As we all know, the first time trying an overhead squat can be quite the experience. It feels super awkward, its hard to put all of the pieces together and often times your body just does not feel like it can get into the right position.
Like all other exercises, mastering the overhead squat and snatch is going to require intense technical practice, probably more so then most other exercises. The movements requires a ton of flexibility, stability and coordination to perform safely and efficiently.
One of the major limiting factors of someone’s ability to properly overhead squat is flexibility. I decided to compile a video list and demonstration of my favorite stretches and mobility drills to increase flexibility for these lifts. Some things to keep in mind with these stretches:
The longer you hold a stretch, the more of a permanent change you’ll create in that tissue. The concept is called total end range time (TERT) and research shows that the longer you hold the stretch, generally the better results you’ll get (Flowers & LaStayo, 1994). (Keep in mind that most of the research has been done in individuals with contractures which is a bit different then an athlete looking to increase their overhead flexibility)
The worse your flexibility is, the more stretching you’ll have to do. Remember the concept of TERT, more time stretching = better results. Daily stretching works best in my experience
If you have a flexibility limitation and can’t perform these exercises correctly you’ll be at an increased risk of injury. Hammer your flexibility before trying to add weight to these exercises. Training with poor flexibility and bad form will build poor motor patterns and future injury. When learning to snatch correctly after having learned how to do snatch with poor technique, you’ll have to break your old habits and then form new ones. This process takes a long time and a lot of effort.
I honestly believe one of the major reasons why people get injured or hurt in crossfit is because they are doing exercises that require extreme ranges of motion like muscle-ups, ring dips and olympic lifts and they aren’t simply flexible enough to perform the exercises properly. These exercises require a tremendous amount of flexibility, stability and coordination. Couple that on top of a fatigued athlete in the middle of an intense workout and you’ve got an injury on your hands. Let’s avoid this!
Holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time decreases the muscle’s ability to produce power. The longer the stretch is held, the larger the decrease in power. I discussed this topic in length HERE: Because of this phenomenon I recommend spending a good 30 minutes really hammering your flexibility the day before a squat session. In the warm-up before the session the same stretches can be used but I wouldn’t hold them quite as long and I would use some of the contract relax and reciprocal inhibition techniques more.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the hip flexors directly oppose the hip extensors, which produce power in the squat. I would recommend thoroughly stretching the hip flexors immediately before squatting for the flexibility benefits as well as the added benefit of turning off a muscle group that may be decreasing the power output of the hip extensors (glutes mainly) during an exercise like the squat.
The reciprocal inhibition and contract relax techniques have a neurological component which provide fast improvements in flexibility. They are very powerful tools, give them a shot.
Proper exercise technique is only one part of the equation. Having the correct programming is another extremely important part of the equation. I spend copious amounts of time creating competitive crossfit programming for those who wish to minimize risk of injury and promote longevity. Learn more about the program by clicking HERE:
I broke these videos into 5 parts. I’ve put coaching cues directly onto the youtube videos right below the video player. I embedded the videos for your benefit, to see the coaching cues you’ll have to click the link in the bottom right of the video that says youtube(watch on youtube). Special thanks to Steph Oliva (my beautiful girlfriend) for letting me video her doing the exercises. I get a great deal of pleasure by helping others out there with their sport and fitness. You’re allowing me to live my dreams!
I’ve also taken bits and pieces from very smart people out there, particularly Kelly Starret and wanted to give credit where its due. Check out his blog here.
Stretches and Mobility Drills to Prepare for the Snatch and Over Head Squat – Part 1: Hip Flexors, Adductors and Anterior Capsule
Part 2: Hip External Rotators and Hip Posterior Capsule
Part 3: Gaining Thoracic Spine Extension
Part 4: Ankle Mobility from the Soleus
Part 5: Pecs, Lats and Shoulder Posterior Capsule
Hey guys, I’d love to hear your feedback about the videos. If you enjoyed the videos please let me know by signing up for the newsletter found on the top right part of the page. Also, let me know if you guys have any favorite stretches that you like to use to get in squat ready shape. Brainstorming and sharing is what makes crossfit safer and more fun!
Flowers, K. R., & LaStayo, P. (1994). Effect of total end range time of increasing passive range of motion. Journal of Hand Therapy, 7(3), 150-157. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7951706