The Overhead Squat: A Means to an End

By Edward Baker

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– Robin Goad, the last American to hold a world record in the snatch, never performed overhead squats in her training.

“The overhead squat is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.” – John Coffee

Recently, a misconception has prevailed, that increasing one’s overhead squat will increase one’s snatch. Other than being used to teach the snatch or as an occasional assistance exercise, the overhead squat has little importance in a weightlifter’s training compared to the full lifts, front and high bar back squats, and pulls. Furthermore, there is no need to try and establish a one rep max overhead squat at any point in a lifter’s career.

As a result, there are numerous scenarios in which the athlete will get to where they’re overhead squatting 100 pounds or more than what they’re capable of snatching. One justification I’ve heard is that “You overhead squat more than you snatch the same reason you front squat more than you clean.” This justification is invalid as the primary determinant on a made or missed snatch is the execution of the pull. If the bar is pulled to an inadequate height, the barbell loops, or the athlete does not set themselves in a position to receive the barbell overhead then the lift will be missed. A very common limiting factor on a clean is leg strength, so leg strength must be developed in order to stand up and then complete the jerk. Soviet studies elicit that the rate of successful jerks increase if one’s front squat is increased. In other words, the easier an athlete can stand up out of a clean, the greater possibility they’ll make the jerk. Leg strength is seldom a limiting factor in standing up out of a snatch.

Of course this is with exception; my friend Rachael Bommicino is very hypermobile and will hit a deep, mechanically disadvantageous bottom position she receives the bar in a snatch. Therefore she includes overhead squats and drop snatches in her routine to accommodate this. This is the very rare exception.

I do use the movement to teach the snatch, or when I’m warming up with the bar before a workout, or I may just throw it in a workout if I get bored. I have no idea who the first to suggest that this was a movement that should ever be maxed out on and kept up with along with one’s snatch, clean and jerk, and squat max. It should never be considered an end. I’m well aware that the overhead squat is a popular exercise to show up in CrossFit competitions, so naturally one would want to practice the movement to some extent if this is your situation. I’m simply trying to dispel the myth that a greater overhead squat yields a greater snatch when it has very little carryover.

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2 comments
  1. John – Good article. As a rule, I only have beginners or lifters who struggle with a good bottom position do overhead squats.

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