Overhead Squat (Technique, Benefits, & Muscles Worked)

May 5, 2023

Are you an olympic weightlifter looking to improve your performance and master the overhead squat?

Mastering the overhead squat in Olympic weightlifting is essential for building strength, mobility, and technique.

But how can I improve my overhead squat, and what overhead squat variations can I add to my program?

How To Overhead Squat

To perform an overhead squat, follow these simple steps:

  • Set up a barbell with the desired weight, and grip the bar using a wide, snatch grip.
  • The barbell will be placed behind the neck on top of the traps; the bar can be snatched up or removed from a squat rack.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Keep your core tight, take a deep aggressive breath, dip and drive and push the bar overhead with your arms locked out. The bar can either be pushed up, or power jerked can be performed behind the neck in the snatch grip.
  • With your chest up and core engaged, ensure your arms stay locked out overhead, squat down as deep as you can, and ensure your feet remain flat.
  • Once you have squatted down, you will stand back up until you reach the tall position. You will then either perform the required reps or rack the bar on the back to end off the lift.

Overhead Squat Benefits

The overhead squat is an essential exercise for Olympic weightlifting enthusiasts, providing numerous benefits to overall performance.

Improved Core Strength

Overhead squats, from your abs to your lower back muscles, engage your core. A strong core is crucial for maintaining balance and stability during Olympic lifts and protects your spine from injuries.


As you consistently practice overhead squats, you’ll notice an increase in core strength, enabling you to perform other weightlifting exercises with greater ease and efficiency.

Increased Shoulder Strength And Stability

Keeping the barbell overhead during the overhead squat places a significant demand on your shoulder muscles and joints, improving their stability over time. This increased stability can translate to better control and power in other Olympic lifts, such as the snatch, clean, and jerk.

Increases Lower Body Strength

Overhead squats work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, helping to build lower body strength and power. The overhead squat is a great squat variation, although you cannot go as heavy as a front or back squat in this lift.

Better Balance and Coordination

The overhead squat requires a high degree of balance and coordination, as you must maintain control of the barbell while squatting. Practicing the overhead squat will increase your mind-body connection when holding the bar in the overhead position and squatting down.

Development of Proper Weightlifting Technique:

Overhead squats are an excellent tool for developing and refining your technique needed for Olympic weightlifting.

By practicing this exercise, you can improve your flexibility, mobility, and body awareness, essential for executing lifts like the snatch and clean, and jerk with precision and efficiency.

The overhead squat is also a great exercise to teach beginner-level athletes the progression of the snatch by first learning how it feels to have the weight overhead with locked-out arms and going into a squat.

Overhead Squat Muscles Worked

The overhead squat is a comprehensive exercise that targets numerous muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, shoulders, upper back, and core.

How To Improve Overhead Squat Mobility?

Overhead Squat Benefits

Improving mobility is essential for Olympic weightlifters looking to master the overhead squat. By focusing on key areas and incorporating specific exercises, athletes can enhance their mobility, leading to better performance and reduced risk of injury.

Focus on improving mobility in the thoracic spine, shoulders, hips, and ankles, as these areas play a significant role in executing the overhead squat efficiently. Identify any specific limitations and tailor your mobility work to address these concerns.

Incorporate dynamic stretches and mobility exercises in your warm-up routine before each training session.

These stretches and mobility exercises will help to loosen up your muscles, joints, and connective tissues, preparing your body for the demands of the overhead squat. Examples of dynamic stretches include leg swings, arm circles, and hip circles.

Utilize foam rollers, massage balls, or other self-myofascial release tools to release tension and tightness in the muscles and fascia. Foam rollers can help to improve flexibility and range of motion in key areas—target muscle groups such as the upper back, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Include specific exercises that target the key areas mentioned earlier. Some examples are:

Thoracic spine mobility: Foam rolling and thoracic extensions

Shoulder mobility: Shoulder dislocates and wall slides

Hip mobility: Hip circles and deep squats

Ankle mobility: Ankle stretches and calf raises

Improving mobility takes time and consistent effort. Incorporate mobility exercises into your training routine several times weekly, and be patient with your progress. Remember that it may take weeks or even months to see significant improvements.

Why Is The Overhead Squat So Hard?

Overhead Squat Muscles Worked

The overhead squat is often considered one of the most challenging exercises in Olympic weightlifting.

Executing this complex movement requires strength, mobility, stability, and coordination. If you are an athlete like myself who wasn’t mobile, this movement will need a lot of focus and work.

The overhead squat demands a high level of mobility in multiple joints, including the thoracic spine, shoulders, hips, and ankles. Many athletes need help to achieve the necessary range of motion, which can hinder their ability to perform the movement with proper form and technique.

Maintaining stability and balance throughout the overhead squat is challenging, as the barbell is held overhead while squatting.

This position requires significant core strength, shoulder stability, and body control to prevent you from missing the bar, either forward or backward.

The overhead squat is a highly technical movement requiring precise coordination between muscle groups and body segments.

Weightlifters must maintain a stable overhead position, keep their chest upright, and achieve proper depth in the squat simultaneously. This complexity makes it challenging to master the movement, especially for beginners.

The overhead squat also requires a lot of strength in the upper back and shoulders which takes time to develop and needs to be trained intentionally to improve your overhead movement.

How To Program The Overhead Squat For Weightlifting?

Incorporating the overhead squat into your weightlifting program is essential for improving your performance in Olympic lifts such as the snatch.

Depending on your goal, the overhead squat can be programmed between 70-100% of your 1RM snatch for 4-6 Sets and 1-3 repetitions.

It’s essential to note that when you are a beginner-level athlete, I recommend starting with just the bar, mastering the technique first, and then adding some weight.

Overhead Squat Variations

Overhead Squat Technique

Pause Overhead Squats

In this variation, hold the bottom position of the squat for 2-3 seconds before standing up. This pause helps develop control, stability, and confidence in the bottom position while improving mobility and strength.

Overhead Squat with Bands or Chains

Attach resistance bands or chains to the barbell to add variable resistance to the movement. This variation challenges your stability and control throughout the entire range of motion, as the resistance increases as you stand up from the squat.

Narrow Grip Overhead Squats

Perform the overhead squat with a narrower grip on the barbell, which places a greater demand on shoulder mobility and stability. This variation can help to identify and address any limitations in shoulder mobility.

Overhead Box Squats

Perform the overhead squat while sitting back on a box or bench at the bottom of the movement. The box squat encourages proper squat mechanics, and keeping the chest upright, while also allowing you to focus on maintaining a stable overhead position.

Overhead squatting to a box is an excellent variation for an athlete who might be injured or needs to work on becoming mobile in the squat position.

Single-Arm Overhead Squats

Perform the overhead squat while holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell with one hand. This unilateral variation challenges your core stability, balance, and shoulder stability more than the traditional overhead squat.

Tempo Overhead Squats

Execute the overhead squat with a specific tempo, such as a slow 3-4 second descent followed by an explosive ascent. This variation helps to develop control and stability throughout the movement while also increasing time under tension and promoting strength gains.


The overhead squat is a vital and challenging exercise for Olympic weightlifters. By practicing the movement and focusing on mobility, you can enhance your weightlifting performance.

As you progress in your training, you will not only develop the physical strength and stability required for this demanding exercise, but you will also gain the confidence needed to lift more weight overhead. Overall this is an excellent exercise for beginner to advanced-level weightlifters.

About the Author

Mona is a Bronze Medalist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She has been competing Internationally for 20 years in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and has also been African Champion, Commonwealth Champion, and the youngest South African Weightlifter to compete on the International stage.

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