Movement Monday: Overhead Squats


Movement Monday
Overhead Squat

As coaches we program for specific demands and adaptations on the body. We don’t pick movements because they are hard or because they look cool. Anyone can make a workout challenging.

We create training programs for adaptation and injury prevention.

When thinking of these specific adaptations we also need to think of the purpose behind the movement and the stress it creates on the body. Again any movement can be made harder or easier based on volume (sets and reps) and intensity (weight lifted).

With injury prevention we need to take into consideration a few factors. Since I work with general population primarily, I weight in more on what their overall goals are and what are the risk vs the rewards.

For this series of Movement Monday, I have chosen the overhead squat, primarily as I was asked recently if I will ever program the overhead squat at Live Your Fitness.

So let’s breakdown the overhead squat:


• Movement Assessment (FMS)
• Scapular stabilization and overall shoulder stability of the shoulder girdle
• Snatch skill and technique work

What I have heard/seen it been used for:

• Conditioning
• Core strength
• Leg Strength
• Upper Body Strength
• Because it looks cool

The overhead squat is truly one of my favorite movements, so before you shoot the messenger, hear me out.
Most people don’t have the requisite mobility to properly execute the overhead squat. There is a reason they use the movement as a movement screen. There are many joints and moving parts to take into consideration and they all need to fall in line to be performed properly, or you risk the potential for injury. Training is to prevent injury, not facilitate it. Why risk an injury just to do something cool, because you forced yourself into a movement your body wasn’t ready for.

Whether you have the requisite mobility or not to perform the movement, what is the purpose of doing it in the first place. If you are training to build lower or upper body strength, there are better movements to do that:

• Squat
• Deadlift
• Press

If you are an Olympic weightlifter, then yes you do need to train the overhead squat for technique and skill acquisition for the snatch. But you are not training the movement to build your lower or upper body strength. That is why most of their programs consist of back squat, front squat, heavy pulls and jerks and presses.

If you compete in CrossFit at the higher levels, where in competition they do higher reps, then you will need to train in that realm. Very sparingly though. Build overhead pressing strength and shoulder stability and you will be fine. There are better ways to condition the arms:

• Heavy carries
• Battling Ropes
• Medball Slams
• Banded circuits
• Bear Crawls and other timed prone positions

I have read that overhead squat is the “ultimate core exercise”. Core can be a limiting factor for this movement, so why train a weak muscle by taking heavy weight overhead. I can think of other safer ways to train anterior core strength:

• Front squats
• Deadlifts
• Planks
• Dying Bugs
• Bear Crawls
• Bird Dogs
• Breathing and Bracing techniques

Using the overhead squat as a conditioning based movement truly blows my mind. Why take a movement built around scapular stability, which is usually very weak and undertrained for most, and have them perform a high amount of reps to near failure. All while holding a moderate to heavy weight overhead.

If you can’t define what type of “conditioning” you are training than the program needs to be revised. If the conditioning is to build heart and toughness, then the coach needs to rethink his training philosophy and what he is doing. A crushing workout doesn’t build heart, it does the exact opposite. It breaks that person down, mentally and physically.

Again, I truly love the overhead squat, but it can take years to master. A one hour session will not give you the skill and mastery for the movement. Even having the mobility to perform the movement, you still need to build the stability in.

I currently have chosen not to program the overhead squat into my gyms program bc the risk vs the reward is just not there. I can build strength, stability, character etc… by using sound programming in a safe and effective manner. I will use the overhead squat as a movement assessment to test and retest progress.

Does this mean I will never program them again? No, I will use them when the time is right and when it fits into the training plan. The safety of my clients comes first.

About the author:
Michael Koenig
CSCS, LMT, FMS, USAW Performance Coach, XPS

Michael Koenig is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Licensed Massage Therapist in Orlando Florida.

He is the owner of Live Your Fitness, a group fitness training facility centered on bringing the individual approach into the group fitness realm. He has been strength training for 8 years now and has worked in multiple fields ranging from CrossFit, professional wakeboarder and corporate wellness.