Overhead Squat: The Technique, Advantages and Pitfalls

If you master the technique of the overhead squat, you'll be able to control your squats to perfection. Start by discovering how to perform them, the benefits they bring, and the common mistakes to avoid.
Overhead Squat: The Technique, Advantages and Pitfalls
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 04 October, 2022

The overhead squat is an exercise that requires a great deal of perseverance and preparation. It also requires a lot of strength.

In this case, the term “overhead” refers to height. To do this exercise, you have to carry a barbell with a given weight high above your head while performing a squat.

You need to maintain a stable posture of your arms when the weight is overhead. You also need to leverage and mix your energy between your core strength and shoulder mobility.

The technique for performing an overhead squat

This routine represents a more demanding squat. You start by standing, holding the bar above your head, and then lower yourself into a squat position.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best if the bar has no extra weight at first, so you can focus on technique. You can add a load to the bar later.

The most important thing is that you practice the correct way to perform the movement at the beginning without worrying about the weight you’re carrying. Pay attention to the following steps for a proper overhead squat.

1. Rest the barbell on your shoulders

Start with the barbell on your back, resting on your shoulders. Your hands should be wider than shoulder-width apart, and you should turn them outward to engage the lateral muscles. Point your elbows toward the floor.

overhead squat
Some barbell materials have less weight, such as PVC pipes. You can start with these if you’re a beginner.

2. Activate your core

Next, you should activate your core while tensing your hips and shoulders. Bend your knees a little so you can lower your hips and start to bring the bar above your head. While you do this, you need to keep your chest up and your back straight.

3. Push up

Then, push the bar overhead with a lot of force. It should rest on the central core of your palms. Extend your wrists slightly to make this position as comfortable as possible.

4. Maintain your balance

At this point, you must consolidate the position of the weight on your head. You do this by thrusting your hands upward, stretching your arms with your elbows extended as far as possible.

Your back and shoulders should support the bar at its highest point. Throughout the routine, your chin should be tucked inward toward your body.

5. Keep the weight distributed evenly

Distribute the weight equally. Every single repetition you perform should start from this position.

Start the squat movement by bending from your hips, through your knees, to your ankles. You should keep your elbows extended and chest up with your hands holding the bar.

6. Do a push-up

When lowering your legs, they should be parallel to the floor. Lower as far as you can without shifting your pelvis.

Then, align your knees with your feet and hold the bar on a level halfway between your feet. Propel your feet up to start the process of standing.

Keep your chest high, your back straight, and squeeze your glutes. Your hips need to extend as well.

7. Return to a neutral position

Finally, your pelvis should return to a neutral position. Then, you can start performing two to three sets with 3-8 repetitions. Gradually, you will master this exercise and add more weight.

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The advantages of performing overhead squats

When you perform this demanding movement, there are many positive effects that your body adopts, from increased overall strength to a positive development of your joint mobility.

It’s a multifunctional routine

You may find yourself limited by being able to lift a barbell, but that’s no reason to stop practicing it. This movement can be adapted to any situation.

If you can’t get a barbell, you can perform it with any dumbbell or even a kettlebell. In addition, this is an exercise that combines weight lifting with a classic squat.

It revitalizes the abdomen and your mobility

These squats are responsible for activating your abdomen throughout the exercise to prevent you from losing stability. Many joints are worked, so your shoulders, hips, and ankles all benefit from overhead squats.

It helps you build upper body strength

When you do overhead squats, your upper and lower body muscles are strengthened. The deltoids, triceps, hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps, and lower back musculature are all maximized and strengthened this way.

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Mistakes you have to avoid when doing overhead squats

The demand of this exercise implies that you perform it with great care so you don’t make any mistakes. The better prepared you are, the better your results will be.

Don’t lean forward

Leaning forward can be difficult, depending on the weight you’re carrying and how it affects your balance. This is a common mistake to avoid while bending your legs.

If this happens, the bar may move forward, and you risk dropping it. This movement unbalances your center of gravity and requires firm ground support, as well as a neutral back.

Bending your knees incorrectly

With any type of squat you’ve ever performed, it’s common to bend your knees inward. This mistake comes from a lack of strength in the feet or hips. Instead, you should focus on contracting your glutes to drive the knees outward.

injuries from not doing squats correctly
This exercise is demanding on the knee joint. The proper technique minimizes wear and tear on the cartilage.

Poor shoulder mobility

Poor mobility in your shoulders can lead to mistakes, such as you slumping your arms forward. One of the most important positions is when you hold the weight of the bar with your arms straight.

If you’re not able to do this safely, you run the risk of dropping the bar on yourself and injuring yourself. You can correct this mistake with previous shoulder stretching exercises.

Twisting your spine

If you tend to tilt your spine easily, it’s a mistake you need to overcome. Remember that your back will support the other parts of your body.

If your back fails, your arms or legs most likely will as well. Dedicate yourself to improving thoracic extension and core strength to achieve the correct posture.

Inflexible ankles

If your ankles are not flexible enough, this can lead to problems. Firm ankles support the pressure of your knees on your toes. They also serve as a counterweight.

Some final recommendations for doing overhead squats

There are a few basic materials you need for this exercise. You can perform overhead squats with a kettlebell or dumbbell, but if you decide to do them with a barbell, you have to keep in mind that you need discs with different weights. If the weight you lift is heavy, we advise you to wear a weightlifting lumbar belt.

To learn the overhead squat technique correctly, start by doing them without any weight. It’s best to use a plastic tube or any barbell substitute.

You should also always take three steps beforehand. First, warm up your shoulders, hips, and ankles with exercises. Then, practice free squats. Finally, make sure you learn the technique without weights. This challenging exercise requires a lot of commitment and perseverance.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Otín R. ¿CrossFit para todos? Universidad de Zaragoza. España: 2019.
  • Ramírez L, Chaparro R. La sentadilla: un ejercicio fundamental en la actividad física y el deporte. Revista digital, actividad física y deporte. 2015; 1 (1): 95-106.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.