The overhead squat is an extremely difficult movement that requires mobility in 4 major regions of the body, the shoulders, the thoracic spine, the hips and the ankles. If you’re human, then you likely have a deficit in one of these 4 regions (if not multiple) leading to a faulty overhead squat. Not only does the overhead squat require adequate mobility in these 4 regions, it also requires a tremendous amount of core stability, shoulder stability, and balance. I think Greg Glassman said it beautifully when he said,
So let me break it down for you region by region starting with the shoulders. When holding a barbell in a proper overhead position your shoulders will have a combination of flexion, abduction, and external rotation. Now there are way too many muscles that attach to the shoulder to list, but two major culprits limiting this overhead position are likely the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi. The pecs and the lats act in combination to extend, adduct and internally rotate your shoulders which is why they will hinder this movement if they are tight. In a society with way too many desk jobs, smart phones, and poor posture, humans new “resting position” is an internally rotated shoulder already setting you at a disadvantage for overhead squats. Work on getting out of that resting position, stretch your lats, stretch your pecs, open up your chest, and strengthen your external rotators. Make a conscious effort to work on your posture, every. Single. Day.
Now, maybe shoulder mobility is not an issue for you. Your shoulders are always loose, stretches don’t do much for you, and PVC pass throughs are a piece of cake, maybe your shoulders are even hyper-mobile, but you still struggle with keeping the bar path overhead. If you’re the athlete who’s torso bends parallel with the ground while the shoulders are rolled so far back in order to keep the bar vertical while descending into your OHS, it’s time to take a look at the thoracic spine. As previously mentioned, in today’s society so much time is spent in spinal flexion that your body adapts to this shortened position. Chances are you bend over a lot more throughout the day than you extend backwards. Spend 5-10 minutes a day working on thoracic extension and thoracic rotation, your mid-back pain and tightness will thank you.
Working our way down the body, next up is the hips. You need full hip flexion (knees to chest), in order to perform a below parallel squat. In the physical therapy world, the Thomas Test is used to assess hip flexion. Tight hip flexors, quadriceps, or IT band can affect the end position of the Thomas Test and limit hip flexion, so stretches for these 3 muscle groups can help improve your squat. If your muscles aren’t tight, but you have a pinching feeling in the hip then you might have a joint restriction. A good way to mobilize the hip joint is with banded mobilizations. When using banded mobilizations, you want the band pulling posteriorly or laterally in order to open up the joint space and to pull the femur posteriorly. Athletes commonly set up this banded distraction incorrectly where they have the band pulling their femur anteriorly which in fact could be worsening the impingement.
Lastly, we have reached the ankles. The ankle mobility needed for a squat is dorsiflexion and a small degree of lateral glide. The most common limiting factor for ankle dorsiflexion is calf tightness. There are two muscles in your calf that could restrict ankle dorsiflexion, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Turning your toes in or out during a calf stretch can target the medial or lateral heads of the gastroc. In order to target the soleus over the gastroc try a calf stretch with a slight bend in your knee. If you want to target the joint specifically, instead of the musculature surrounding the joint, then banded mobilizations of the ankle are done just like the banded hip mobilizations mentioned above.
After ALLLL of this mobility is up to par, then next is the stability, core control and balance that makes this lift so hated by many. Please let us know if you have any questions, want a free assessment, or want to work 1on1 with a coach!
Written by: Faith Farley one of our Individual Design 1on1 coaches and programmer of the upper/lower body Mobility/Stability programs. If you are interested in doing one of our mobility or stability programs then click the button above or if you are interested in working with Faith 1on1 please fill out this request HERE.
Faith Farley -Doctorate of Physical Therapy, B.S. Exercise Sports Science