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Overhead Squats

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
I really enjoy this forum, especially the focus on integrated training. I subscribe to Dan John's motto that "the body is one piece."

A great exercise I don't see mentioned here is the Overhead Squat. I think it's great for skiers.

Check out Dan John's article:


Also good is John Davies' article on variations:

post #2 of 18
Welcome! Glad you enjoy the integrated trainining discussions! Everyone should be aware of the fact that "Closed Chain" exercises, where the foot is in a fixed position, are usually more beneficial to skiers than open chain exercises such as the leg extension machine.
post #3 of 18

Risks for mortals

I'm sure the overhead squat would be an incredible workout, but it's probably not for most of us:

1. Form is very important in olympic lifts (and high pulls, etc.) Those of us who do not have great form can hurt our backs, since a lot of weight is moving with a lot of momentum.

2. Many of us skiers, even ones who frequent the gym, have much stronger legs than arms, so holding a weight over our heads may not be a good idea while squatting.

3. Many of us have shoulder issues, and should be careful about heavy weight work with the shoulders.

My two cents.
post #4 of 18
Sfdean-I have to agree with TiehackBurger (caveat I know the guy and work out with him (sometimes)). Overhead squats rule. Caveat: I respect your opinion, but hear me out. To respond to your points:

1. I agree that with Olympic Lifts form is very important. Of course, you could say the same about skiing. Start with very light weight. No weight works fine. Like a broomstick is cool. Or just hold your arms above your head.

2. Burger is right-the body is one piece. This is key. You say you have stronger arms than legs. Ok but don't separate it-how strong is your body? With an overhead squat or straightforward snatch or clean and jerk-there is no arms and legs-there's only your body. The whole body has to work in unison. With an overhead squat (o.s.)-you can only start with what you can press overhead-but once you get whatever pounds you can get up-it is up period-and there are no more arms-the arms are subsumed into the body as a whole. Your arms never touch the mountain while skiing (usually) and your legs never touch the overhead weight in an o.s.-nevertheless the whole body is connected. Again, the parallel to skiing is clear.

3. Shoulder issues are issues-again though -try an overhead squat with no weight whatsoever. It's still a great exercise.

Ever work out and feel your body just want to do a certain motion? Like your running and you kick into overdrive with no conscious volition?. O.S. can do this. maybe because if you do it with good form you end up in a buddha pose? I don't know-but this a great exercise. I am still working on 15 with bodyweight-but if I ever get there-I will be psyched severely.
post #5 of 18
Originally Posted by Ganjala
I am still working on 15 with bodyweight-but if I ever get there-I will be psyched severely.
After years of focusing primarily on weight training, a friend has turned me on to bodyweight training as publicised by Matt Furey (for an overview of Matt's "Royal Court", see http://www.cbass.com/Furey.htm). The Hindu Squat seems much like the Overhead Squat without a weight. The difference being the forward-to-back movement of the arms and the lift in the heel, both of which seem to me to focus more exercise on the core (am I getting this right, LM?).

BTW, try a few. See if you can do 100. You might be surprised.
post #6 of 18
Originally Posted by ssh
After years of focusing primarily on weight training, a friend has turned me on to bodyweight training as publicised by Matt Furey (for an overview of Matt's "Royal Court", see http://www.cbass.com/Furey.htm). The Hindu Squat seems much like the Overhead Squat without a weight. The difference being the forward-to-back movement of the arms and the lift in the heel, both of which seem to me to focus more exercise on the core (am I getting this right, LM?).

BTW, try a few. See if you can do 100. You might be surprised.
Most of my workout is done with only body weight. I do squats, but I do a qigong version called "row the boat". The feet are kept flat, which I find more challenging balance wise, and at the end of the squat, the leg is straightened but the hips are kept flexed and the arms sweep back behind like you were rowing a boat. At this point you are looking back between your legs, you then slowly flex the knees back into a squat and slowly raise as you inhale and raise the arms straight over the head. Thinking about the transfer to skiing, the heel down method would be more skill relative and is actually more challenging from a range of motion perspective. "Two Dragons into the Water" would be the closest chinese excercise flat footed equivilant to the hindu squat.

I also do the "hindu push up" but I don't raise up into a full dog position, I just arch my back.

My bridges I do only from the shoulders not from the head. If you want to add some dynamics to the bridge, try them with the calves on an exercise ball and as you raise up the hips, flex the knees and roll your feet onto the ball.

The roots of tai chi and most qigong and chinese exercise and martial arts can be traced back to the same origins as yoga. The chinese took these and added the movements needed for soft internal martial applications, which is more preferable to me. This direction seems to give a more rounded fitness development than strictly yoga from my perspective. Though there are many parallels between the two. There are some exercises where you lift your heels off the ground, but most focus on movement while maintaining your root or connection. Later, RicB.
post #7 of 18
Overhead squats. Wow! Just how wrong is dishing out that advice here? Olympic lifts are not for the general public.

I sincerely hope that no one goes out and just jumps into doing this without the assistance of a trained pro. You don't need any weight on the bar to mess yourself up -- and you are fooling yourself if you thing holding your arms in the air when squatting is a reasonable test of your likelihood of doing it with a bar.

BTW: The folks talking about this in the recommended articles are advanced weight lifters. The overhead squat is part of their core work. Worse, you really do need a significant weight to get value here, it takes a long time to build up to that weight (learning form all the way) and you can hurt yourself badly just trying to get there...

But, i you are determined to do it, make sure that you:

1) Have a pro teach you how -- more than once. Prefer w/video analysis.
2) Can already squat with perfect form - if not, get a pro to teach you how.
3) Do the behind the neck press, without shoulder issues.
4) Have done significant core strength and balance training.
5) Have never had ANY knee issues.

This criteria should remove 99+% of the population from trying it. Those that are left have probably already done it....

Most folks I see squatting just don't know how -- they've never been trained properly, and have real form problems. These form problems can go completely unnoticed, but will be intensely magnified when holding a weight overhead.

If you have shoulder issues, and have problems doing overhead lifts then definately don't try this one. It only takes one try at it to tear your rotator cuff. It takes years to heal.

If your core work consists solely of crunches forget about it. And the knees, imagine a bobbling the weight when the thigh is parallel to the ground.

Remember, this is an advanced gym rat move. You don't need it at all - you are not a discus thrower/shot putter/football player. There are far safer core exercises that will get you what you need.

Check out the core workout links I II and III on this page, under Weight training and core strength:


Good luck!
post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 
Big E is correct. I certainly don't want anyone to get hurt. I am not a doctor or exercise specialist, I work in real estate. My "advice" is worthless and may lead directly to injury. BigE's right that that this is an advanced move-but it's not double black.

That said-do overhead squats, people! You can get hurt-but start light. You can get hurt very bad while skiing too btw. As the Diva says in the article linked below: "Unlike many other movements, in an overhead squat the slightest lapse in concentration can result in a wipeout." Same goes for skiing. As always-just be smart.

Big guys can do it:


And women can do it too :

post #9 of 18

Work up to it

Ganjala and Tiehack Burger, I am sure you are both right that overhead squats are terrific all-body workouts. And you're definitely right that whole body training is a better way for creating whole-body real world fitness than trying to isolate some group or area of muscles, except (like hamstrings) when isolation exercises are useful to avoid creating problem imbalances of strength (quads vs. hamstrings) that would otherwise result from the rest of your workout.

But you won't see me trying overhead squats any time soon, because (like a lot of people) I have a problem shoulder issue, and I have a tendency to lift unsupervised, so I stick to things that have a lower incidence of injury at my level.

Even just using a weight bar is pretty aggressive, given that an olympic bar weighs something like 42 pounds. So, my free advice (again, worth everything you pay for it) to those who are not as advanced, as strong, and as rightfully confident about their shoulder capsules as Ganjala and Tiehack Burger:

1. Definitely work with an experienced trainer to make sure your form is right, when doing Olympic lifts and other aggressive lifts (high pulls, overhead squats.) To put this into perspective, I'm a do-it-yourselfer with my own ideas about training, and don't use any of the trainers I have access to, and don't even take their advice when they volunteer that they wouldn't squat quite as deeply as I do. (A difference of opinion generated by my observation of how flexed the inside knee has to be in high level GS racing, and the feedback I get from my body in response to squats.) But boy, I absolutely would get help from one of those guys (or gals) if I were taking up overhead squats (or clean and jerk or high pulls or power cleans.) I have been largeley lower back pain-free for the last 33 years (since a year after a bad Pop Warner crunch) and don't plan to change that in one gym lift.

2. Work your way up to this, and be careful about your shoulders. There are a lot of whole body exercises in Musnick & Pierce's book Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness (or in half a dozen issues of Men's Health), but they are very careful there to suggest light weights for anything that might stress your shoulder.


(I'd bet dollars to donut holes that the weights recommended in Musick & Pierce's book for exercises involving the shoulder are below the threshhold of training for Ganjala & Tiehack Burger, and far less than half what they'd use for a warm up set. But you do _not_ want to mess up your shoulder by not working your way up to heavier weights, over time.)

Even if you've been lifting for quite a while, you might try dumbbell swing throughs, or dumbell squat-presses, or something else a bit less challenging and a bit more forgiving before moving on to the very advanced overhead squat.

Anyway, my cautionary suggestions for warming up to this at least black diamond exercise.
post #10 of 18
I agree with everybody:

SSH-you're right Hindu Squats are great (and humbling).

RicB-soft martial arts are excellent.

BigE- Your precautions are well stated. I think Burger was just assuming that a health and fitness forum on a ski site would only attract relatively hard core folks in the first place.

I do think the Olympic lifts should be used more often though. With proper training-I think they're not difficult to perform and relatively safe. Again-you don't have to worry about setting personal records all the time. Clean and jerks with 50% body weight work just fine. I'm sure you'd agree bad form is hardly exclusive to Olympic lifts. When I see how some of these guys in my gym bend their backs to crank up large weight in a forearm curl-it makes me hurt. Actually, I think that's an advantage of Olympic lifts-bad form is harder to get away with, e.g with overhead squats if you break perfect form, you will drop the bar or fall over. So yes you can get hurt-but as we can all agree-start small and work up to it.

Sfdean-right -if you have shoulder issues-you shouldn't be putting a lot of weight overhead. Luckily (?), I'm not strong enough to ever have to worry about putting too much weight overhead-my bodyweight is about my maximum, and I hardly ever do that. i'm with you on the deep squats-again though without excess weight-I think deeper is better. BigE I know you strongly disagree with that-so let me just say I advocate nothing as to how deep anyone else should squat. Your body knows best.
post #11 of 18
This page has some interesting exercises. Note that all the recommended squats are not done deeply.


I watched a fellow in the gym doing these "sissy squats" years ago, and poo-poo'd them. He is still doing them today, with 4 plates per side.

I did "real" squats (with perfect form) and only needed 2 plates/side. I can't do them anymore due to injury. So how effective were the deep squats?

The point is to realize that gym training should prepare you for your sport. It is not an end in itself; it is not important to choose the exercises that provide you most bang for the buck when those are the most risky.

That being said, I loved doing deep squats -- my goal was 20 reps with 3 plates/side. If you are young, there should be no trouble provided you get proper training. eg. don't put plates under your heels, work on form before ANY weight, do periodization etc.... Older folks should be especially careful.

My 2 cents.
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Nothing wrong with sissy squats-especially if you have knee issues.

Interesting Article: http://www.popularfitness.com/articles/squatting.html

From the above:

"...scientists in the Departments of Anatomy and
Kinesiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden,
have recently determined exactly what happens to the legs
during squatting sessions. Eight burly young national-class
Olympic weightlifters took part in the research. Average
body weight was 180 pounds, mean age was 19, and
typical one-repetition maximum during squatting exercise
was about 230 pounds...

The subjects tried four different knee-flexion angles while squatting:
(1 ) knees flexed to just 45 degrees, (2) knees flexed to 90 degrees,
(3) knees flexed more amply so that the back surfaces of the thighs
were actually parallel to the floor, and (4) knees flexed fully
(the deepest-possible squat). The first two squats - 45 and
90 degrees - are actually just partial squats, with athletes remaining
in a semi-standing position and the buttocks only slightly lowered
toward the floor. Among coaches, there's considerable controversy
about which form of squatting is actually 'best' for athletes.

Video-taping and electromyography were used to determine joint
forces and muscle activity. As it turned out, the 45- and 90-degree
squats did a poor job of activating the quads and hamstrings, compared
to the parallel and deep squats. However, the former two squats also
produced fairly low forces at the knee and hip joints, so the 45- and
90-degree squats are probably excellent exercises for athletes who
are attempting carefully to recover from leg injuries.

Surprisingly, there was no difference in muscular activity between the
parallel and deep squats, even though coaches tend to recommend
the latter. The total times required to perform parallel and deep
squats were also similar, so neither exercise provides more total
work for the leg muscles per training session.

Although the parallel and deep squats produce equivalent amounts
of muscle activation, the parallel exercise is better for athletes who
have suffered from knee problems, since it produces less strain on
the knees. Athletes with hip problems probably should rely on
90-degree squats, since both parallel and deep squats upgrade
hip-loading forces significantly.

Overall, squatting does a great job of activating both the quads
and hamstrings, especially if one uses parallel or deep squats. Parallel
squats are as good as deep squats at working the muscles and better
than deep squats for limiting the risk of knee injuries."
post #13 of 18
Great article! Thank you!

One should note that there is a school of thinking that parallel squats mean that the knee is at 90 degrees -- it is not. This could be the reason that people are told to squat deeply.

The 90 degree point is actually the worst place to change direction, since the knee is at maximal instability at that point. eg. A Dr. will examine the knee for instability when it is bent at 90 degrees. Thighs parallel to the ground is lower than 90 degrees.
post #14 of 18
Wow--great discussion and great information, guys.

Ganjala: Great summary.

TiehackBurger: Great information, and you've made my day. "national-class Olympic weightlifters took part in the research. Average body weight was 180 pounds, mean age was 19, and typical one-repetition maximum during squatting exercise was about 230 pounds..."

They're not ski racers: One rep max (1RM) of only 230 pounds, which is less than one and a half times their body weight.

BigE: The squat modeled there is what I'd call a quarter squat, and may be especially useful for overload training, where you're repeatedly squatting heavy weights (near, at or above your 1RM) through a more limited range of motion, or with lighter weights for rehab, to be careful about your knees.

Ssh: I haven't done the Hindu squats, and I bet they're a great exercise--I'll have to try those on a plyometrics day. I have used a pyramid set variation of squatting in the gym, which I cribbed from something Fred Hatfield had posted online: Do a set of 24 repetitions with a light weight (about half your 1 RM, or about 2/3rds of what you can do 8-12 times) aiming to do the reps rhythmically without a pause. Then do two heavy sets (first, as heavy as you can do 12 times; second, as heavy as you can do 8 times after fatigue from the first set) then finish with a set of 24 reps with the light weight again, done rhythmically without a pause. I find that it helps to go do a recovery set of a completely different and much less taxing exercise (hamstring curls, adductor and abductor machines) between each set of squats.

Another squat variation, which I've assumed had a useful carry-over to the ski hill, because of the combination strength and balance challenge, is to hold dumbbells at your sides and do squats (being careful not to bang your knees) while standing on the flat side of a bosu, or on a bongo board. You have to work up to it, and I also find that I get more knee pain from a set of 8 reps on a bongo board with two lighter dumbbells (less than 1/3 the weight of heavy squats) than I do from a set of 12 regular squats with a weight of 3 times as much.
post #15 of 18
post #16 of 18
So I just started reading this part of the forum, let me know if this has come up before...
a physioball, swiss,ball, stability ball, etc can be very useful for doing squats. if you start by balancing on your hands and knees, you can slowly (eventually) work into a standing position. you can do body weight squats, while standing, light over head squats etc. the most ski specific to to rep for time in a parallel squat or possible a tuck position. you can feel the fatigue and the stability muscles firing. with time proprioception gets better and that will carry over to your skiing
post #17 of 18
Thread Starter 
Actually RJP I think the general opinion is that the risks outweigh the benefits of squats while standing on a Swiss ball. I believe LisaMarie mentioned people tearing ACLs while so doing. Tearing your ACL while working out would totally suck, of course.

That said, I used to do squats on a ball and really liked it-but hitting the ground hard once convinced me too that there are other ways to skin a cat.

That said, if you're still young and game, I think that superior to ball squats is to get into a tuck on a swiss ball, hold exercise bands in both hands with someone directly behind you holding the other end of both bands. Have that person yank back hard on one side or the other with no warning to you while you try to maintain the tuck.

I saw the Canadian ski team doing that one-and it's a pretty good ski workout imho.

In keeping with our spirit of moderation, however, this a very advanced exercise and you can probably get killed-or worse-doing it-so don't.
post #18 of 18
I think the general warning about standing exercises on top of a physioball is (1) work up to them, and (2) do them in a padded area without objects you'll injure yourself on when you fall.

I wouldn't think of doing squats with a bar of heavy weights on top of a physioball: There have to be a million other ways to get in great shape, combining strength and balance training (like TiehackBurger's suggestion immediately above), with a slightly less severe consequence/likelihood of injury.

If you want to get into progressive skiing exercises standing on a physioball, here's a link to the illustrated exercise program (near the end of the thread) of a very knowledgeable (and, it appears, pretty freakin' serious) masters racer, which includes a progression he used in coming back from a couple of serious injuries (knee, broken neck).


As an aside, I think in general leg extension machines (for quads) are generally a waste of time compared to closed chain exercises like weighted lunges and squats. Maybe he had something specific in mind in using the leg extension machine with really low weights.
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