Tip: Are Overhead Squats Right For You?

Good movement, but not for most people. And it's the worst squat for leg growth. Here's why.

Lead Image Credit: EVF Performance CrossFit

Right For You

The overhead squat is right for you if...

  • You're a CrossFit athlete. Training the overhead squat is useful since it's often used in WODs and competitions. And it can help you be more efficient at the snatch, which is a key lift in CrossFit.
  • If you're an Olympic lifter. It can help you get better in the catch position of a snatch, which can transfer into better performance if hitting that position is a weakness.
  • If you're an athlete. The overhead squat might have some value to improve the capacity of the body to work as a unit and strengthen the core while improving active mobility. And light overhead squats can be an okay corrective or diagnostic exercise.

One thing the overhead squat shouldn't be is a tool to build muscle or lose fat, regardless of how cool it looks.

Why do it? For leg growth? Well, the overhead squat is the worst squat for that purpose. Any other type of squat is superior since the limiting factor on the overhead squat is holding the weight overhead, not leg strength. You'd use a lot more weight and be able to do more reps with conventional squats, Zercher squats, or front squats.

What about to strengthen the core? Sure, but there are better options. Zercher squats are vastly superior for core strength, and so are Frankenstein squats.

Zercher Squat
Zercher Squat

You can also use a method like the hanging band technique on squats or front squats. In all of these cases you're not limited by upper body mobility, as with the overhead squat. You'll also use more weight which plays a role in core activation/strengthening.

But don't overhead squats simultaneously build the lower and upper body? Possibly. Remember, one of the benefits of overhead squats is making the whole body work as a unit. But to believe that this would lead to significant hypertrophy is a stretch.

When you do a proper overhead squat, the overhead position is only a support. The delts and triceps don't work that hard because you're "bone in bone," meaning they're supported in large part by the skeletal system and the tension is spread over all the upper-body muscles. It's the movement's greatest benefit for an athlete, but it makes it inferior as a muscle builder.

The load is divided over so many muscles that none actually work at a level high enough to stimulate maximum growth. Not to mention that the average Joe won't have the mobility, skill, and coordination to use much weight. It'll take a heck of a long time to build these up to a high enough level so that the overhead squat could stimulate muscle growth. I'm not saying that it can't build muscle, but that it's a very inefficient way to do it.

And most average lifters have bad overhead mobility. It's hard enough to back squat with perfect technique for many people.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.