Feb 3, 2017Raising the Bar
Working every part of the body is important in creating well-rounded and healthy athletes. And as an athlete prepares for his or her season, overhead squats can help to reveal weak areas while strengthening and stabilizing the shoulders and core.
But how do you know if you should add this exercise to a training plan? While everyone can benefit from doing overhead squats, they are extremely useful for someone who is facing one of these issues:
•tight, over lifted pectoral muscles that pull the shoulders and upper back forward;
•a rigid thoracic spine that can’t extend;
•a weak core;
•inflexible hips, knees, and ankles.
Because it is a compound exercise, the list of muscles and movements that the overhead squat trains is extensive. It will especially help athletes learn how to extend and strengthen their thoracic spine and core, helping to avoid back and shoulder injuries. The tension in your deep inner-core will also heighten as your torso is being elongated.
Overhead squats can also improve balance. Having to hold a weight in the air while squatting helps to build stability. Lean too far back, and the athlete drops the weight behind the body. Lean to far forward, and the athlete will likely find him- or herself on their stomach.
As with most exercises, knowing how to execute an overhead squat is important in keeping athletes safe from injury. This exercise works similar to a regular squat, while engaging more upper back muscles:
1. Place the bar in the squat machine and load the plates as needed.
2. Make sure feet are shoulder width apart, with toes about 30 degrees out.
3. Grip the bar with wrists back and palms facing upward. Hands should be spaced slightly further apart than shoulder length. The exact distance depends on the athlete. The further apart, the easier it will be to balance the bar. As they progress, it should be easier to pull hands closer together.
4. Hold the bar 6-8 inches above your head and step back from the rack to create enough space for a squat.
5. Press or jerk the bar up quickly. The bar should be directly above your heels during the entire squat. Your elbows and core should be tight.
6. Keep your weight on your heels. Push your hips back like you are sitting down and bend your knees.
7. At the bottom of your squat, your hips should drop below the tops of your knees.
8. Drive back up keeping your feet flat on the ground and rise to a full extension.
9. Your torso should stay vertical throughout the entire movement.
While this exercise is very useful, doing it the wrong way can be dangerous. For example, athletes should be careful not to hyperextend their lower back. Hyperextension will place too much strain on the back and can lead to injury. Making sure that the back is straight and the bar is over the ankles will help to keep this from happening.
Athletes should also make sure they are looking straight. Looking up can squeeze the spinal disks in their neck.
Another mistake that can cause injury is having a stance that is too wide, which can cause injury to the groin. When doing this exercise, the best plan of action is for the athlete to stop when he or she feels a strain, if the lower back starts to arch, or when technique begins to falter. This will help in decreasing chances of injury.