Great job today on the overhead squats!
As you may now realize, overhead squats are tough! There’s quite a bit of mobility and functional flexibility required and to do them right, you must go light! It’s no good to dive into an intense CrossFit workout with too much weight on the bar. If you’re struggling with your overhead squat form, it’s going to be worse if you’re in a workout with a weight you can’t handle properly or safely. If your form is off, you are just developing bad movement patterns or worse, setting yourself up for injury.
THE OVERHEAD SQUAT
Here is CrossFit’s prescription for learning and developing the overhead squat. When I first started doing overhead squats, I put my ego aside, I went light and I followed the instructions below. If you do the same, you’ll be mastering this beautiful movement before you know it!
MASTERING THE OVERHEAD SQUAT
The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. This functional gem trains for efficient transfer of energy from large to small body parts – the essence of sport and athletic movement. For this reason, it is an indispensable tool for developing speed and power.
The overhead squat also demands and develops functional flexibility, and similarly develops the squat by amplifying and cruelly punishing faults in squat posture, movement and stability.
There are a couple of obstacles to learning the overhead squat. The first is a weak squat to begin with. You need to have a rock-solid squat to learn the overhead squat. Master the air squat first and everything else becomes much simpler! The second obstacle is starting with too much weight – you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of learning the overhead squat with an Olympic barbell. You’ll need to use the PVC pipe first. Use too much weight in the beginning to learn this movement and your overhead squat will be stillborn.
Here is CrossFit’s 7-step process for learning the overhead squat:
Start only when you have a strong squat and use the PVC pipe, not a weight. You should be able to maintain a rock-bottom squat with your back arched, head and eyes forward, and body weight predominantly on your heels for several minutes as a prerequisite to the overhead squat. Even an Olympic bar is way too heavy to learn the overhead squat.
Learn locked-arm “dislocates” or “pass-throughs” with the plastic PVC pipe. You want to be able to move the PVC nearly three-hundred and sixty degrees starting with the PVC down and at arm’s length in front of the body and then move it in a wide arc until it comes to rest down and behind you without so much as slightly bending your arms at any point in its travel. Start with a grip wide enough to easily pass through, and then repeatedly bring your hands in closer until passing through presents a moderate stretch of the shoulders. This is your training grip.
Be able to perform the pass-through at the top, the bottom, and everywhere in between while descending into the squat. Practice by stopping at several points on the path to the bottom, hold, and gently, slowly, swing the PVC from front to back, again, with locked arms. At the bottom of each squat, slowly bring the PVC back and forth, moving from front to back.
Learn to find the frontal plane with the PVC from every position in the squat. The frontal plane is an imaginary line that the bar needs to stay on. This line should start around the middle of the foot and extend upward to directly overhead. Come forward of the frontal plane, and you’ll lose your overhead squat, even with minimal weight. Come slightly backward of the frontal plane and you’ll still be in a fairly strong position as long as the bar doesn’t move too far backward of the frontal plane. Practice finding the frontal plane with your eyes closed. You want to develop a keen sense of where the frontal plane is located. This is the same drill as step 3, but this time you are bringing the PVC to a stop in the frontal plane and holding it briefly with each pass-through.
Start the overhead squat by standing straight and tall with the PVC held as high as possible in the frontal plane. You want to start with the PVC directly overhead, not behind you, or, worse, a little bit in front. Keep the arms perfectly straight, with elbows locked out and shoulders active.
Very slowly lower to the bottom of the squat, keeping the PVC in the frontal plane the entire time. Have a partner watch from the side to make sure that the PVC does not move forward or backward as you squat to the bottom. Moving slightly behind the frontal plane is okay, but forward is dead wrong. If you cannot keep the PVC from coming forward, your grip may be too narrow. The PVC will not stay in the frontal plane automatically; you’ll have to pull it back very deliberately as you descend.
Practice the overhead squat regularly and increase the load in tiny increments. Start with the PVC first, then the 15lb bar. Next, use the 35lb bar, but only while maintaining perfect form. There’s absolutely no benefit to adding weight if the PVC, and later the bar, cannot be kept in the frontal plane.
The overhead squat develops core control by punishing any forward wobble of the load. When the bar is held perfectly overhead and still, which is nearly impossible, the overhead squat does not present greater load on the hips or back, but moving too fast, along the wrong line of action, or wriggling, can bring even the lightest loads down like a house of cards. You have two, and only two, safe options for bailing – dumping the load forward and stepping or falling backward or dumping the load backward and stepping or falling forward. Both are safe and easy. Lateral escapes are not an option.
Once again, it cannot be stated enough, practice this movement as often as you can. Using the PVC, this becomes a superb warm-up and cool-down drill and stretch.
Once developed, the overhead squat is a thing of beauty – a masterpiece of expression in control, stability, balance, efficient power, and utility. Get on it!
400m run – deadlift (125/185)
400m run – hang power clean (105/155)
400m run – front squat (95/135)
400m run – shoulder-to-overhead (80/115)
In this workout, one person runs 400m while the other person does deadlifts, and then switch. Repeat this for the other 3 movements and keep track of total reps completed.
Each rep completed is worth 1 second. After the workout is over tally up those seconds and subtract them from your time.