Overhead Squat: Assessment, corrective exercise or programming?
The overhead squat is a favorite “move” in various areas of physical training. Some drill it out and rep it out with something as light as a PVC pipe to something as heavy as a 135lb. barbell for 100 reps (I believe there’s a Crossfit WOD where you just do that). Others use it as an assessment/screening tool, with specific parameters, as it helps you uncover dysfunction and imbalances in the majority of the kinetic chain.
SCREENING & ASSESSING
The FMS (Functional Movement Screen) does the Deep Squat Assessment with their OEM PVC dowel, which allows the screener to see the a range of dysfunction ranging from lack of ankle mobility, to knee valgus all the way up to tightness in lats and shoulders. The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s (NASM) Corrective Exercise Specialty (CES) does a similar screen with arms straight overhead (ideally, of course, as their bending or forward pitching becomes an indicator of dysfunction), without holding on to any object. Click HERE to see how NASM does their screen.
The FMS deep squat screen is also done with a specific set of parameters which may not be the individual’s natural squatting stance. It is done so, again, to expose dysfunction. For a full description of the screen, please click HERE.
CORRECTING COMMON PROBLEMS
There are times when the solution is the problem itself. “You mean doing overhead squats will fix my overhead squat?”. Yes. No. Kinda. For every movement, there is a progression in skill or difficulty. In martial arts, you can do a front kick, a jumping front kick, a jumping scissor front kick, the first variation leading to the second, itself leading to the third.
We can correct a poor movement pattern within the pattern itself. The way the overhead squat is done with the ProBar is by addressing some of these dysfunctions.
Primarily, and this applies to the majority of cases, people’s tightness in their shoulders and lats, the forward rounding (protraction) of the shoulders with a rounded back (kyphotic) posture is the culprit for the forward pitching of the arms from their extended overhead position. This is caused by our lifestyle (interestingly, we cannot blame computers or smartphones for this as this was an issue over a century ago already, we’re only compounding, adding or replacing the causes).
The distraction from the ProBar’s inner spring telescoping mechanism forces the user to work against the bar’s “wanting to close”. A mere PVC pipe provides no resistance unless the user actively creates that isometric contraction. And even if that were the case (realistically, only a small % of the population would do that consistently), you cannot gauge the level of resistance. As we are creatures of comfort, we tend to also adjust to what’s less difficult, e.g. widening the hand position on the PVC dowel. On the ProBar, even when widening the grip, its distraction continues to provide resistance.
In the photos below, the individual’s alignment allows him to perform the movement safely and correct any rounding of the shoulders, if present before/during screening. Note that the stance is “personal”, adjusted to the individual’s comfort and ability. No knee valgus or raising of the heels off the ground to compensate for other mobility issues.
HOW DOES THE PROBAR’S DISTRACTION RESISTANCE MAKE IT BETTER?
The concept is known as reciprocal inhibition: contract one set of muscles, inhibit the opposite set of muscles. In plain terms, as you engage the muscles of the upper back and rear shoulders, you relax the chest and front shoulders and open those up. This instantly adjusts your alignment so that the bar is in line with the person’s center of mass.
Visualize the move with a loaded barbell: if you pitch the barbell forward, it will drop (on the ground, or worse, on you). If you are structurally aligned, with both the required strength and mobility to perform the move “loaded”, you are safer and performing the exercise with correct form.
The squatting stance at this point should be ‘natural’ in the sense that the individual will choose what feels comfortable to them (mostly a matter of width and angle of the foot, usually turned out to about 45º). Avoiding knee valgus (knees “knocking”) or rolling the ankle inward is the next thing to watch for. There are other corrective exercises for that (various ankle mobility drills using Indian clubs or stretches and a ProBar front lever squat, using the two 1/2 staves loaded with the weights).
Here’s a video of the pictured Overhead Squat using the ProBar and its distraction/”twist & pull” feature.
As the overhead squat is performed with the opened chest and engaged upper posterior chain muscles, the movement is improved, correcting and can then allow the individual to progress/proceed as desired. This is also a great segue to the Snatch Balance (bottom of the snatch then standing up, which essentially at this point resembles the overhead squat, from the bottom up).