The Overhead Squat Test

By Samantha Costabile

Squats are one of the most functional exercises out there. You need multiple joints and muscles working together in unison in order to complete one properly. Not only do they build strength in your quads, glutes and hamstrings, but they also challenge your balance, core strength and flexibility. If your mobility is lacking in your foot/ankle, knees, hips, back or shoulders, you won’t be able to squat properly and will likely end up compensating somewhere else. Compensations predispose you to injury, so we don’t want that! As you age, squats become even more important as your ability to do them is directly related to your ability to get up and down from a chair independently. So, they’re kind of a big deal. 

Improper squats can show areas of weakness or instability that predispose you to injury in other aspects of your daily life. One test that’s particularly helpful in identifying areas of weakness or limited mobility is the Overhead Squat Test

Overhead Squat Test

To complete the test, your practitioner will get you to take your shoes off and stand with your feet hip distance apart, toes facing forwards. Next, raise your arms overhead, bringing them back towards your ears as much as you comfortably can. Then, sit back like you have a chair behind you. Your practitioner will watch you perform this 5-10 times, looking at both the front and side views, and note any mobility restrictions or compensatory movement patterns. This will help them narrow in on the areas that need work. Once these areas are identified, they can then begin to assess simpler movement patterns and perform manual orthopedic testing to find the cause of those restrictions. Once they have the information they need, they will build you a customized treatment plan. 

Some of the most common problems we see with people’s squats are excessive low back arching, decreased thoracic extension (arms can’t stay straight overhead), knees caving inwards and/or feet turning outwards and bending forwards at the hips. If you notice any of these things on yourself, whether you are at the gym or just getting up and down from your office chair, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one particular joint or area is the problem. It may be moving like that because somewhere else is restricted, and your body had to find a way for you to still get into that position. That’s why it’s so important to determine the cause of mobility restrictions – you want to know where your efforts should be focused. This test is a good starting point for diagnosing dysfunction, but it’s always best to consult a professional!