The overhead squat – some thoughts

As a coach I always put aside some time each month for reflective practice to make sure my coaching is where it should be and my athletes are getting the best methods of delivery. I also spend a lot of time thinking about my methods; why I do what I do, what I hope to gain from it, what works with which athlete etc. In the words of the Fast Show sketch, this week I have been mostly thinking about…the overhead squat (not a bad idea for a series of blog posts this, so you might see it crop up again!). So here are my musings.

The overhead squat is a great exercise, as a movement screen tool it’s brilliant for highlighting flexibility, imbalance and movement issues. To progress with as a tool for developing movements and improving flexibility it is also excellent and will feature in the majority of programs I write, at the very least as part of the warm up.

When you start to use a little more load, I find great development of shoulder proprioception and core strength (particularly if you vary the loading at either end of the bar) as well as recruitment of upper back musculature for scapula setting. This last point is of particular importance I find with habitual desk sitters!

So far it sounds like the perfect exercise, one or two of you might have detected a ‘but’ on the way so here it is….but issues start to crop up when the loading continues to increase to develop lower limb strength. Heavy loads put a lot of strain on the shoulder and the wrists and it’s more often than not these areas that cause a failure rather than leg strength. Front squats, back squats and deadlifts, for me, are much better developers of lower limb strength. Standing dumbell shoulder presses provide great proprioceptive training (also try barbell standing shoulder presses and hang a couple of dumbells with bands at either end….see what you think) as well as improving shoulder strength. So where does the overhead squat fit in?

It’s a necessary component with athletes you’re looking to develop the snatch with, it provides a greater core challenge than many other lifts and it greatly aids shoulder girdle stabilisation. The amount of use and how it is used will vary dependant upon the needs of the athlete and it will appear more often with overhead sports, but care should definitely be taken when picking suitable and safe loads for your athletes.

Neil Welch

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