The overhead squat (OHS) is by far my favorite lift. Watching someone put weight over their head, squat below parallel and stand up is just awesome. The OHS helped me find and correct many of my squat deficiencies, and added so much strength to my performance. Not to mention, there is nothing like dropping weight from overhead.
Stabilizing weight overhead improves your shoulder stability, core strength and focus. There will come a day when your OHS is limited by your max push jerk. This is due to your relative strength between your shoulders and your glutes/hams. The OHS was the first time I truly felt my glutes activate. It was also the first time after a few heavy reps that I failed due to glute/ham fatigue instead of core or shoulder weakness.
With practice you will find the most comfortable position for the bar during the squat. This will always be directly above the front of the heel. Depending on your squat maturity, flexibility and torso position you will have to pull the bar back or pull it WAY back. Once you have found your sweet spot, your OHS will start to improve quite dramatically. Hello PR!!
The OHS is the telltale lift. All on its own it will find your squat deficiencies, your strength deficiencies and your flexibility deficiencies. Look at this as a positive, and work to improve every challenge that comes to light. By fixing your OHS you will find improvement in so many other movements.
FAULTS and FIXES
Shoulder flexibility – not being able to hold the bar overhead in the correct position. Both the weight and you are falling forward. Your body will compensate with knees coming forward and caving in. This causes horrible stresses on your lower back
Fix – work on shoulder flexibility. Practice your OHS with PVC only until you gain your flexibility. Front squats are a great substitute.
Quad dominance – squat comes forward, knees start to cave in, weight shifts from the heel and lateral area of the foot to the ball and medial area of the foot. Glutes/hams don’t activate or they relax at some point in the squat. America is quad dominant. We tend to love the leg extension machine and covet large quadriceps. Hey, it’s hard to get a good look at our hamstrings in the mirror.
Fix 1– Imagine that with both feet you are standing on a piece of paper. Actively rip the paper apart with your feet. This will engage your adductors to help pull your knees outward. You will feel pressure on the heel and lateral area of the foot. This “fix” should be performed for every squat whether air, front, back or OH.
Fix 2 – Contract your gluts at the beginning of every squat. Continue contraction throughout your squat. Reset the contraction before each rep.
Fix 3 – Reach your butt back to a med ball or box. Place a medicine ball or low box behind you as you squat. Actively reach your butt back towards the target. If the target is the correct height, you may allow your butt to kiss the surface. Don’t sit down. The key is to send your force glute/ham activation. If the target is too low just reach for it. You don’t actually have to touch it.
Fix 4 – Drills against the wall. Stand with your back to a wall at a distance of one of your own foot lengths away. Set up as you would for an air squat. Allow your butt to reach back and touch the wall. Your shoulders should not be touching the wall. Descend to the bottom position of your squat, and hold for a count of 3. Actively push your butt into the wall, push your knees out (rip the paper) and press your heels into the ground to start your ascent. Do your best to prevent your chest from rocking forward (If this is a problem, remember to tighten your core and bear down. Return to the top position of the squat with hips full extended. Your butt should not be in contact with the wall at the top position.
Incorrect head position – Looking up at the ceiling or down at your feet will throw off your balance, and reduce the recruitment of maximum potential strength.
Fix: Keep head in a neutral position throughout the lift (any lift).
Gyrating midsection – Before, during or at the top of the lift you might feel your body shaking. Your core strength is tested to the limits when squatting with weight overhead. A weak, fatigued or relaxed midsection will actually start to shake and gyrate forward and back in an effort to stabilize the weight and protect the back.
Fix: Practice your OH presses as well as your squats. The more you have weight overhead the more your body will adapt to the new stresses. Your strength and balance will increase with time and your max will start to inch up.
The OHS will help you to find and fine-tune many of your deficiencies. One more step towards self improvement and greatness!!