Overhead Squat

The Overhead Squat – What You Need to Know

The overhead squat is a weight-lifting full squat exercise. used by everyone from Crossfitters to those exercising for Olympic lifts. It works on body strength and stability. This is a squat variation, as you hold a heavy load above your head while you squat.

The implements could be barbells and plates, or dumbbells and kettlebells. Using such “heavy” squats is the best way to improve your squat technique. It lays the foundation for progression onto the more complex back and front squats.

Overhead squat benefits

Gaining better stability and stronger muscles are but a few of the benefits of overhead squats. Your focus and balance will improve, as will the flexibility of joints and muscles.

Overhead squat assessment

You can assess your alignment from head to toe. As you assess all the major points, such as knees, hips, and back, look from a side and front view. You’re looking to keep everything in a straight alignment. If not, you will not receive the full benefits of the move and may injure yourself.

Overhead squat workouts 

Many athletes avoid this workout because it takes high levels of control to get it right. That’s why you should always assess your moves. Every part of your body needs to be perfect to get the full benefits of this exercise. Your core will feel the most strain as gravity goes against the load above your head. That’s why it’s so perfect for stability.


What Muscles Does Overhead Squat Work?

This is a hard exercise that will push you to your limits. The results will strengthen your core, quads (shoulders), and legs foremost. As you take the heavy load down, it will put a strain on your thoracic spine (from shoulder to lower back), and lumbar spine (lower back).

That’s why it’s important to have the correct technique. It will help build a strong trunk. The hamstrings will work hard, as well as the glutes (butt), and abductors of the hips. Plus the ankles and wrists as so many parts of your body are being put to the test.

How Much Should I Be Able To Overhead Squat?

For a beginner, men should look to target a load of around 80-100% of their body weight, women a little less. Slowly increase the load until you reach your body weight. If you’re seasoned at this complex lift, you could do up to 1.4x your bodyweight. For beginners, weight is not important, concentrate on technique first.

How Often Can I Overhead Squat?

As a workout by itself, aim for around 4 sets with 3 reps. An alternative is to combine it with other equipment. On its own, it’s best to only do the overhead squat a couple of times a week.

How to Overhead Squat

Her are more detailed instructions to work out your routine for the overhead squat.  

Step 1

Standing over the barbell to your front, place your feet with a shoulder-width space between them.

Step 2

Bend at the knees to pick up the bar, keeping your back straight, feet flat, and eyes looking to the front. Use an underhand grip (palms facing you) with hands positioned shoulder-width apart. As an alternative, you can take the bar from a low rack.

Step 3

With a snatch lift, bring the load up to your chest and then overhead. Keep arms fully extended as you position and hold the bar behind your head.

Step 4

With a slow movement, bend the knees until your thighs are on a parallel line with the floor. Experienced athletes can lower the hips until their butt almost hits the floor. Beginners, though, should keep the hips level with the knee line, as they squat with the heavy load.

Also Read:   How Many Calories Do 100 Burpees Burn?

Step 5

Finally, pushing with the feet and legs, drive the load back up again. Repeat the move for your required reps.

Perfect your technique by watching professionals execute the technique.

Overhead squat vs thrusters

Thrusters are a combination of a front squat and an overhead squat, making it a compound exercise.

Overhead squat vs Squat 

Traditional squats, without equipment, are much easier to do. You could perform up to 50 traditional squats a day, but you should only do the overhead squat a couple of times a week. A traditional squat will keep your joints healthy and muscles stronger. Though this is more of a warm-up exercise than a specialist power move.

Overhead squat vs Front Squat

Lifting the load from the front allows you to take on a heavier load because it’s more focused on the anterior (front) muscles. The front squat can strengthen the abs, whereas an overhead squat targets the core.

Types of overhead squats

Equally, there are many ways to perform the overhead squat:

Dumbbell overhead squat 

Try using a dumbbell overhead with only one arm. This allows more power on each arm. Of course, you can hold one in each arm if you prefer but don’t allow the dumbbells to touch overhead. With no support for the arms, ie dumbbell bar, this is a hard workout and challenges stability. Use a light load and do a full squat.

Kettlebell overhead squat

Again, this exercise can be single or double-handed. Master first the technique and only then add the load and longer sets. If you go single-handed, hold the other free hand in a fist. This tightens muscles to give some balance with tension on the unused side. When you squat, actively use the foot on the unused side so you don’t lean and injure yourself.

Overhead Split Squat

Instead of a full squat, this is about going down on one knee which will touch the ground. You can still use weights with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebells. The exercise aids more in strengthening the upper body. The more forward you place the foot, the more you exercise the posterior muscles and hips. Or, place the foot further back and you work on the quads (front) muscles in the legs.

Overhead Ball Squat

Yes, you can even overhead squat while holding a ball in both hands, big or small. This makes it a similar movement with a barbell but without the extra weight. Workout those quads, shoulders, and legs. Though not so much the core, without a heavy load.

There’s no doubt that the overhead squat works those abs, but essentially it teaches you the stability of the core. It’s not easy to master so work on technique first and foremost before you increase the load.


There are many ways to perform a squat and they all target different muscles. Some may target muscles in isolation, meaning one muscle or joint. Others are more compound exercises targeting many muscles and joints.

Also See:

This article was last updated on June 6, 2022 .

Written by
Steve Theunissen

Please note

This is a widgetized sidebar area and you can place any widget here, as you would with the classic WordPress sidebar.