The overhead squat is an exercise that’s very useful for strength and flexibility training.
It is a movement that requires the manipulation of body weight, weight from external objects such as dumbbells or kettlebells, and engages your muscular system in an optimal way to improve its ability to generate force.
The overhead squat is also a movement you’ll see often in various physical activities, including martial arts and athletics.
It is also important to mention that performing overhead squats is a very useful tool for maintaining muscle mass, especially in the shoulders. The advantage of the overhead squat is that it is an exercise that engages all the muscles across the upper body when performed correctly, and it is also a very effective full-body movement.
This exercise can be done by people at all fitness levels and is actually great for beginners as well as advanced trainees.
Below, we’ll cover how to do the basic overhead squat movement with perfect technique, the benefits of this movement, and some key points to keep in mind when you’re learning how to overhead squat.
So, let’s get started!
How To Do An Overhead Squat With Perfect Form
Here is a video that explains step by step how to do the Overhead Squat movement correctly:
Below is an explanation of what you can see in the video above:
1. Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and holding the kettlebell with both hands (palms facing down) at chest level. Keep your head up at all times, as looking downwards will cause you to lose balance.
2. Now, keeping your back straight, core tight, and head up, bend your knees and lower your body as low as you can (try to get the crease of your hips below the knee).
3. Once you’re in a low position, drive through your heels and extend your hips by squeezing your glutes to return to standing. Keep the kettlebell close to the chest at all times!
4. Once you reach the standing position, lower the kettlebell back to your chest by bending at the hips and knees as if sitting down in a chair.
Benefits Of Overhead Squats:
- Builds strength and stability throughout the whole body
- Targets all upper body muscles (especially shoulders)
- A good full-body workout that places minimal pressure on the lower back and knees
- Isometric hold in lowest position brings core stability & hip strength to stabilize the torso
- Excellent for muscle growth across the whole body, especially shoulders (deltoids)
What Muscle Groups do Overhead Squats work?
- Glutes (butt)
- Lower back (erector spinae)
- Calves (gastrocnemius)
- Entire shoulder girdle (deltoids, trapezius, rotator cuff muscles, etc.)
Short answer: It’s all your body muscles.
How To Progress With Overhead Squats:
If you want to get even more benefits from overhead squats and learn how to do them in a proper way, here are some tips:
Step 1: Holding the kettlebell with both hands, perform an overhead squat with two kettlebells. If you can’t, don’t worry. Keep trying until your strength increases!
Step 2: Once you can do an overhead squat with two bells, hold the bell in one hand while performing the movement.
Step 3: Once you can perform a single-arm overhead squat, start holding two kettlebells in both hands but use lighter weights.
Keep practicing this progression until you are able to perform perfect single-arm overhead squats with a heavy kettlebell. If you can’t do the single-arm version just yet, keep on practicing with two bells at a time until your muscles get used to this movement.
Step 4: Once you have developed the strength and balance to perform perfect single-arm overhead squats for reps, it is time to add a little challenge to the mix.
The Overhead Squat with a single arm and a kettlebell will be relatively easy for you at this stage, so try adding dumbbells into the mix or just hold two kettlebells up in front of you as if they were dumbbells. Another option would be to try goblet squats, where you hold a heavyweight by your chest with both hands. Whatever version you choose, the point is to add an extra challenge and increase difficulty.
Step 5: Keep on progressing until you can overhead squat with two heavy kettlebells in each hand while balancing another object on top of your head! This will be extremely advanced for most people so spend some time perfecting your overhead squat before attempting this.
Overhead Squats With Kettlebells:
This type of squat is also very useful with a kettlebell. There are two ways to approach this:
1. Hold Two Kettlebells:
The first way to perform the overhead squat is by holding two kettlebells in your hands (one on each side) at all times. This ensures that there is no slack in the movement, allowing for perfect form.
2. Hold One Kettlebell:
The second way is to hold one kettlebell with both hands at all times, but keep it away from your chest (at arm’s length) and allow the kettlebell to move freely during the exercise. This allows you to push through more of your core muscles to keep your body upright, as opposed to having the kettlebell close to your chest at all times. This is called a renegade row.
Overhead Squat exercise variations:
- Front Squat Variation: Replace the overhead squat with a front squat to make the exercise harder. You can also try it with one kettlebell or adding dumbbells into the mix (or holding them as you would do for goblet squats).
- One Arm Overhead Squats: Replace the overhead squats with one arm overhead squats to increase difficulty. You can also use heavier weights while balancing other objects on your head to add even more of a challenge.
- Goblet Squat: The goblet squat is a similar movement to the overhead squat. However, instead of holding two kettlebells up in front of you, one kettlebell is held by both hands at your chest while the other hand rests its elbow on top for stabilization. This forces your body to stay upright and not lean forward.
Is overhead squat safe?
Yes, this exercise is quite safe for most people, as long as you perform it correctly and at your current stage. Make sure to use good form and if your body isn’t ready for this movement yet, then feel free to perform the overhead squat with a box behind you or by leaning against a wall.
Is overhead squat bad for shoulders?
It is possible that performing this exercise with poor form (i.e. with too much weight, too little flexibility or control) could be bad for your shoulders. However, if performed correctly and with enough patience, you should not have any troubles!
Why is single-arm overhead squat so hard?
The single-arm overhead squat is a very difficult exercise because of the instability factor and the unilateral (one-sided) focus. You must control your body on one side and challenge it to support your weight at the same time, which will improve balance and strength immediately!
How much weight should overhead squat use?
The amount of weight that you use will be determined by your current level of fitness. You want to use enough weight to challenge yourself, but never so much that you compromise your form!
How often should overhead squat be performed?
Because this is a difficult exercise, it is best to perform it 2-3 times a week. Your body will need a day or two of rest in between workouts for proper restoration and muscle growth to take place.
Does overhead squat affect the knees and joints?
There is a chance that if your form is bad, this exercise could hurt your knees. However, with proper technique and patience, you should not create any pain in this area!
How to improve overhead squat: training split & warmup
The best way to improve your overhead squat is by training it twice a week and with a two-day split.
Day1 – Workout A
– Overhead Squat 3×8-12 reps
Day2 – Workout B
– Split Squat 4×8-12 reps per leg
Make sure to perform your overhead squat with proper form and a full range of motion. If you cannot do this exercise without weight, then regress the movement by performing a split squat or a Cossack squat. You can also place an object (like a box) behind you while performing the squat, as this will help you balance and improve your technique.
How can I get stronger overhead?
If you want to improve your overhead squat, then there are a few things that you can try to make this movement easier. For example, performing the single-arm overhead squats (or pistols) by leaning against a wall will help; it will allow you to perform the exercise with better balance and more control. You could also do some resistance band work at home!
Overhead squat standards
6-8 reps at 50% of your one-rep max
8-10 reps at 60% of your one-rep max
10+ reps at 70% of your one-rep max
6-8 reps at 40% of your one-rep max
8-10 reps at 45% of your one-rep max
10+ reps at 50% of your one-rep max
Why are overhead squats harder?
This is a difficult exercise for men and women because it requires the use of your core to maintain balance. You must also train one side of your body at a time, which makes this movement very challenging!
Why are pistols easier?
A pistol squat is generally an easier movement to perform than an overhead squat because you can use a box or a bench to help you balance. You can also lean against something for support, if necessary!
Overhead squat with dumbbells- what size weight?
You should start out by using a fairly lightweight (5-15 lb dumbbells) and work your way up from there. You can also use a kettlebell or a slam ball to add some extra challenge!
Overhead squat with kettlebell: where to hold the weight?
The best position for holding this type of weight is by the horns. Make sure to hold this at arm’s length and keep your chest out as you perform each rep.
Overhead squats with a slam ball: how to hold?
Slam balls are excellent objects to help you balance during overhead squats because they will force you to focus on your stability. If you cannot hold this object in front of you without losing control, then you should use a lighter weight (or two) when performing this exercise.
Problems with the overhead squat
If you are experiencing any pain during the overhead squat, then you need to drop the weight and work on your form! You must keep your chest up and core tight in order to maintain a good balance. If this does not help, then taking a break from this movement might be necessary.
overhead squats with dumbbell vs. kettlebell
If you are not yet strong enough to support your own body weight, then the dumbbell version is much easier because it gives you something to hold on to. However, once you become more comfortable with this movement (and become stronger), then using a kettlebell might be better.
overhead squat with dumbbells: how to hold the weight?
The best way to hold a dumbbell is with a “hammer” grip, which means you should be holding it from underneath so that your palms are facing each other. Doing this will also help you have an even grip on the weight, so they do not roll out of your hands when you start performing reps.
overhead squats with kettlebell: how to hold the weight?
For this variation, you will be holding a kettlebell by its horns. Make sure that your palms are facing inwards and your elbows are at your sides when you perform each rep.
What are squats more effective than overhead squats?
You can perform squats with the barbell on your back; this will allow you to go lower into the squat, which is why it’s an easier movement. However, by holding onto weights like dumbbells or kettlebells, you may find that this exercise becomes more difficult because of the imbalance between sides.