Obliterating the Overhead Squat


A Part of Fierce Play's Barbell Powerlifting Series

The overhead squat is a variation of a barbell squat and is an exercise used to strengthen the lower half of the body. Just as the name implies, the overhead squat requires that the athlete perform a squat while holding a barbell above his/her head, with arms in a locked out position. Just as with the air squat, the back squat or front squat, the overhead squat requires good hip, ankle, and torso mobility to get the hip crease below the knees.  The overhead squat also requires good stability and mobility in the core and shoulder muscles to ensure the bar stays steady above the head while the athlete completes the full range of motion for the squat. Athletes will immediately feel leg muscles activated as they perform the movement, with the bulk of the exercise focusing on the use of the quadriceps, but also an activation of core and shoulder muscles as they keep the torso in proper position.

Watch the video clip below for a full explanation of technique, tips and tricks for performing the movement with efficiency, as well as precautions for staying safe.



  1. Set Up at Shoulder Height: Set up the j-hooks and barbell to be just below shoulder height as you stand in front of the rig. This will allow for you to easily get the barbell on and off of your shoulders before and after you perform the squat movement.
  2. Shoulders Back and Elbows Up: As you push the bar up overhead, continually try to keep your shoulders rotated back while your arms are fully locked out. To help with this, also focus on gaining external rotation in your elbows by pushing the pits of your elbows up toward the ceiling to create torque in your arms and keep the bar stable. This will ensure your shoulders don’t rotate forward into an unsafe position that may cause strain on the joint.
  3. Arms in a V: To find a correct grip, place your hands a ways out from the smooth part of the knurling, or rougher patterned part, of the bar. Depending on your mobility, some athletes are able to put their hands closer together on the bar. However, if you’re just getting started, place them farther apart to create more stability while you keep the bar overhead. However close or far you choose to put your hands, you will see that all athletes have a slight V in their arms, versus holding arms straight above their heads.
  4. Remember the Basics: As you perform the overhead squat, keep the basics of the air squat in mind: keep your feet about hips’ width apart; ensure toes are straight forward or possibly slightly angled out, depending on your mobility; keep your weight in the heels with your butt back; stay focused on moving the knees directly out over the feet; and maintain an upright chest. All of these are essential to perform the squat without injury.
  5. Look Straight Ahead: As athletes focus on keeping proper form, it’s common to see them look down at their legs or toward the ground. However, this actually pulls you forward and throws you out of position, especially since the weight is in front of your body. Focus on keeping eyes forward to keep the rest of your body in proper alignment.
  6. Focus on Range of Motion: When dropping into the squat, proper range of motion is having your hip crease below the knee. This helps take weight and pressure off the knee itself and engages your glute and hamstring muscles to provide maximum strength for your entire leg versus just the quadriceps muscles. Also be sure to fully extend hips open at the top of the movement for the most bang for your buck.

SCALING: Sometimes our mobility or lack of strength can hinder us as we attempt to perform the overhead squat with proper form.  Remember: Scaling isn’t a negative thing! It will help you gain strength while staying in a safe position until ultimately you can perform the movement in its entirety. Stay encouraged that as you continue on your fitness journey, you will find that you won’t have to scale as significantly or as often.

  1. Consider Shoulder Mobility: If you struggle to keep the bar overhead with your arms locked out, or without your arms falling too far forward or backward, you may have shoulder mobility issues that are hindering you. If that’s the case, this may be a movement where you need to work up to adding weight onto a barbell to safely perform it.
  2. Lower the Load: If mobility isn’t an issue but you’re still struggling to keep the barbell safely overhead in a locked out position, lower the weight. It may take a bit of time and practice to increase your weight for this movement, as it’s one of the most complex squat movements we perform.

QUESTIONS: Ready to get started, or curious to learn more about how Fierce Play can help you meet your health and wellness goals? Contact us for more information. Also feel free to check out more of our videos series to learn how to perform the basics with solid form and efficiency. 


Fierce Play’s Barbell Powerlifting Series focuses on proper technique, as well as tips & tricks, to master some of the foundational movements that will be integrated into many of the workouts you will perform. Start your next workout with the confidence and skills to do the movement safely and effectively.