3 Ways To Improve The Overhead Squat

Let’s be honest, the overhead squat is a constant headache for most CrossFitters.  Yes, there are plenty of other skills that are much more complex, such as the muscle-up, hand-stand walks, and all that other jazz, but  the general population involved in CrossFit to simply get in shape will not be doing those movements.  The overhead squat is different. This is a movement that we see everyday in Met-cons, from Level 1 Foundations all the way to Level 3 Competitive. We are exposed to this movement a lot, which means a higher percentage of people doing it wrong.  You way be looking in the wrong spots to become more proficient at the overhead squat.

Ankle Flexibility

This is not typically the one that people look at first, but being an Olympic Weightlifting Coach and knowing what the Weightlifting shoes do for people, this is usually my first observation.  One of the hardest things to do in the overhead squat is to keep the torso upright.  To some extent, we can get away with the torso being slightly forward in the traditional back squat or front squat.  In the overhead squat the torso angle directly affects the shoulder angle in attempting to keep the bar over our hips.  The inability of the ankles to properly dorsiflex will cause the hips to rise when attempting full depth, which will push your torso forward and put your shoulders in a less than desirable position.  An easy fix for this would be raising the heal with a 5kg plate or the use of weightlifting shoes.  No matter what, you must continue to work on ankle flexibility.  I have had some fantastic luck with voodoo floss around the ankles and inch-worms.

Thoracic Spine Mobility

Many of the athletes at CFA have heard this over and over, but it is important.  Often tightness and hyperkyphosis here will make the overhead position impossible. You can also identify if you have a “pivot point” in your spine.  Athletes will commonly get extension from a certain location on the spine, which neglects the other vertebrae.  To test this lie on your stomach and press up with you arms.  You should theoretically have a nice fluid curvature of the spine, but sometimes you will see the back angle more aggressively (usually in the lumbar spine), and other locations with much less extension (usually the thoracic spine).  If you see this in yourself, chances are you are trying to get extension from your lumbar spine that you should be getting from your thoracic spine.  By simply getting into that position for 30 minutes a night while you watch T.V. and focusing on letting your t-spine and shoulder blades relax , will make a difference.  You can also try getting a half foam roller or a rolled up towel and lie on it with your spine perpendicular to it. Start it at the bottom of your T-spine and work your way up to the top, lying flat and trying to relax your back around the roll. Lastly,  regular foam rolling up and down the T-spine will help mobilize it.


This last one is probably the most important.  The fact is that you have to be strong to do this movement.  I have seen plenty of individuals with the flexibility to get into great positions, but can barely support the PVC pipe.  This takes patience. You must build up your strength and mobility before pushing your self into a position that you are not prepared for.  If you force bad positions simply to get full range of motion in a work-out, you are heading backwards in your fight to be a bad-ass.  In the world of CrossFit there is a constant pressure to become proficient in many movements, really fast.  That’s not the way it works for most individuals.  So remember, Air Squat>Back Squat>Front Squat>Overhead Squat.  When you work through that progression and you find difficulty in a certain movement, THEN YOU STOP.  If you have overhead squats in a workout and you do not feel comfortable enough, especially at high intensity, then work your way down the progression until you do.  This goes for all movements in CrossFit.  In your off time work on your strength and flexibility at a low intensity, and you will be there in no time.

-Coach Thomas Lower