How Do Overhead Squats Work Your Core?

A long-time tool in the training arsenal of Olympic weightlifters, overhead squats work your legs, core and shoulders. Originally used to assist with rising out of the bottom of the snatch, one of two lifts contested in weightlifting, overhead squats provide strength and conditioning for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any strength or conditioning program.

Overhead Squat

Gripping the bar appropriately is critical for the success of this lift. To find your appropriate hand spacing, stand with your arms straight out, then bend your arms up at the elbow until you have formed 90-degree angles. This is how far apart your hands should be. Grip the bar over your head and rotate your elbows out. Stand with your feet as wide as your hips with your toes pointed out slightly. Create tension in your upper back for stability by twisting and rotating your elbow out, and grip the bar as if you were trying to pull it apart. The bar should be in line with the back of your head, which should be in line with your hips, which should be in line with the middle of your feet. Descend by bending at the knees and hips and keep the bar in line with your hips and your mid-foot at all times. At the bottom of the lift, the bar will be slightly behind your head. Stand up by driving powerfully with your legs.


The main muscles of your abdominals, the rectus abdominis, contract to keep you from collapsing forward under the overhead squat. The more weight you use, the more this core muscle has to work. Your rectus abdominus contracts to keep your ribcage upright and your pelvis stable. There is little movement occurring in your abdominus, which means they are contracting isometrically. If there is a great deal of movement in your rectus abdominis, something is wrong with your technique.


Your obliques are the abdominal muscles at the sides of your waist. These muscles assist with the rotation of your torso and contribute to the power of both throwing and punching motions. These core muscles are heavily recruited during the overhead squat to keep your torso from leaning to one side or the other. Should the bar twist at all during the overhead squat, your obliques will work even harder to maintain the stability of your torso. Do not attempt to twist the bar on purpose to work your obliques with the bar over your head. If you drop it, the bar has only one place to go.

Lower Back

Your lower back, specifically your spinal erectors, works to keep you from leaning forward in conjunction with your rectus abdominis. Your erectors will work through a larger range of motion as your hip joints straighten coming up out of the bottom of the lift. The stronger your erectors, the easier it is to maintain proper torso alignment in the bottom of your overhead squat. At no time should you lean forward any more than necessary when performing the overhead squat.

About the Author

Grey Evans began writing professionally in 1985. Her work has been published in "Metabolics" and the "Journal of Nutrition." Gibbs holds a Ph.D. in nutrition from Ohio State University and an M.S. in physical therapy from New York University. She has worked at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and currently develops comprehensive nutritional and rehabilitative programs for a neurological team.