Ahhhh, the good ole overhead squat. Favourite of some. Nemesis of most.
The Overhead squat can be a thing of pure beauty if done correctly. However, due to it's challenging and technical nature it is usually THE movement that undoes most athletes. In fact, a lot of coaches will use it as an initial screening tool for new clients precisely because it will uncover movement restrictions you're normally able to hide in other forms of squatting.
A mobility restriction ANYWHERE in your body, whether it be ankles, calves, hips, thoracic, shoulders...you get the drift...will prevent proper movement in the overhead squat and lead to your body making compensations (i.e. mistakes) that can eventually lead to injury.
So whether your overhead squat is currently a car crash (sorry) or you can just feel something isn't 'quite right', we've noted down four of the most common mistakes we observe in the overhead squat.
BUT since we're not just all about telling you how you're doing something wrong (gosh, we're not THAT mean!), we've also added some recommended drills and mobility that will help you overcome these mistakes and help improve your squatting technique.
1. Leaning too far forward.
Throughout the movement, your bar should be stacked neatly in line with your shoulders, midfoot with your armpits turned out and your elbows locked. Often, if an athlete lacks appropriate ankle mobility, they will compensate by leaning forward in order to achieve squat depth. This in turn, can imbalance your bar and cause your shoulders to roll in.
FIX: Take some time to roll out and massage your calves, your feet, and your ankles. Focus on increasing your dorsiflexion. Then, with a PVC pipe, practice the overhead squat and try to keep your chest as upright as possible - positioning yourself in front of a wall is a great way to practice this!
2. Holding the bar too far behind your head.
Just as we don't want the bar too far in front, we don't want it too far behind us either. If your torso is hinging too much too accomodate poor mobility, your arms will want to push the bar further behind your head in an effort to maintain balance. At the bottom of the squat, your arms will be stretched behind you like wings, and if you have to bail out of the lift, you’ll have a hard time getting out of the bar’s way. (ouch!)
FIX: As with the previous mistake, work on your ankle mobility and keeping an upright chest throughout the overhead squat. Having a coach hold a PVC pipe behind your bar will also help guide you into the right position as you lower into your squat (just ask us and we'll kindly oblige!) You may also want to roll out your hamstrings.
3. Arching your Back/Sticking your Butt Out
This is CrossFit, not Twerking y'all! You want your spine to remain neutral throughout the overhead squat, but if you have restrictions in your shoulders or thoracic spine, you may find yourself arching your back and sticking your butt out as you lower yourself into the bottom of the squat.
FIX: Before performing any more reps, tackle your shoulders with a lacrosse ball and your thoracic spine with a foam roller.
- On your shoulders, locate tight or sore areas, apply pressure, and roll out.
- For your thoracic spine, fold your arms across your chest and roll up and down on the foam roller. Be sure not to roll out your lower back, just your mid and upper back. Then, with the middle of your back on the roller, extend your thoracic spine backward, bringing your shoulders toward the floor and keeping your lower back neutral. Perform several reps.
Once you’ve mobilised, practice the overhead squat with a PVC, focusing on an upright torso and dropping your butt straight down. Squatting between two boxes can be a great way to make sure you're not leaning too far forward or sticking your bum out too far either!
4. Rounding your lower back at the bottom of your squat
Also known as the “butt wink,” the excessive rounding of your lower back at the bottom of a squat (any squat, not just the overhead squat) destabilises your pelvis and puts your spine in an unsafe position for moving a load.
FIX: The butt wink is generally caused by mobility restrictions in the hips, hamstrings, or ankles, so take a break from squatting and focus on mobilising those areas. Then, practice the overhead squat with a PVC and focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement. Have a coach or workout buddy double-check your form (keeping in mind that neutral is a range).
It can't be denied that the overhead squat is a challenging movement, and mobility limitations are the primary cause of these common mistakes. But if you want a strong snatch and if you want to correct movement problems in your front or back squat, the overhead squat is one of the best drills to add to your training regimen.