Muscle Clean – What You Need to Know

If it seems to you that there is a never-ending supply of versions of the clean, then you’re not alone. Today we focus on the muscle clean, which is an accessory training move that will help you to be more technically proficient on all of the other versions. 

What is the Muscle Clean?

The muscle clean is a version of the power clean exercise that is performed in the same manner until you reach the upward extension of the body. At this point in the exercise, you keep your legs straight, your body tall and bring the elbows as high as you can.

When they are at their maximum height, you flip them under the bar to get into the rack position. Unlike the power clean, squat clean, and hang clean, you do not drop into any type of squat position during this exercise.

The muscle clean is not nearly as an explosive exercise as the other versions of the clean. However, it is a very useful training technique move to help you to become more proficient in those other versions. Because there is no jumping or squatting involved in the muscle clean, it emphasizes the shoulders and core.

Muscles Worked During Muscle clean

The muscle clean works much of the same muscles as do other versions of the clean. These include the key muscles of the posterior chain (back, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings), as well as the trapezius, deltoids, and biceps.

Muscle Clean Benefits

The muscle clean requires more pulling strength in the upper body than other versions of the clean due to the absence of explosiveness and momentum. With this exercise, you are also pulling the bar higher, which requires more muscle recruitment from the trapezius deltoids and biceps. 

The lack of momentum and explosiveness with this exercise also requires the lifter to get his elbows under the bar more quickly than other forms of the clean. As a result, this exercise is an effective way to target enhanced elbow drive when performing the direct portion of the move. 

When you perform the muscle clean, the lack of explosiveness requires you to make greater use of your legs and hips to bring the bar up. This will help you to execute a cleaner technique at the finish of the upward pull portion. At the same time, you will be having to rely on greater leg drive to get the bar up.

In addition to all of these techniques’ benefits, the muscle clean will improve your gripping power and forearm strength. It is also an effective endurance and cardiovascular exercise and, being a major compound movement, will help you to get rid of unwanted body fat by enhancing your metabolic rate.

Muscle Clean FAQs

What type of lifter is the muscle clean best suited for?

The muscle clean is an excellent auxiliary exercise for all Olympic weightlifters performing Olympic lifts. If you are a beginner, this exercise will help you to learn the proper technique that will lend itself to every other form of power clean movement. Lifters who have specific weaknesses in the turnover phase or are not fast enough in bringing the elbows under the bar, are deficient in producing leg drive or have problems keeping their body upright during the lift, will also benefit from practicing with the muscle clean.

Lifters who are interested in building strength in the upper body will benefit from this version of the clean more than any other. However, bodybuilders will also benefit by using the muscle clean as a foundational compound exercise to build rugged thickness in the upper body.

Its effect on building explosive power in the lower body is not as great as when you perform the squat clean or the conventional power clean. Bodybuilders will also benefit from this foundational compound power movement to add thickness to their upper body

People who do not have the mobility required to perform either the squat clean or the power clean, should stick to the muscle clean.

What sort of weight, set and rep scheme should you use with muscle cleans?

Because the muscle clean is primarily a technique enhancer, you should use a relatively lighter weight than you would on your clean or clean and jerk moves. Drop the weights to 50% and focus on form. Keep your reps low, in the 3 to 5 rep range, with a similar number of sets. Take a look at the intensity table further down for more detail.

Can the muscle clean be done with dumbbells?

Yes, the muscle clean can be performed with dumbbells. To perform this version, grab a pair of medium-weight dumbbells. Hold them so that your palms are facing each other and the weights are at arm’s length. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

Now, in one explosive motion, straighten your hips and knees and shrug your shoulders as you pull the dumbbells as high as you can. Punch your elbows under the weights so that in the top position they are resting on the top of your shoulders.

How does the muscle clean differ from the power clean?

The power clean is a more explosive exercise than the muscle clean. It involves a vertical jump from the hang position to bring the heels and toes off the floor in order to generate the explosiveness required to rack the bar. In contrast, your feet remain in contact with the floor at all times when you perform the muscle clean exercise. It involves a greater level of upper body strength to bring the bar to the rack position than the power clean.

How does the muscle clean differ from the squat clean?

The squat clean is an even more explosive exercise than the power clean. As a result, it is the most different from the muscle clean of all clean versions. In the squat clean, you immediately descend into a full squat after completing the rack position of the clean. As with the power clean, you are using explosiveness to get into the rack position.

As we have seen with the muscle clean, however, there is very little reliance on explosiveness with that move, with the emphasis being upon upper body strength and power.

What other variations of the muscle clean are there?

You can perform a muscle clean from blocks to focus on the second half of the movement. You may also choose to wear straps but this may make it difficult to perform the elbow flip to get into the rack position. You can also perform this exercise with a thumb-less grip as a way to strengthen your gripping power.

How to Muscle Clean

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet slightly closer than shoulder width and pointed slightly outward. Bend the knees to come down to the bar, keeping your back straight and hinge your hips back. Grab the bar with a double overhand grip that is about a thumbs distance from your hips.
  2. Drive through the heels to bring the bar up to the hand position, where the bar is resting at midthigh level and you are standing upright. Without bending your knees, pull your elbows up as high as possible (imagining that you are doing a wide grip upright row). Keep your elbows extended out as you bring the bar up. At the highest point of elevation, flip the elbows under the bar to assume the rack position with the bar resting across the meat of your shoulders. Do not bend your knees throughout this process.


This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RM Intensity Level Usefulness
60-70 Light Technique
70-80 Light-medium Technique, Speed work
80-85 Medium Power, muscle gain
85-90 Medium-Heavy Strength
90-95 Heavy Strength
95-100 Maximum Strength

How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Muscle Clean Form points

  • It can be useful to regard this exercise as a wide grip upright row with the final elbow flip at the finish. This will emphasize the need to bring the elbows up as high and wide as you can.
  • Stand with your feet slightly closer than hip width stance.
  • Your hands should be about a thumbs distance from your hips.
  • At the start of the movement your shoulder should be slightly in front of the bar.
  • Maintain a natural curvature to the lower spine.
  • Ensure that your hips and shoulders lift at the same time.
  • Keep your heels down and push into the floor.
  • Initiate the upward pull of the bar with a shoulder shrug.
  • Keep your elbows out wide as you pull the bar up.
  • When you lift the bar, keep it tight to your body by dragging it up your T-shirt.
  • As soon as you get to the level of your upper chest, proceed to flip your elbows under the bar.
  • Keep in mind that the muscle clean should not in any way resemble a reverse curl; your hands should remain close to your body at all times.


The muscle clean is a less explosive form of the clean exercise than any other version. This means that it requires more upper body strength. It’s a good auxiliary exercise to help you train technique or just to build raw power and strength throughout your upper body. Keep your sets and reps relatively low and be sure to mix this one up with the more explosively demanding forms, such as the power clean and the squat clean. 

Squat Clean – What You Need to Know

Two of the most effective weightlifting moves that you can ever perform are the squat and the clean and jerk. They are also two of the oldest exercises that we have. When you combine these two foundational moves, you get the squat clean. It is a fantastic exercise for anyone who wants to build their strength, explosive power, and functional fitness.

What is the Squat Clean?

The squat clean is essentially the first part of the clean and jerk exercise. In that movement, you clean the weight from the floor up to the rack position (shoulder level) and then drop into a full squat before ascending and thrusting the weight overhead.

The squat clean is the above movement without the overhead jerk component. It differs from the power clean, which does not include the squat part of the exercise. 

Muscles Worked During Squat Clean

The squat clean is a lower body-centric exercise. It directly stimulates the following muscle groups:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves

This exercise also works your core area, which braces and stabilizes your core throughout the lift. In terms of the upper body, the clean portion of the exercise directly works the trapezius, deltoids, and biceps.

Squat Clean Benefits

The squat clean combines the benefits of the squat and the clean movement. It is a fantastic move for developing explosive power, especially through the lower body. This translates to many sports applications and everyday activities.

The squat clean is a very effective training exercise for Olympic lifters. Part of an effective Olympic weight lifting program involves breaking down the three classic moves (clean, snatch and clean and jerk) into their component parts and training each one separately. By training the squat clean portion of the clean and jerk as an individual exercise, you will be training yourself to immediately drop your body under the bar during the clean movement. This will allow you to lift heavier weight.

Squat Clean FAQs

How does the squat clean differ from the power clean?

The squat clean involves the extra squat component that you do not get with the conventional power clean. This makes for a more taxing exercise but also allows you to use more weight. The reason for that is that you are not pulling the bar up as high as you would if you were doing the conventional power clean movement. You are, therefore, able to get under the bar having pulled not quite as high as you would on a power clean, conserving vital energy.

You should be able to lift a weight that is 10 to 15% heavier than you would on power cleans when doing the squat clean. 

The squat clean is a better exercise for the general gym-goer who is interested in functional fitness and calorie burning weight loss moves. It is also an effective mass builder, especially in the lower body. And, if you are looking to improve your cardiovascular endurance, the squat clean is also a good choice.

How does the squat clean differ from the hang clean?

The hang clean is another variation of the power clean. In this version, you start with the bar at your knee level rather than on the floor. So, you begin the exercise with the bar at arm’s length resting along your thighs. You then pull the bar up to the rack position while dipping the hips.

We can say, then, that the hang clean is the second half of the power clean movement. Even though it involves a much shorter range of motion than either the power clean or the squat clean, it does not allow you to move as much weight because you are not generating nearly as much explosive momentum and power.

The hang clean is more of an upper-body strengthening and conditioning move than either of the other two clean versions. It pretty much completely cuts legs out of the equation. In contrast, the squat clean is lower body dominant. 

How should I incorporate squat cleans into my workout?

The squat clean is an extremely taxing exercise, as it essentially involves four moves:

  • the deadlift
  • the clean
  • the squat
  • the ascent

Unless you are using a lightweight, you should keep your reps in the under 10 range (see “intensity” table further down. If you are using this exercise to build up your lifts, down two sets of 2 to 4 reps. For general muscle building, go with 4-5 sets of 8 to 12 reps per set. 

If you’re performing this exercise as part of a weight loss program, keep the weight down to 50% of your one-rep max, and perform three sets of 15 reps.

How is the squat clean used in CrossFit?

You will see the squat clean performed more frequently in a CrossFit box than in a conventional gymnasium. It is used predominantly as an endurance exercise. A number of the classic CrossFit WODs are built around the squat clean exercise. The most famous is known as the “Heavy Squat Clean Grace”. It involves doing 30 squat cleans with a weight of 155 lbs. in the shortest possible time.

Is the squat clean a better exercise than the standard squat?

The answer to the question of whether the squat clean is better than the standard squat depends on what your training goal is. If you are training for bodybuilding, with the goal of increasing the size of your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, then the conventional barbell squat is the exercise for you. 

However, if you are wanting a full range of motion exercise that does a great job of improving your functional strength, then the squat clean is the better option. Obviously, you should also train with the squat clean if you are an Olympic weightlifter.

People who are wanting to improve their cardiovascular endurance and the maximum amounts of body fat, while also get more bang for their buck by replacing the traditional squat with the squat clean. The squat clean is also the best option for improving your explosive power, especially in the lower body.

Squat Clean Variations

By far the best way to perform the squat clean is with an Olympic barbell. We advise starting the exercise with an empty bar until you have perfected the technique and then slowly adding weight. This exercise is quite difficult to master and so it is imperative that you do not rush the process. Be sure that you have got your technique down pat before you start piling on the weight plates. 

If for any reason, you are unable to perform the exercise with a barbell, it can be done with dumbbells. However, the move is trickier and requires greater unilateral coordination.

Another variation of the squat clean is the overhead squat.

Doing The Squat Clean Safely

When you are performing any version of an Olympic lift, powerlifting lift or simply hoisting a challenging poundage overhead, you need to be thinking safety first. Make sure that you have no prior injuries or shoulder mobility problems. Every exercise that you perform relies on the functionality of your shoulder joint.

If you are new to this form of exercise and are worried about whether your body will be able to handle it, you should see your doctor first. If your general practitioner is clueless about Olympic weightlifting (which is more than likely the case), find a good physical therapist and have an evaluation done prior to starting any Olympic lifts.

Before you start lifting, make sure that you clear the lifting area. The only thing on the lifting platform should be you and the bar. That means clearing the area of any obstructions, including extra bars, plates or collars. If you miss a lift and have to bail out of it, having extra equipment lying around could cause a potential safety hazard. When you’re dealing with a heavy barbell, all it takes is one misstep and you could put yourself out of action for months.

You should also check your equipment for damage before lifting. Give the bar a once over and be sure that the sleeves are held tightly. If they are held on by screws be sure that they are securely fastened. Even though it may seem obvious, make sure that you have the same size, weight and number of plates on each side. Don’t make the mistake of loading one side of the bar with two 25-pound plates and the other with a 50-pound pate. Your body will notice the difference.

If you think that you’re too clever to make the mistake of an unevenly balanced bar, just think back to June 20, 2020, when powerlifting legend Julius Maddox attempted a world record 800-pound bench press. Even though this was an official world record attempt, the officials who loaded the weight put 25 KG more on one side of the bar than the other. This completely threw Julius. He knew instantly that something wasn’t right and managed to abandon the lift. He was rightly furious but, fortunately, unhurt.

As you can see by watching the above video, when the number of plates is uneven, the bar will lean to the side with more plates due to the upset of the centre of gravity. This greatly increases the risk of dropping the bar.

When you are loading or unloading plates of an Olympic bar that is sitting on a rack, do so one plate at a time as you alternate sides. If you take all of the weights off one side first, the bar will become unevenly weighted and may fall off the support rack.

Before lifting you should also have a quick inspection of the plates, specifically checking for cracks. If a plate is correct and you drop the bar, there may be damage to the floor or platform. There is also a possibility that a cracked plate could break apart while you’re in the middle of the lift, something which could cause serious injury. Be sure to check the collars to make sure that they are undamaged and properly secure the plates in place.

When you are using an Olympic lifting bar, you should only use collars that are rated for Olympic weightlifting and always be sure to use the same two collar types on each end of the bar. You never want to mix collar types by, for example, putting a spring collar on one side of the bar and a clamp collar on the other side.

Check over the squat rack or the power rack that you are using before use to make sure that the J-hooks and other components are all in good order.

Knowing how to escape out of a missed lift is very important. If you miss a hang clean, simply push the bar forward and move back. Things are a little trickier if you have to pull out of a full clean. However, you should follow the same strategy by pushing the bar away from you and jumping backward.

When it comes to escaping a missed lift on the snatch, you need to move in the opposite direction to the bar. So, if the snatch is missed while you are attempting to go overhead, it will be heading behind you. Release the bar and it will continue in that direction. Now move yourself forward as quickly as you can.

If you fail on the snatch or lose control of it while you’re on the bottom of the squat and the bar is over your head, you will have to quickly determine which way the bar is going to fall. Simply let it go in that direction and move in the opposite direction. 

Key Safety Points for the Squat Clean

  • clear the lifting area
  • check the bar for damage
  • check the weight and dimensions of plates on both sides of the bar
  • check the plates for cracks
  • check the collars for damage
  • make sure that the collars are a matching pair
  • check the squat rack for any abnormal wear and tear

How to Squat Clean

  1. Stand in front of the bar with a closed stance and the toes pointing slightly outward. Take a grip on the bar which is slightly wider than you would have if you were dead lifting. Drop your hips, and bend the knees to lower into starting position. Look at the floor and breathe in as you tense your abs.
  2. Begin the clean motion by pushing into the floor with your heels and driving up with your hips as you bring the bar up directly in front of your torso. As your body ascends you want to bring the bar as high as you can.
  3. When the bar ascends to the level of your core, flip your elbows to power them forward. This will bring the bar up to the rack position at shoulder level.
  4. As soon as the bar makes contact with your deltoids, drop down into the squat position, being sure to keep your core breast, and your chest up. Go all the way down into the full squat. 
  5. From the bottom squat position immediately power back up to erect position.

Key Form points

  • As you start the lift, the elbows should be in contact with the knees.
  • Be sure to take a deep breath and embrace your core as you begin the lift.
  • The recovery at the top of the clean involves a small partial squat.
  • Make sure that you drop down into a full squat with the elbows and knees level in the bottom position.
  • Keep your chest up at all times.
  • Do not cause or take a breath as you transition from the clean into the squat.
  • Thinking about getting over the bar in the top position.


This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RM Intensity Level Usefulness
60-70 Light Technique
70-80 Light-medium Technique, Speed work
80-85 Medium Power, muscle gain
85-90 Medium-Heavy Strength
90-95 Heavy Strength
95-100 Maximum Strength

How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity


The squat clean is a great full body training exercise. Though quite technically difficult to master, once you do master it, will be able to use it to improve your numbers on the three Olympic weightlifting moves, build tremendous lower body explosive strength, improve your functional fitness, and burn a ton of calories. So, whether you are an Olympic lifter, a bodybuilder, an athlete or simply someone trying to get in shape, the squat clean is definitely an exercise worth mastering.

Push Press – What You Need to Know

The push press is a compound exercise that develops strength, explosive power, and muscle mass primarily through the upper body. This is a foundational move for many strength athletes as well as powerlifters and bodybuilders. It is a fantastic movement to strengthen and stabilize the core while pushing maximum weight overhead.

What is the Push Press?

The push press is a version of an overhead barbell lift that is more advanced than the bodybuilder’s military press, yet not as complex as the clean and jerk. 

Muscles Worked During Push Press

The push press places a lot of emphasis on the upper body muscles. It specifically and directly targets the deltoids (especially the front delt), pectorals, triceps, trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi. 

As far as the lower body goes, the quadriceps provide plenty of power during the overhead push. This exercise also involves the glutes and the hamstrings. When you are holding the bar overhead, the erector spinae muscles at the base of the spine also get a good workout.

Push Press Benefits

The push press is an effective exercise to increase the strength and muscle mass of your upper body. They will especially build and strengthen the deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles. This exercise allows you to use a heavier weight than you can for the standard military press because of the explosiveness that you can generate through the dipping motion.

This exercise also develops explosive power through the legs and hips, making it advantageous as a training exercise for most athletes. It will help them to improve their agility and lower-body explosiveness.

For Olympic weightlifters, the push press is a beneficial auxiliary training exercise that will help with the jerk and snatch. For this reason, it should be an integral part of any Olympic lifters training routine.

The push press is a very good training exercise to prepare you for the more complicated and technical moves and therefore should be incorporated into a transition program for beginners.

Push Press FAQs

Who should do the push press?

The push press is a versatile exercise that has many applications. It is a very good auxiliary training move for Olympic weightlifters that can help them to advance in their three key lifts. Beginners to the sport should also use the push press as part of their progression in mastering the technique of the clean and jerk.

Powerlifters will also benefit by incorporating the push press into their training regimen. Despite the fact that there are no overhead movements in competitive powerlifting (unless you consider the bench press an overhead movement), incorporating the push press into their training program will allow powerlifters to build strength and power in many of the muscles that they rely upon to complete their craft. These include the delts, pectorals, trapezius, and triceps.

Strongman competitors will also benefit from this exercise. The overhead press is a mainstay of all strongman competitions, so the push press has direct relevance to the sport. 

The push press is also quite commonplace in the CrossFit arena. It is often incorporated into WODs. It can also help CrossFitters to gain the strength needed to complete other exercises required in their sport such as muscle-ups and kipping pullups.

Players of contact sports that require a large amount of push and will also benefit from incorporating the push press into their training program. Bodybuilders will also be able to use this exercise to build a foundation of thick, rugged upper body muscle mass.

What sort of set and rep scheme is best with the push press?

The best type of set and rep scheme with the push press depends on your specific training goal. If your primary focus is on developing explosiveness and power for sports like football or rugby league then you should keep your set range between three and four and your rep range no higher than five. Your weight should be about 75% of your one-rep max.

If you are intent on increasing your strength on this lift for application in Olympic weightlifting, strongman or powerlifting, then you should perform up to 5 sets permanent reps from 5 per set down to 1 per set. 

For bodybuilders and others who are interested in increasing their upper body muscle mass through the push press, the set range should be between four and five with the reps ranging between six and 15 per set. Begin at the higher range and pyramid down as you add poundage on every succeeding set.

If you are performing this exercise to enhance your training endurance for sports like CrossFit, then you should be performing no more than three sets with reps in the 10 to 20 range.  Take a look at the intensity table further down for more detail.

Can the push press be done with equipment other than a barbell?

Yes, the push press can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, and even medicine balls. However, regardless of the variation of weight that you are holding, be sure to follow that the technique tips provided below to ensure proper form and prevent injury.

How to Push Press

  1. Stand in front of a loaded Olympic bar and reached down to take an open hand grip just slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Rack the bar to your shoulders, keeping your chest out and maintaining a natural curvature to your spine. Imagine that you are pushing your chest into the bar. Look up toward the ceiling, keeping your elbows out.
  3. Maintaining an upright torso position, drop down about 6 inches by bending at the hips and knees. Your butt should not go back but must remain directly over your heels throughout this process. Do not allow your torso to move either backward or forwards.
  4. At the bottom of the dip, reverse direction by driving upward with your legs and thrusting your upper body and chest up as you power the bar to full arm extension.
  5. Use the entire strength of your upper body to push the bar up to lockout. In the top position the bar should be balanced just behind your head and in line with your spine. In this position, it will be held by the strength of your trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.


This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RM Intensity Level Usefulness
60-70 Light Technique
70-80 Light-medium Technique, Speed work
80-85 Medium Power, muscle gain
85-90 Medium-Heavy Strength
90-95 Heavy Strength
95-100 Maximum Strength

How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Push Press Form points

  • Hands just beyond shoulder width.
  • Feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Full grip on the bar in the rack position.
  • Elbows slightly in front of the bar.
  • Bar resting across the clavicles and shoulders in the rack position.
  • Torso dips directly down.
  • Heels remain down until the hips and legs extend.
  • Hips and legs extend rapidly then press.
  • The bar moves over the middle of the foot as heels come up.
  • At the top of the movement, full hip, knee, and arm extension are achieved.

Things to Avoid

A common mistake with the push press is having your hands too wide on the bar. When your hands are closer, you will have more leverage during the upper body drive. Be careful, also, not to allow your elbows to drift in from the rack position. Neither, though, do you want them too wide nor you will find it difficult to actually get under the bar. They should be as nearly under the bar as you can comfortably get them.

In the rack position, you should not look as if you are about to start a shoulder press. If you do, your hands are too wide. You won’t be able to use as much weight and you will be putting too much pressure on your wrists. 

Another common mistake is that lifters do not have their weight evenly distributed. If you are unbalanced, things will go wrong during the dip and you will end up with energy leaks that will prevent you from pushing the amount of weight that you should be able to.

Do not drift back or forward during any portion of the exercise.

When it comes to the power drive to push the weight overhead, don’t make the mistake of initiating from the upper body. The initial push should come from the legs with the upper body then kicking in to complete the movement. 

When you are in the lockout position, don’t make the mistake of allowing your head to move too far forward. This may negatively affect your center of gravity, forcing you to fall forward and drop the weight. To avoid this, keep your chin down during the lockout position. 


The push press is a foundational compound exercise that will develop strength and power through the entire body. The emphasis, however, is on the ‘show’ muscles of the upper body; the chest, shoulders, and triceps. This is an effective exercise to develop overall upper body power while at the same time enhancing the explosiveness of your lower body. The push press should be a staple of every Olympic lifter, powerlifter and strongman’s training regimen

The push press should be a staple of every Olympic lifter, powerlifter, and strongman’s training regimen. It is also a very good transitioning training tool for beginners to the Olympic lifts. Use this exercise wisely and correctly and you will reap its many benefits. 

Overhead Squat – What You Need to Know

The overhead squat is a weight lifting full squat exercise. used by everyone from Crossfitters to those exercising for Olympic lifts. It works on body strength and stability. This is a squat variation, as you hold a heavy load above your head while you squat.

The implements could be barbells and plates, or dumbbells and kettlebells. Using such “heavy” squats is the best way to improve your squat technique. It lays the foundation for progression onto the more complex back and front squats.

Overhead squat benefits

Gaining better stability and stronger muscles are but a few of the benefits of overhead squats. Your focus and balance will improve, as will flexibility of joints and muscles.

Overhead squat assessment

You can assess your alignment from head to toe. As you assess all the major points, such as knees, hips, and back, look from a side and front view. You’re looking to keep everything in a straight alignment. If not, you will not receive the full benefits of the move and may injure themselves.

Overhead squat workouts 

Many athletes avoid this workout because it takes high levels of control to get it right. That’s why you should always assess your moves. Every part of your body needs to be perfect to get the full benefits of this exercise. Your core will feel the most strain as gravity goes against the load above your head. That’s why it’s so perfect for stability.


What Muscles Does Overhead Squat Work?

This is a hard exercise that will push you to your limits. The results will strengthen your core, quads (shoulders), and legs foremost. As you take the heavy load down, it will put a strain on your thoracic spine (from shoulder to lower back), and lumbar spine (lower back).

That’s why it’s important to have the correct technique. It will help build a strong trunk. The hamstrings will work hard, as well as the glutes (butt), and abductors of the hips. Plus the ankles and wrists as so many parts of your body are being put to the test.

How Much Should I Be Able To Overhead Squat?

For a beginner, men should look to target a load of around 80-100% of their body weight, women a little less. Slowly increase the load until you reach your body weight. If you’re seasoned at this complex lift, you could do up to 1.4x your bodyweight. For beginners, weight is not important, concentrate on technique first.

How Often Can I Overhead Squat?

As a workout by itself, aim for around 4 sets with 3 reps. An alternative is to combine it with other equipment. On its own, it’s best to only do the overhead squat a couple of times a week.

How to Overhead Squat

Her are more detailed instructions to work out your routine for the overhead squat.

Step 1

Standing over the barbell to your front, place your feet with a shoulder-width space between them.

Step 2

Bend at the knees to pick up the bar, keeping your back straight, feet flat, and eyes looking to the front. Use an underhand grip (palms facing you) with hands positioned shoulder-width apart. As an alternative, you can take the bar from a low rack.

Step 3

With a snatch lift, bring the load up to your chest and then overhead. Keep arms fully extended as you position and hold the bar behind your head.

Step 4

With a slow movement, bend the knees until your thighs are on a parallel line with the floor. Experienced athletes can lower the hips until their butt almost hits the floor. Beginners, though, should keep the hips level with the knee line, as they squat with the heavy load.

Step 5

Finally, pushing with the feet and legs, drive the load back up again. Repeat the move for your required reps.

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Overhead squat vs thrusters

Thrusters are a combination of a front squat and an overhead squat, making it a compound exercise.

Overhead squat vs Squat 

Traditional squats, without equipment, are much easier to do. You could perform up to 50 traditional squats a day, but you should only do the overhead squat a couple of times a week. A traditional squat will keep your joints healthy and muscles stronger. Though this is more of a warm-up exercise than a specialist power move.

Overhead squat vs Front Squat

Lifting the load from the front allows you to take on a heavier load because it’s more focused on the anterior (front) muscles. The front squat can strengthen the abs, whereas an overhead squat targets the core.

Types of overhead squats

Equally, there are many ways to perform the overhead squat:

Dumbbell overhead squat 

Try using a dumbbell overhead with only one arm. This allows more power on each arm. Of course, you can hold one in each arm if you prefer but don’t allow the dumbbells to touch overhead. With no support for the arms, ie dumbbell bar, this is a hard workout and challenges stability. Use a light load and do a full squat.

Kettlebell overhead squat

Again, this exercise can be single or double-handed. Master first the technique and only then add the load and longer sets. If you go single-handed, hold the other free hand in a fist. This tightens muscles to give some balance with tension on the unused side. When you squat, actively use the foot on the unused side so you don’t lean and injure yourself.

Overhead Split Squat

Instead of a full squat, this is about going down on one knee which will touch the ground. You can still use weights with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebells. The exercise aids more in strengthening the upper body. The more forward you place the foot, the more you exercise the posterior muscles and hips. Or, place the foot further back and you work on the quads (front) muscles in the legs.

Overhead Ball Squat

Yes, you can even overhead squat while holding a ball in both hands, big or small. This makes it a similar movement with a barbell but without the extra weight. Workout those quads, shoulders, and legs. Though not so much the core, without a heavy load.

There’s no doubt that the overhead squat works those abs, but essentially it teaches you the stability of the core. It’s not easy to master so work on technique first and foremost before you increase the load.


There are many ways to perform a squat and they all target different muscles. Some may target muscles in isolation, meaning one muscle or joint. Others are more compound exercises targeting many muscles and joints.