Around the time of the CrossFit Games Open workout 15.2, we were all asked to perform a number of Overhead Squats both for the 15.2 workout that weekend, and once again for the workout of the day the following Tuesday. For me, the overhead squat has often been that difficult movement – requiring what would seem to be an awkward position that at times seemed next to impossible for me, especially when there was any significant load overhead.
At first, I thought that my shoulders were the problem. After all, that is where I felt the discomfort. However, studying the problem more closely, I began to understand that my problem lay primarily in hip mobility.
Here are a series of photos as I tried various flavors of mobility to improve the overhead squat. Please note for all of these photos that I am not rotating the shoulder to place the bar over the area. Instead, I am placing the bar in a neutral overhead position. My goal and priority here is to try to improve the angle of my torso (to be more and more upright, if possible).
The first photo is a baseline of where I was before performing any mobility that day. Other than rolling out of bed and drinking a cup or two of coffee, this is where I started. I tried to perform an overhead squat earlier in the day and found that it just wasn’t possible with any significant load. You can see that my torso is inclined about 56° above parallel. Additionally, I have my head down (fault). I can recall that this position just felt uncomfortable (hips felt tight).
One of the first things that we try to do with mobility is to place the joints into a better position. For the squat (hip flexion with external rotation) the femur is best located in the read (posterior) of the pelvis. When the femur is located in the back of the pelvis, the hip should have more movement options. Here is a MobilityWOD video that demonstrates the “Posterior Hip Mobility” exercise that I performed first.
After performing the “Posterior Hip Mobility” (two to three minutes per leg) I retested the squat. You can see from the photo that the torso angle improved from ~56° above parallel to ~59°.
A front view of this squat would show that the knees were tracking somewhat inside the toes (knees in, somewhat). In order to improve the torso angle, more external rotation at the hips would be required, allowing the knees to track over the shoelaces (subtalar neutral) and the hips to come forward under the shoulder. Here is a MobilityWOD video that demonstrates the “Flexion+External Rotation Hip Opener” that I selected next.
After performing the “Flexion+External Rotation Hip Opener” (two to three minutes per leg) I retested the squat. You can see from the photo that the torso angle improved from ~59° above parallel to ~61°. The bottom of the squat now began to feel a little more comfortable. I am also less on my toes and the weight is more correctly placed towards mid-foot/heels.
After working on the hip capsule, I decided to see what might happen with some ankle mobility exercises. The bottom of a squat requires ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) and sometimes, ankle mobility can restrict the bottom of a squat. In my case, the ankle mobility resulted in no improvement.
Each individual may have various mobility restrictions, so retesting allows you to identify your most effective mobility. You can see from this photo that the torso angle did not improve – in my case – with the ankle mobility.
Moving from the hips, I went after the psoas – a hip flexor that attaches to the spine and the femur. When tight, the psoas can limit hip flexion and result in over extension. Here is a MobilityWOD video that demonstrates the mobility I tackled next, using a large mobility ball (super nova) and 16 Kg kettlebell.
After performing this mobility WOD, I felt much more comfortable (less useless tension) in the bottom of the squat. In this photo, you can see that the torso angle improved from ~61° above parallel to ~63°.
With some fairly promising improvement, and some data on what was working, I decided that it was time to freestyle the mobility a bit. I performed some more flexion+external rotation mobility, this time focusing more on the outer/high glute area (hip rotators). Then I returned to the Psoas, this time with a lacrosse ball and kettlebell. I retested after each, and then once again after a thirty minute break. In this montage, you can see that the torso angle improved from ~63° above parallel to ~65°. You may also see a slight overextension in the left-most image, corrected somewhat after the second round of Psoas mobility WOD.
And finally, here is the before (left) and after (right) results pictured below. You can see from this photo (especially in the center overlay) of the dramatic improvement in the position the bar over the area of the base. Without working to improve the shoulder position – by improving the mobility in the hips (and pelvic position), the overhead squat position was improved.
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