Dumbbell Overhead Squat: Exposing Mobility Sins in the Highest Level Athletes
Written by Dr. Michael Tancini

With single-arm dumbbell overhead squats at the CrossFit Regionals this year, you’re going to see some mobility holes exposed in some really awesome athletes.

The bottom position of a single-arm dumbbell overhead squat is an extremely demanding position to get into. The mobility and stability requirements for this position are huge. You’ve got to have the mobility to get into the position before you can even think about trying to be stable in the position. If you have mobility deficits in your overhead position or in your squat positioning, prepare to be humbled by the movement!

What the Single-Arm DB Overhead Squat Demands

The movement requires you to stay upright in the bottom of the squat with the dumbbell controlled over your center of mass. The further the DB moves from your center of mass, the tougher the movement will be and the more energy you will need to exert in order to control the weight overhead. With an 80-pound dumbbell overhead, any deviation of the weight outside the center of mass is likely to result in a missed rep (or close to one).

Positional Requirements

Overhead position and ankle mobility are both crucial. If you are lacking in either of these positions you’ll likely be in for a long day. But thoracic spine mobility is probably the most important piece of the equation when talking about a mature overhead position. It’s also one of the most frequent mobility restrictions I see in the CrossFit athlete. If you are looking for the place to start with improving your overhead position, it’s probably here. Try these mobility drills to start:

Thoracic Spine Band Assisted Rotation

T-spine Overhead Bias Mobilization

Struggling to PR your snatch or jerk? Struggling with HSPU? Does your normal day consist of Sitting all day, on your phone all day, driving all day, on your computer all day, hunched over a book all day? If this looks like your normal daily activities, then you will probably answer yes to the question "do you struggle with your overhead position?" When we are in thoracic spine flexion all day, we lose the ability to access the ROM needed for a solid overhead position, thoracic extension. The thoracic spine is an area that many people neglect when it comes to mobilizing, but it's often one of the most important areas that you should be mobilizing. The thoracic spine extension is critical for developing a solid overhead position, moving more weight in your Olympic lifts, and staying pain free I'm your shoulders. Give this one a try. 1) grab a barbell and a roller, lay down on the ground and grab the barbell In your jerk grip with your upper back laying over the roller 2) think about bending the bar in half to generate an external rotation torque at your shoulders 3) slowly roll the roller up and down your thoracic spine while holding onto the barbell.like shown in the video 4) do this for 30-120s then retest your overhead position. Let me know how it works with you and make sure to share it with your friends! #movebetter #feelbetter #performbetter #overhead #snatch #cleanandjerk #overheadsquat #gymnastics #thoracicspine #overheadmobility #shouldermobility #mobility @newordercrossfit @iron_forged #invictusathlete #handstand #shoulderpain

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Shoulder Flexion (Putting the arm up overhead)

Banded-Active Shoulder External Rotation

And another banded external rotation, this one providing a mobilization to both sides and the T-spine all at the same time.

Now lets work our way down the chain to the lower body – the hips and ankles. We are going to start all the way at the ground, at the ankles. Poor ankle mobility is often the biggest limitation in the majority of people I see. With restricted ankles you’re going to get greater trunk forward lean in the squat, which will put even a greater demand on the overhead position. With the overhead squat, restricted ankles will make your hips and shoulders feel much “tighter” than they actually are. With mobile ankles, you’ll be able to buffer minor restrictions up the chain (in your hips and shoulders). Ultimately, the more mobile the ankles, the easier time you’ll have keeping the dumbbell overhead.

Ankle Dorsiflexion: Banded Mobilization with Movement

The first place to look regarding the source of your Achilles pain is your ankle range of motion. If you do not anyone to watch you, get your phone ready to video this next part. Test: feet shoulder width apart with your arms straight up overhead. Feet Pointing directly forward and your arms overhead, and squat as deep as you can. What happens? Do your feet automatic start turning out? Do you automatically get pulled into a forward lean? Do you feel your knees start to cave in so they are now tracking to the inside of your foot? Do your arms get pulled forward? Now put a piece of wood, or a small lift under your heels. And reassess your squat. Can you squat significantly lower? Does your chest now stay upright? Can your knees stay out on your squat? Does your fault disappear? All things that indicate your Ankle restriction probably plays a pretty big roll in your Achilles pain. Try this mobilization out and see if it helps! 1) take your shoe off and set the band low 2) use a box or a plate to raise your foot off the ground, aim for an angle of pull similar to the video 3) keep your toe pointed Forward and slowly move yourself through dorsiflexion, slowly into dorsiflexion – hold for 5 seconds and repeat for 10 reps. Perform 1-3 sets. Keep your knee drove out over the outside of your foot. Do not compromise into poor position just to get more "range" #movebetter #feelbetter #performbetter @nikerunning @coachcrowder @steve_cfvitality @crossfit @newordercrossfit @crossfitinvictus #physicaltherapy #achillestendinopathy

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Banded Ankle distraction

Knee pain? Plantar fascia pain? Can't do a squat without your lifting shoes on? Want to stay more upright in the bottom position of the snatch or clean? All of these things may be signs that you need to improve your ankle dorsiflexion. Lacking the prerequisite ankle dorsiflexion for squats, pistols, running, walking will force you to compensate your movement patterns and may be the underlying reason for some of your aches and pains. Compensation during your movement patterns ultimately leads to decreased movement efficiency and decreased performance In your chosen sport. Try this banded mobility for helping to increase your ankle mobility. 1) grab 2 bands, moderate band and a lighter band. And a roller. And wrap the moderate bend tension around the bottom of the rig. 2) wrap your ankle in the band as shown in the video, prop your calf up on the roller, And establish tension In the band. 3) use the lighter band to slowly perform resisted ankle pumps moving from dorsiflexion to planter flexion. 4) perform for 30-120s, then Retest your squat to see the difference. This is an excellent mobility exercise to perform prior to exercise. Give it a try, share it with your friends, and make sure to share it with your friends! #kneepain #plantarfasciitis #anklemobility #squats #snatch #cleanandjerk #running #jumping #doubleunders #movebetter #feelbetter #performbetter @iron_forged @newordercrossfit @crossfitchapelhill @crossfitbalancegp

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Finally lets look at the hips. You’re going to need hip flexion, hip internal rotation, and hip external rotation for the movement. This for most people will not be the limiting area in this movement. If you feel restricted in the hips at the bottom of the squat, it can probably be solved by increasing ankle mobility, increasing T-spine/overhead position mobility, and learning how to stabilize your spine during the movement (proper sequencing).

Olympic Wall Squat (for hip flexion mobility)

Hip Flexion with External Rotation

Active Hip Internal and External Rotation

Like I mentioned earlier in the article. Once you free up new ROM, you NEED to use it in a controlled manner. Banded mobilizations are a small piece of the puzzle when becoming more mobile. You need to own the range you have.

If you don’t know where to start with your mobilizations, take the time to get an assessment from a movement professional. They will be able to tell you where you’re lacking mobility and/or where all you really need is stability work. Motor control and stability deficits are often disguised as mobility deficits.


Take the shotgun approach and just work on all the areas listed above. However, the more specific you can be with which areas you address; the less time you’ll spend mobilizing, and the better results you will probably see overtime.

Good luck to all the Regional athletes competing in the following weeks! If you struggle with the dumbbell overhead squat, give these mobilizations a try, and crush the movement on game day.

Dr. Michael Tancini, DPT
Ground to Overhead Physical Therapy
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (619) 354-6591
Address: 10999 Sorrento Valley Rd, San Diego, CA 92121

Website: www.groundtooverheadphysicaltherapy.com
Instagram @groundtooverheadpt

San Diego, California, Physical Therapy, Crossfit, Sports Therapy, Recovery, Rehabilitation , Movement Specialist, Knee Pain, Back Pain, Hip Pain, Shoulder Pain, Specialist

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