After you’ve mastered both the air squat and the front squat, the next step is to get that barbell overhead! Holding a weight locked out overhead gives that weight a huge amount of leverage which allows it to place a huge amount of torque on both the shoulder and the hip joints, creating a potent stimulus for strengthening your traps, delts, pecs, and all the muscles of your core.
The grip for the overhead squat is a wide grip, and is the same that you would use when performing a snatch. There are a few ways you can determine what grip you should use. One way is to grab a dowel and perform a shoulder dislocate. To do this, start with your hands out wide on the dowel, and bring the bar from in front of you at your waist, all the way overhead and down to your lower back. Make sure you keep your elbows straight through the entire movement. If you can easily perform the movement, move your hands in an inch on either side of the dowel and repeat. Keep on sliding your hands in until you get to the point where your shoulders begin to stick. Make sure you don’t force your shoulders through the movement! The point where the dislocate begins to stick is generally a good place to grip an overhead squat. However, if you are overly flexible, this method will not give you a reliable place to grip the bar, as your hands will be in too narrow and the bar will be too high above your head. Another guide line is to grip the bar in a place that puts it approximately 8 inches over your head. If your shoulders are very inflexible and you cannot get the bar 8 inches over your head, you should work on developing better flexibility through the shoulders before you really try to tackle the overhead squat, and stick to using a very light bar or dowel to avoid injuring yourself before you are ready to perform the movement.
Another important aspect of the grip is whether your wrists are in a stable position or not. If there is too much radial deviation (if your wrist is too rotated thumb side towards your body) then there will be a significant strain placed on them. Make sure that your wrists feel strong and stable at the width that you choose, and if you feel too much pressure on either side of the wrist, try narrowing your grip to get your wrists into a straighter position. During the lift, trying to pull the bar apart from the centre and showing your armpits can help improve the stability of your grip.
Once you’ve figured out what grip suits you best, the next stage is to get the weight overhead. If you know how to perform a snatch, you can snatch the weight into position. Otherwise, you will need to use a rack. One option is to set the barbell high on the rack so you can get underneath it with a proper grip and arms at full lockout, and then stand up with the weight overhead.
If your rack isn’t tall enough to receive the bar at full lockout, you can perform a wide-grip push press or a snatch drop to get the bar in place. Start with the bar either racked on your shoulders or on top of your traps. Putting the weight on the back makes it easier to get overhead, as your face will not get in the way so the bar can travel straight up overhead. Move your hands out to the proper grip position, and then dip down with your hips and drive the weight up hard overhead, using your legs. At this point, you can either continue pushing the weight overhead, making it a wide-grip push press, or you can drop down underneath the weight and catch it at full lockout, making it a snatch drop (or wide-grip push jerk if you like).
Once the weight is overhead, you are ready to perform the overhead squat. The form is the same as for the air and front squats. Drop your hips back, keep your weight in your heels, keep your chest up, and push your knees apart. Keep your shoulders active, i.e. press the bar up towards the ceiling, keeping your shoulders up near your ears, and keep your arms locked out tight. Remember to try and pull the bar apart from the middle, and pull back your shoulder blades, exposing your arm pits. The tighter you can keep everything, the easier the lift will be.
The overhead squat is all about balance and control. The weight needs to stay over the middle of your foot, and can generally be maintained from the start of your shoelaces to the back of your heel. If the bar travels too far forwards or backwards you will lose the lift. If you do happen to lose it, knowing how to bail properly can save you from injury. If you start the lose the bar forwards, just back away from it and let the bar fall to the ground, keeping your hands on it the entire time. If you start to lose the bar backwards, pull your arms in as you walk forwards, and the weight will fall harmlessly to the ground behind you. Do not let the bar pull your shoulders back farther than your flexibility allows, as this could do a lot of unnecessary damage to your shoulder joints!
When done properly, the overhead squat is one of the most effective exercises for the core. However, it is one of the riskier movements that is performed in CrossFit, so approach it with the attitude that perfect form is a greater accomplishment than getting up more weight. Once you have the form, the weight will come, and you will stay injury free in the process.