Category Archives: Overhead Squat
I got a text the other night from a drunk lifter of mine who was in the middle of an argument with a bunch of his CrossFit friends. He asked, “Is your snatch or your overhead squat bigger?” I responded, “I have no idea.”
“Oh,” he said, “because we’re arguing about which is usually bigger.”
After the obligatory giggle regarding size, and how much it matters, I said, “That depends. Overhead squat if you’re not a very good lifter, snatch if you are.” That seems to ring true most of the time (or close enough) and we were texting, so I didn’t want to write him an entire article on the subject.
I did find his question rather serendipitous, though, because I’d just had another discussion about the relevance of the overhead squat to your snatch and I think that’s what was at the heart of the argument he was having. No one cares which is bigger. They do care about the following question:
Is doing the overhead squat – as a standalone exercise – going to make me a better snatcher?
The short answer is: Unless you are a rank beginner and are seriously lacking core strength, probably not. But there is a longer answer that bears explaining. First, though, lets figure out why one would ask such a question in the first place.
Overhead and Out of Mind: How Myths Are Made
These are the two arguments that are made the most often for why you should be using the overhead squat to increase your snatch:
Both of these are wrong. But they stem from valid concerns, and I can understand why you might think them true at first blush.
The Analogy is wrong because it assumes the overhead squat’s strength building benefits will affect the snatch in the same way the front squat’s strength building benefits affect the clean. That assumption is false. The front squat functions as a primary strength builder for the muscles in the legs, hips, and back. The overhead squat functions as a primary builder of core strength. (Yes, both exercises are compound and affect a wide range of muscles, as well as the nervous system, but we need to focus on their primary purpose since it is those reasons why we’d choose them over something else.)
The overhead squat is a great torso stabilizer and core destroyer, but it is a rather wimpy lower body exercise. It isn’t going to help you much if you’re struggling to stand up out of the bottom of your snatches. For that you need heavier squats of the front or back variety. What’s more, all of the core strength benefits of the overhead squat as an exercise are gained through heavy snatching anyway, because once you are as efficient as you should be, you’ll be close to your best overhead squat on every lift. Any additional benefit would be marginal at best.
In other words:
The two areas of strength building the overhead squat would need to promote if we were going to adopt it based upon The Analogy argument are already being covered by front squats and full heavy snatches. The overhead squat is redundant where the front squat is not. That is, The Analogy fails.
NOTE: If you can clean your best front squat, you can snatch your best overhead squat. The opposite is rarely true. That fact may help you understand the above argument a little better if you are having doubts.
Who Is Scared of a Little Snatch?
The Analogy is the boring argument for overhead squats. The Confidence Booster is much more interesting, has far more merit, and brings up the most important fact about weightlifting: it is a mental sport first, and a physical sport second.If you have the ability to snatch a light weight with perfect (or near perfect) form, then you have the technical ability to snatch a heavy weight with perfect form. The trouble is you won’t. And the reason you won’t is because heavy weights scare you and light weights don’t.
You pull the bar off the floor and it feels HEAVY. This causes some small part of your mind to worry that it might be “too heavy.” It isn’t. But you THINK it is. Panic sets in, and in that nanosecond of time, that minuscule space in which you have the chance to make a choice, you make the wrong one.
Your fight or flight response is activated and you buckle. All of the time and energy you spent drilling your form and technical skills goes out the window. You look as though you have never snatched a day in your life. You make a mistake (maybe many mistakes) that you KNOW are wrong, have fixed at light weights, and thought you were past.
But you never fixed your greatest flaw: your inability to control your fear.
All it takes is the smallest amount of self-doubt to ruin your snatch attempt. The faintest spark in a dry forest can light a monstrous fire that grows out of control and takes over your mind, causing you to lose all confidence in your ability to lift that son-of-a-bitch.
Overhead Squats to the Rescue?
Clearly, if we could just overhead squat far more weight than we could snatch then we would finally have the confidence to go for it, right? We wouldn’t have to overcome our fears because we wouldn’t have any. We’d KNOW that so long as we could pull that bar into position, then we’d be able to catch it, stand up, and slam that bar back down to the platform in a triumphantly loud display of awesomeness.
Man, that sounds good. But it is so wrong.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until next time to find out why. In part two, you’ll learn all about the four scariest phases of the snatch, why the overhead squat has nothing to do with them, and how to overcome them scary bits so that you can add even more kilos to the bar.
I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.” – Robert Browning
Snatching is a bitch. It simply isn’t like any other lift in the gym.Getting good at the snatch is nothing like getting good at the squat. It is more like getting good at the piano. And that means your approach to becoming a great snatcher must be different than your approach to anything else.
In part one of this article I discussed why the analogy of “front squats to cleans” with “overhead squats to snatches” didn’t make any sense in the argument for why a lifter would use the overhead squat as an exercise to increase their snatch.
But honestly, who cares?! That was the boring stuff.
What is interesting is what is happening between your ears. Snatching well has more to do with your mind than your body. And it is for this reason that after your early beginner phase overhead squats will not help you anymore.
NOTE: I want to avoid being dogmatic here. There are obviously cases where the overhead squat might have some benefit. But the population I am discussing is Olympic weightlifters who are no longer beginners. (This point will aid in the avoidance of confusion.) Overhead squats are simply not a part of the programs of most lifters in this population. That is a fact. I aim to answer the question, “Why is this true?”
To Overcome A Fear, You Must Face It
Everyone thinks the scary part of snatching must be catching it in the hole with that heavy weight held precariously overhead. And this is why they think the overhead squat is the fix. But that is not an accurate assessment of the problem.
The fear of catching in the bottom is a theoretical fear. It is the fear you have when you arethinking about the snatch. The fear we’re concerned with is the one that hits you when you are in the middle of actually snatching. Understanding this difference is imperative.
You don’t have a conscious fear during the act of snatching. It is not a fear you can put into words easily, other than, “Damn! This weight feels heavy!” It is an emotional (and immediate) response, a knee-jerk reaction that has broad consequences.
Your only recourse is to figure out where in the chain your fear response is triggered the most often, and then attack those spots as often as possible with as heavy a weight as possible – AKA, you face your fear.
The Four Scariest Phases Of The Snatch
Here are the places fear will getcha:
In other words, the entirety of the pull, NOT the parts of the lift associated with the overhead squat.
When the weight comes off the floor it will feel heavier than you want it to. This is because what is good form for a snatch is crappy form for a deadlift – you are in a “weak” position for pulling. But that doesn’t matter because your snatch is less than half of your deadlift. Your goal is a better sweep into the hip, not maximum strength off the floor.
Suck it up and stick with it.
When the bar gets past the knee you need to keep your shoulders over the bar, your hips up, and your heels down for as long as you possibly can – FAR longer than you will feel comfortable. A shift too early into the double knee bend is a mistake that is fine for beginners who are still learning how to hit the hip, but is a disaster for more advanced lifters. It will feel too heavy to actually get over your head. It isn’t.
Suck it up and stick with it.
Once the bar is in the hip, your job is to explode as hard and fast as humanly possible – or even faster. This means your hips need to fully extend (which is a hyperextension at the hip joint), your quads need to contract maximally, your feet need to drive through the platform hard, and you need to make sure that (through all of that) you don’t allow yourself to fall forward and ruin everything. If you go all-out, you’ll make it. If you wimp-out and cut this short by even a tiny bit, you will miss.
Suck it up and stick with it.
Finally, you must pull yourself down under the bar. Falling down under it is not only less efficient, it can be dangerous. The pull doesn’t stop at the hip; it simply shifts directions. Instead of pulling on the bar to bring it up, you are now pulling on the bar to bring yourself down. An aggressive pull under is far more likely to result in a rock solid lockout than a dive bomb will. Fear will cause you to fall rather than pull yourself down.
Suck it up and stick with it.
If you can do all of that, then all you have to do is stay tight, stabilize, and stand up. In other words, the easy part psychologically is the overhead squat, because by the time you are there, you are basically done.
I watch people snatching for hours every day. And these are the four places where I see the biggest breakdowns in form during a snatch done with weight heavy enough to cause problems. Only rank beginners are honestly failing on their snatches because of a weak overhead squat. Everyone else is failing because their mind is screwing up some part of their pull.
The overhead squat is a great exercise for people who aren’t snatching heavy weights every day. But it becomes irrelevant once you ARE snatching heavy weights everyday.
If you want to snatch big, then you need a lot more time workin’ that pull – mostly through more snatching!