Overhead Squat – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos


Muscles Targeted: The overhead squat is a powerful exercise that targets a large amount of muscle groups and it’s one of the key foundational movements used in CrossFit to develop size, strength and explosive power. This exercise engages your gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and deltoids as the primary muscles being used. Secondary muscle groups include the lower back, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and triceps. Your shoulders, legs and core are the most engaged muscles being utilized in this movement. When you have the barbell positioned above your head, it takes a lot of shoulder strength to keep it in that position when doing several repetitions. The squatting motion really targets your legs and glutes extremely well. Overhead squats are ideal for gaining muscle mass and increasing strength.

Exercise Instructions:

  • Start by placing a barbell in front of you about 1 inch away from your shins. Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and grab the barbell using an overhand grip. Before you lift, make sure your hands are wider than shoulder width apart. Once you are in this position, lift the barbell up until it is above your head.
  • With your arms fully extended and the barbell above your head, keep your head upright while looking straight ahead and make sure to keep your back straight. This is your starting position for the overhead squat.
  • Using a slow and controlled tempo, lower the weight down by bending your knees until you get to a position where your thighs are parallel to the ground. Inhale as you lower yourself down into the squat position. Your arms should remain extended throughout the entire movement. Also, make sure your back is kept straight to prevent any lower back injuries.
  • Press with your heels and extend your legs back up from the squat position until you are standing. Keep a slight bend in your knees at the top in order to keep all of the tension on your quadriceps. That completes a full repetition of the overhead barbell squat. If you are doing multiple reps, transition smoothly back down into the squat position and repeat for your desired number of repetitions before placing the barbell back on the ground.

Things To Avoid:

  • Using too much weight. When doing overhead squats, it is very important to choose a weight you are comfortable lifting. Doing this will prevent you from incurring injuries and it will make the movement much more beneficial since you will be executing it correctly.
  • Rotating your shoulders. Avoid rotating your shoulders when you have the barbell over your head. Doing this might cause joint issues. If you notice you do not have control of the barbell, you probably need to reduce the amount of weight you are lifting.
  • Extending the knees too far. When doing the squat portion of this movement, avoid extending your knees past your toes.
  • Not warming up. Since this exercise is challenging and targets several different muscle groups in the body, it is very important to warm-up thoroughly before you start. Warming up prepares your muscles for the exercise and helps to prevent injuries.

Reps and Sets: Overhead squats are intense so make sure to use very light weight when first starting out so you can get the technique spot-on before increasing the weight. If you are a beginner, it is recommended to get help from a CrossFit instructor and practice until you perfect your form. If you are advanced then you can start with 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions and work your way up to a weight that you feel comfortable with. Only increase the weight once you are sure you have mastered the movement and gained enough strength to lift heavier weights.

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