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a woman performs an overhead squat

The overhead squat requires mobility in your shoulders, hips, and ankles, and stability through your upper back, core, glutes, and adductors. It is useful for assessing weakness, immobility, and muscular imbalance — and for improving overall mobility.

Strive to avoid leaning too far forward or letting your knees move inward or heels rise from the floor. Don’t let the weight track behind your body as a counterbalance. For the purpose of testing mobility, use a light implement (a dowel rod, PVC pipe, or empty barbell) and focus on form, not how much weight you can lift.

How to Test: Stand with feet at shoulder width, toes pointed slightly out, and take a wide, shoulder-width-and-a-half grip on the rod, pipe, or barbell. Press or snatch the weight overhead with chest proud, arms locked out, and shoulders engaged.

Brace your core and squat down as far as you can with control. Continue to engage your core, glutes, and shoulders as you return to standing.

How to Assess: The number of reps you can perform and the weight you carry isn’t as important as improving your form. Consider recording a video of yourself and look for the following: If your chest drops, it may signal a weak core. If you can’t keep your arms overhead and in line with your torso, it could mean limited shoulder mobility. If your heels lift, ankle immobility may be the culprit. If your knees collapse inward, hip strength is a likely issue.

How to Improve: Depending on the results of the test, you may want to incorporate shoulder- or ankle-mobility work, core- or hip-strengtheners, or some combination of these efforts. You can also add variations of the overhead squat into your warm-up or workout.

Trainers often recommend ditching tools that hold the hands in a fixed relative position in favor of dumbbells or kettlebells that unlink the hands — or simply perform the move with just body weight, one arm extended overhead at a time.

For more tips on improving your overhead squat, see “BREAK IT DOWN: The Overhead Squat“.

This was excerpted from “Fitness Testing 2.0” which was published in the June 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Sarah Tuff

Sarah Tuff Dunn is a Colorado-based outdoors, health, fitness, and nutrition writer.

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