Athletes and general fitness enthusiasts alike benefit from the overhead squat, which works all the major muscles in the hips and legs as well as the core. The exercise can be challenging to learn, but the benefits far outweigh the necessary effort.

Benefits of the Overhead Squat

Like all squat exercises, the overhead squat builds strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.

The overhead squat, however, also forces your lower back, obliques and abdominals to constantly contract while you're performing the exercise. Because you're holding the barbell over your head, your center of gravity is at a higher position. You essentially make your body top heavy, increasing the demand from your core muscles to keep your spine stable. You need an adequate level of balance to be able to squat while holding a load over your head.

Additionally, the overhead squat is effective for improving mobility and stability in your hips, spine, chest and shoulders. Because most people sit hunched toward a computer all day, they're constantly in a flexed forward position. The overhead squat forces your spinal and abdominal muscles to extend. Over time, this extension training improves the health of your spine, chest and shoulders.

Overhead Squat Technique

The overhead squat is performed with a barbell. Grip the bar with a wide overhand grip and then snatch the bar over your head so that your shoulders are externally rotated, your arms are fully extended and the bar aligns with your ears. Position your feet to hip-width apart, with your toes pointed forward or just slightly outward.

With the bar held overhead, push your hips back behind you and bend your knees to lower your glutes toward the floor. Continue until your thighs are parallel to the ground and then rise back up until your hips and legs are straight and you've returned to a standing position. Repeat until you're finished with all the reps.

Common Mistakes in the Overhead Squat

Losing Proper Overhead Position - While you're squatting, the bar should remain directly over your head the entire time. A common mistake is for the bar to slide forward because of shoulder or spinal tightness, or a lack of core strength. As you're mastering the exercise and improving your strength and stability, constantly check to make sure the bar stays over the ears.

Improper Feet Position - During the overhead squat, the feet need to be wider than the hips. A narrow stance limits the mobility in the ankle and hip. Proper feet position will help you keep your hips properly under the bar.

Incorporating the Overhead Squat into a Routine

Know going into it that the overhead squat is a challenging exercise to master. There are some movements you should be able to do before you go to throw a barbell over your head.

First, stand with your back resting against the wall. Set your feet about 6 inches away from the wall and at hip-width apart. Lift your arms and place them and your shoulders against the wall. Bend your knees to slide down the wall in a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. You should be able to keep your arms and shoulders against the wall as you squat.

If you're able to do the wall squat while keeping your shoulders and arms on the wall, try to do an overhead squat with a towel. Grasp the ends of a towel with each hand and hold the towel overhead. Complete the squat while keeping the towel in place. Make sure to check whether the towel moves forward and if you're able to keep your torso upright.

As a last step before doing the overhead squat with a barbell, try performing the exercise with a wooden broomstick or PVC pipe. If you can keep the broomstick or pipe in a proper position while you squat, move onto doing the exercise with a weighted barbell without any additional plates.