The Overhead Squat Is The Advanced Variation Few Are Ready For

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The barbell squat is the daddy of all leg builders. That’s a belief held by even the most infrequent visitors to the weights room. It works your entire posterior chain hard, while also prompting serious growth in the quads, glutes and hamstrings. It is a compound lift that should feature prominently in any weight training programme, even if properly mastering the barbell squat is a feat that’s rarely achieved.

Even then, there are still ways to progress. Step forward the overhead squat. This is an extremely difficult lift that taxes your body’s strength, stability and technique. The quads, hamstrings and glutes are all placed under the same stress as in the standard back squat but this move also calls upon the core to lower into the squat position and to keep the bar held steadily overhead.

Technique is hugely important here. You should keep a neutral spine at all times, you should go just below parallel and you should avoid your knees coming too far over your toes. Here’s how to do it.

How To Do The Overhead Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards. Select a barbell that you can comfortably raise overhead and grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and press the bar up, ensuring your arms are straight. Keeping your head and spine neutrally aligned and your core engaged, squat down as far as you can without letting your back arch. Keep your chest elevated and drive back up through your heels.

Overhead Squat Variations


The thruster is a terrific full-body exercise in its own right, but also works well as a stepping stone to the overhead squat. That’s because it involves the same muscles in similar positions, just without you having to keep the barbell raised throughout the entire movement.

Stand with the barbell racked in front of your chest and your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop into a squat, then push back up and press the bar overhead. Lower it back to your chest, then drop into another squat.

Overhead lunge

This is a great exercise for building strength in your lower body and core, with the challenge of staying balanced and upright even greater at the bottom of a lunge position than in a squat. You can use any type of weight you want: a medicine ball is a great option for beginners, a set of dumbbells is ideal for intermediates, and a barbell is only to be used by advanced gym-goers.

Hold the weight overheard and step forwards into a lunge, lowering until both knees are bent at 90°. Push back up to the starting position. Make sure you keep your chest up as you lunge and hold the weight directly overhead so you’re not dragged out of position by the weight drifting to the front, back or side.

Joe Warner
Former editor of Men’s Fitness UK

Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.