“Your Form Looks Horrible!” Or, 5 Ways to a Better Overhead Squat

(oops! I accidentally posted this post last night. This is why I don’t pre-write my posts LOL. Anyway, GOOD morning, friends Open-mouthed smile)

The quote in this post’s title may not be what she told me, but that’s what I heard!

The other day I had my friend Michelle, who’s an athletic trainer at Accelerated Physical Therapy, come into the gym and set up a little station for injury screening and form analysis for members. There’s a lot to it, but she basically sets up her little gadgets and stations, and then has her pupil go through a series of exercises to see where they might have any imbalances, injuries, or just areas of poor form.


Being the brave soul I am, I went through it first, happy that I was scoring high on all of my exercises – like it was some sort of test or something – I’m a huge nerd.

Then came the overhead squat exercise. And my happy ego quickly deflated, making the sound of a baloon letting out too much air.

I was a bit leary of this exercise before starting – as I know absolutely suck at it. I have way too much forward lean. However, instead of working on it, like I should, I just conveniently avoid it. Bad, I know.

All I had to do was look at Michelle’s face to see she was horrified with my form. She nailed it down to tight shoulders and poor hip mobility, neither of which surprised me. She suggested a few pointers, which I took with me and ran.

Here’s how I’ve bettered my overhead squat form:


1. I’ve learned the Smith Machine is my friend!

I typically avoid the smith machine, except when it comes to using it to help with my pull up goals. In my mind, free weights are better than those on tracks – except when they’re not. And they’re not when you are just starting out, are lifting very heavy without a spotter, not focusing on stabilizer muscles helping out, or, in my case, have a muscle imbalance. I started with no weights for a couple weeks, and now I’m up to using weights that look like little birds sitting on the ends of the bar. No shame.

2. Use a band or a jump rope, aka, no weight, at first.

This helps your muscles learn and take away the good form I used from the smith machine, and practice it, before adding weights. After a week or so, I progressed to a 20, and then a 30# barbell, where I am now.

3. Place heels on a couple plates.

This helps a lot with ankle and hip mobility, and minimizes forward lean, in my case.

4. Using the good girl/bad girl machine.

Didn’t think there’s a use for this machine? Well….there’s not, except for when there is – the same reasons listed for using track-based exercises in point #1.

5. Keep at it! Just because you don’t see progress within the first week, doesn’t mean progress isn’t going to happen at all. Start with small changes, honor your body, and challenge yourself, and progress will come.

I’ve also been foam rolling like it’s my job – especially right before I’m going to do lower body weights or even just work on my overhead squat form.

So yeah, between that, and researching my hiney off about how to increase flexibility in the hip flexors and shoulders, I’ll get this exercise!

All right, I’m off to work on some training plans before heading to the gym for work.)

What exercise do you feel you need to improve?

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  1. We use the FMS at work! How awesome is it, right!??! I couldn’t believe it when I finally had someone do it on me instead of me having my clients do it all the time! I just wrote an article for FitDay about squat form, it’s not up yet but I’ll let you know – try rolling out the bottom of your feet with a body bar or weight! Helps break up the tight fascia and allows you to squat deeper! :)
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  2. So I’m considering it a good thing that I noticed the “forward lean” before you mentioned it. Y’know my CPT test is on wednesday…. (AH!!)
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  3. I’ve always avoided the Smith machine too…I should really give it a try. I tend to avoid lunges, just because I’m not a fan. if I’m in a program and they’re involved I’ll suck it up, but on my own, conveniently find a different exercise :-p
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  4. Just did 50 of these in tonight’s workout. Hate would be an appropriate word for my feelings. I do the conveniently avoid thing too 😉
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  5. i’m eating noats right now!!!!!! lately i’ve been drenching them in unsweetened cocoa powder – the extra dark kind! SO GOOD. i’ve been taking it pretty easy lately too and i actually thought about doing bikram tomorrow! i’m thinking about doing the whole30 challenge from thanksgiving-xmas to see how it goes – let me know if you want to do it together! xoxo

    • They’re so good! I gotta try the cocoa powder.
      I checked out the Whole30 program after chattin’ with ya the other day. Looks like a great challenge! I just personally don’t do well at those kinds of challenges – too much pressure for me (my own doing – not that it would be for you or anyone else, of course! :))

  6. I am sooooo bad at overhead squats. Those are definitely a huge weakness for me. I’m inspired that you worked to improve your form though. I just avoid doing them. haha
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  7. I’m always working on squats. They seem to be the easiest for me to get lazy with. I normally steer clear of the smith machine too. I have no idea why. I need to play on it one day. You’ve convinced me!
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  8. Overhead squats are tough. If you lack any sort of flexibility they are brutal. I love your tips for improving them. Shoulder mobility exercises before you do your OHS will really help with form too! Check out mobilitywod.com for a ton of awesome mobility exercises.
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  9. Great post, Paige! I used to have perfect squat form but over the past six months it’s deteriorated. My hip flexors are so tight and my upper back mobility is terrible. I now spend a good 20 minutes warming up before squats. It’s annoying because I can see how bad my form is but I can’t do anything to fix it. I’m actually going to take a break from squats for a while to work on mobility.
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  10. gosh this makes me think my form must be terrible
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  11. squats.

  12. I hate working at the things i’m bad at too! butttt I used to hate box jumps because i was bad at them and now I like them because i’ve improved! (:
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  13. To me it looks like you are arching your back quite a bit.
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