something you see in the average gym. It requires a great amount of total body stability and mobility, and it's challenging as hell. After reading this guide, you should be prepared to take on and excel at this valuable, and overlooked, movement pattern.

Why the OHS? Unless you're a regular Olympic style lifter (snatch, clean and jerk), then this movement should be used primarily as a stability/mobility drill (especially in shoulders and core), and it's a great accessory lift for putting on mass in the upper back and leg. It will aid in creating better Thoracic (T-spine) extension, core stability, and a greater ROM for the ankles and hips (which will carry over to smoother execution of your back/front squat and overhead pressing variations), making this a top-notch “bang for your buck” movement. Getting Started

The main problem most people have with this movement is overall mobility, especially that of the shoulder and T-spine. This is caused by over-worked and under-stretched pecs and lats, plus weak core and shoulder overhead stability. The following videos will help you address these issues.

*If you experience any shoulder pain going overhead, the OHS may not be the best route for you. Instead, work on some of the basic t-spine extension drills and improving overall shoulder flexion range of motion and control before moving into more complex drills.

(Click Links for Videos)

Band OH Pull Aparts These videos are low intensity level drills that can be added into your daily warmup routines and/or as filler exercises between bigger movements. Once you can complete these drills efficiently and without pain, it's time to move on to base level OHS drills!

Simply put, the narrower the grip, the more shoulder mobility you'll need. Start with the bar sitting just inside the crease of your hips while standing.

This width, also known as “snatch grip”, should be the width used in your OHS. Be sure to keep a fully closed grip, no false (thumb off) grips here!

The next key is tension. Once the bar is overhead, drive out on the bar and externally rotate your shoulders, or “wrap” your lats around your shoulders, to create optimal tension/tightness and extension though your upper back and shoulders. This ensures bar position, as well as safety throughout the movement.

Other considerations

First, if ankle mobility is a limiting issue for you, feel free to utilize an Olympic lifting shoe (heel raised) or place heels up on something to allow for full ROM and benefit from this movement.

Second, try to use rubber weights if accessible. If you get into trouble with this lift, its best to “bail” out and toss the weight behind youand get out of the way. Always practice with an exit strategy in place just in aware of your surroundings. Progressions Once your bar placement is set and all the previous drills are done successfully, then feel free to set up and give the lift a try!

Progression 1- Behind the neck Push Press to OHS

  • Using the knees and hips, press the bar over the head into the overhead position. Upon “catching” the bar (or dowel), lock in the shoulders and stabilize the bar. Then progress into the OHS. Reset the bar each rep.

  • This is not a variation for anyone with shoulder restriction

Progression 2- Full OHS Continuous

  • Follow steps from above and instead of resetting each rep, keep the weight overhead and continue reps to finish set.

Advanced – Power Snatch or Muscle to OHS (This is a slower variation to learn the transition for barbell complexes and practicing snatching if desired)

Video Programming

As mentioned above, this movement should be primarily used as a mobility assistance movement for squatting/overhead pressing and can be added into low weight barbell complexes for a fat burning and/or conditioning goals.

  • Try adding 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps before back squatting or deadlifting. Keep the weight very light and focus on total body stability THROUGHOUT the movement.

  • Increased load should be very light and slow

  • Low volume, higher frequency tends to work best. 2-4 sets 2-4x/week of mixed loading parameters (keeping weight loading no more than 10-15% difference) is a great place to start.

There it is. A quick and complete guide to the OHS and how to add it into your programs. Now, get to work!

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