The overhead squat is the most challenging position that a strength athlete is going to ever need to achieve.
A very small percentage of people can perform the overhead squat properly when they first walk into the gym. This is why it is usually the first test we use when someone walks into the gym. If someone can sit down with a nice posture in an overhead squat and stand right back up with no problem, then you can probably just skip the rest of the assessment. Sure, you can do a shoulder mobility tests and blah blah, but in reality as long as you still follow a logical exercise progression and build on that solid movement base.
Of course if the person is in pain, you could be required to break their movement down a little more so that you could figure out what was going on. As a strength coach it isn’t our job to treat or diagnose pain. However, the majority of people do not need to see a doctor. Most people can be taught to move more effectively and will learn the pain right away. If you reset postures, regress positions and teach movement and the pain still persists, then you should just refer out to my sweet friend Dr. Quinn.
So, what do we do with the other 90% of the people?
I can tell this. You will not stretch them into an overhead squat. They have to learn that position, and in order for them to learn it, you have got to know how to teach it to them. That is why, this is the Best Damn Overhead Squat Mobility Article Period.
Everything matters in the overhead squat. Maintaining 3 points of contact with the foot throughout the movement is going to be key in maintaining the correct hip position, not to mention, if you are unable to maintain a good foot position, their is a good chance that you are having some ankle issues as well. If every warmup/movement correction exercise that you do, learn to spread your toes and feel the floor creating equal pressure throughout the 3 points of contact.
Check out this article from last week when I talked more about FEET, and check out this video where Dr. Quinn talks about “stretches” you can do to try and work on your feet.
Ankles seem to be everyone’s favorite problem. In my experience, they usually aren’t the primary problem and you can typically get by without doing anything to them at all if you start following all of the steps in this article. If your ankle mobility is really terrible, then your foot probably is too. A chiro or PT could be a good help in performing some manipulations on a real bad foot and ankle. Get them to graston in between your toes. It’s awesome. Just ask Adam Clark. That being said, we do have one ankle mobility drill video, cause I know people love that shit.
Should your knees be in or out? Well, neither. You knee should track directly out over the second toe. While you are squatting, I would rather you not have to think about it at all. If they are coming in on you, then you should probably cue yourself to push them out. If they are tracking outside your foot, then you need to start cueing your big toe…. but I already told you to do that earlier. The truth is that is if you are mindful of your feet, and you get your hips straight, your knees are insignificant.
The idea of the kinetic chain is somewhat misleading when it applies to movement and fixing it. It is much better thought of as the kinetic pond. Just like when you toss a rock in the pond and everything ripples outward, things radiate out from the hips. If you can get your hip game tight, then you will solve 94.6% of your movement deficiency. Obviously, everyone is there own little special flower and is different, but no matter what is wrong with your hips, you can correct it with primarily the same set of basic movements. Sure, people will have some rotation issues and some asymmetries but even those things will likely iron themselves out.
When we talk about correcting hip position step A is always going to be talking breathing first. If you aren’t breathing correctly then their is a 0% chance that you are going to be able to maintain a good hip position. You have got to have the pelvic floor and the diaphragm facing each other in order to function correctly. That pattern and stable core position is the basis of everything that you do. We always start teaching this, and then the first few hip drills in the 90/90 position. This allows the lower back to be flat, and the pelvic floor/diaphragm relationship to be supported by the floor and wall.
From there, we need to start working on using our hamstrings to help maintain hip position. The 90/90 hip lift is one of the best drills to do that and should be included in everyone’s arsenal of hip activation drills. Often times, a little tactile cueing in the hamstring can be helpful because people will have the tendency to push into the wall with their quads rather than pull the hips off of the floor with their hamstrings.
Now we need glutes. There are a myriad of glute activation drills out there. I can promise you that you will be best off starting your training with drills like the clam shell (below) and glute bridge that offer the support of the floor and wall to make it easier for your to maintain the correct spine position while you perform the drills and save the monster band walks and things like that toward the end of your warm-ups. Really focus on being able to fully exhale when doing the glute activation drills. I want you to almost feel a little posterior tilt in your hips, especially in the side lying position.
The anterior hip is the source of some controversy. After the ankles I would think that needing to stretch the hip flexors is the go to excuse for a shit overhead squat. That isn’t really the Darkside Way. I am not going to talk much about it here, but check out this video from my Homedog Dr. Quinn and his lovely assistant Ms Liz Messina.
The psoas march is a beautiful wonderful drill for the hip. Not only do you get to work on using the hip flexors to maintain flexion under some tension and while focusing on maintaining the correct hip and lower back position with the floor. Then on the other side, you are working to inhibit the hip flexor while driving hip extension. Really try to feel yourself pull through the heel as you extend your leg.
You must have a good ribcage position in order to have good shoulder mobility. Check out this quick video.
Breathing corrections handle most of the should “flexibility” issues that people have. Being able to maintain the pelvic floor/diaphragm connection and driving apical lung expansion does enough to correct thoracic position that there aren’t many stretches that you need. If can be useful to put yourself in a position to get a little lat stretch, but rather than focusing on pulling in order to feel the stretch, just get yourself into a position where you feel a light stretch and then focus on breathing into that lateral chest wall and using that to really cause the stretch.
The next name of the game for the shoulders is learning to move that scapulae. Start the process working on feeling protraction and retraction, that can be done in the 90/90 position, and then eventually progressed into the quadruped. Once you have the protraction and retraction (WHILE MAINTAINING RIBCAGE POSITION) then it is time to start working on scapula upward rotation. This is often where people get hung up when they try to go overhead. They don’t have good scapular upward rotation and then run into impingement issues. These drills will fix all of that.
Now that we have pieced ourselves together it is time to tie all of it in and practice the perfect most lovely overhead squat that anyone has ever seen. Sadly, it is not likely that you will go from learning drills on the floor, and then jumping back to your feet and performing perfect movements when you are back on your feet. Getting into a half kneeling position is the first step to fixing your overhead squat. Often times you will need to master the half kneeling split squat first before moving to the overhead split squat. If improving your overhead squat is your goal, this is a very beneficial teaching tool when done correctly.
Once you have worked on maintaining your position in the half kneeling regression, you are ready to work on your real overhead squat… but what if you still don’t quite have it? This drills gives you a nice regression but still allows your to get some good overhead squat work in the actually standing position.