My Favorite Exercise Combinations: Installment 15 – Building Up the Squat

The overhead squat is a coveted screen and assessment tool used by many in the fitness, strength community, and rehab worlds. Many live and die by this movement, and others do not place much priority on it. This combination will look at my own experiences and observations in the overhead squat, along with providing pragmatic application of exercises that will hopefully aim to improve your movement capacity in the squat.



There are many different ways to identify how to “score” the overhead squat – I choose to follow an FMS-based instruction towards the overhead squat, as it allows me an easier component towards bucketing and placing athletes in certain groups. Over my tenure at Cressey Sports Performance, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a relatively large amount of athletes, on top of providing an individual program to cater to their specific needs. This is an experience that is unique to this facility, because many times coaches can look at a large population of individuals, but cannot provide the individual instruction or exercise selection necessary in order to improve outcomes.

The numbers of adequate overhead squats were staggering – over 115 squats and only 12 (twelve) squats were at industry standard. The other 103 squats were below standard or had other complications in their other movement patterns which limited the squat!

Those who scored “3’s” on the Overhead Squat were either young, relatively hyper mobile in comparison to their other peers (especially in the hip region), and interestingly, played multiple sports (more than just one sport such as only baseball).

Now the reasoning for a lack of ability to perform an overhead squat can be traced to several ideas:

  • Your joints don’t allow it.
  • Your tissue quality doesn’t allow appropriate lengthening and shortening in this movement.
  • You are unfamiliar with the movement.
  • Your brain is limiting you in some capacity due to pain, novelty of movement, or some other threat.
  • Your issue is not the squat – it is higher up in terms of movement patterns.

(With respect to the above, I’d like to assume that almost all of the individuals coming into CSP are pain free.)

  1. If your joints don’t allow appropriate motion because of one hard structure bumping into another hard structure, that will be difficult to improve an overhead squatting motion to past 90° of hip flexion.
  2. If your tissue quality is relatively dense and possibly fibrotic, well then that could limit your ability for your muscles to be pliable. Relatively less dense muscle quality can relate to improved neural connections as these drivers.
  3. Many times individuals simply have no pre-conceived notion of what an appropriate squatting movement pattern consists of, so naturally their performance on the screen is limited or poor.
No one instructed “baby” on how to squat…

If your brain perceives threat in some manner, then perhaps changing levels at the hip joint will cause some type of input into the brain that says, “Don’t do this! It might hurt!” There are tons of ways to reduce threat (if you need to), so making sure you are in a positive environment (to take care of the psychological component), safe and appropriate environment and equipment (to take care of the physical component), along with using the right exercise for the right individual will hopefully take care of the issue of threat perception.

The psychological component can definitely influence physical factors.

And finally, the overhead squat is in actuality, my least concern of a movement pattern from a screening perspective. There are actually several other movements that I’m more concerned about, on top of owning breathing, and more importantly several other athletic movement endeavors, such as skipping, shuffling, sprinting, throwing, etc.

The small parts of the overhead squat are actually addressed in detail in other movement patterns from another assessment process, other tests, and even screens. In this case, the small parts that comprise the bigger parts of the overhead squat are just that – mere minutia in the grand scheme of a total screening and assessment process.

Despite having a limited overhead squat pattern…

  • Will your athlete be successful in his or her sport?
  • Will your athlete still have immense amounts of force production capabilities?
  • Will your athlete be able to control other motoric movement patterns?

I’m not saying completely ignore the overhead squat, but placing an immense amount of priority on whether or not someone can perform well when screening for the overhead squat correctly is not a big deal.

To re-emphasize this for you, I’ve done over 115 formal assessments, and an unknown amount of informal assessments (for staff, interns, friends, etc) while only at CSP, and I’ve seen only 12 overhead squats that have gone for par.

That is only 10% of the individuals that have come through the doors, having an adequate standard of movement for one test (out of several movements that were also assessed and screened).

SFMA - Top Tier 7
There are other priorities in an individual!

So 90% of the other population that I’ve assessed have had poor squat patterns.

This does not mean I exclude the squatting motion from their exercise program – it just gives me better information on how to address their specific and individual problems.

With ALL of this in mind, now I can introduce an exercise combination that I’ve found lots of success with, as it address several things all at once – a catch-all combination to use some cliche phrases.

Reverse Inchworm to Overhead Squat

This exercise catches a lot of things all at once:

  • Challenges anti-extension movement
  • Upward scapular rotation
  • As you sit back, it catches hip flexion
  • As you rock back into a squatting pattern, there is sensory input so you can find more ankle dorsiflexion
  • There is input as you rock back as well for great toe extension, which is crucial for acceleration and gait purposes
Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Prying Goblet Squat with Breathing

The next component in this exercise combination talks about:

  • Owning a position of deep hip flexion
  • Improving the activation of the hip external rotators as you rock the kettlebell/dumbbell up and down
  • On top of owning breathing patterns.

Programming for Building Up Your Squat

I refer to “building up your squat” because you are doing so from the ground up. First you have a movement pattern that forces you to move backwards – something that doesn’t happen too often in a commercial gym setting, and then own it with breathing and heavy weights.

If you’re programming this, you probably don’t need it too much to improve upon your squat. It’s like taking medicine, you don’t need a full week of over-the-counter medicine to improve symptoms, but maybe 2 days of it plus good sleep will do the trick.

Just like that analogy, maybe you only need a few days of this exercise combination in order to improve your movement patterns, instead of a full month or year of “corrective exercises!”

With this in mind, see how this feels in the beginning of your day, or at the beginning of your exercise program as follows:

A1. Reverse Inchworm to Overhead Squat – 2×5

A2. Prying Goblet Squat with Breathing – 2×5 Breaths (Inhale + Exhale)

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations: Installment 4

I like benching, but making sure someone has the requisite mobility before bench pressing is muy importante!

If you or someone you know doesn’t have adequate range of motion, or lacks stability within the shoulder joint, there are a few things that you can do to make sure you hit all the correct movements.

What Happens During a Bench Press

When you bench press properly, you will inevitably have to pin your scaps together and back – it just makes for a more efficient movement, and not to mention a bigger base of support during the movement with which your arms (ie: whole body) can move and produce force.

There are a few things that must occur in your body to appropriately bench press, whether it is a barbell or dumbbells:

  1. Scapulae must be pinned together (if you have a more stable and bigger base of support, the more weight you can hypothetically put up in the bench)
  2. Slight rib flare (anyone who says they bench press 2x bodyweight without a rib flare of any sort is lying… or has an extremely small wingspan).
Photo Credit:


If you’re constantly bench pressing, or if you find yourself having discomfort during the bench press, you may need more mobility in some areas, and stability in others. 

However, this shouldn’t stop you from benching! Keep these points in mind:

  • Perform a bench press variation that allows your humerus to stop after a certain range of motion.
  • For example, a DB Floor Press still allows you to improve and increase strength, despite a smaller range of motion.
  • It also increases proprioception to where your arms are in space, and the movement stops when your triceps hit the ground.

Even if the muscles surrounding your shoulder girdle and scapulae are limiting range of motion, the overarching concept here is… 

…can you dissociate humerus vs scapular (and even thoracic flexion) movement from one another?

If you attempt to bench press massive amounts of weight, and all you do is protract and abduct your scapula off the back of your ribs as you bench, you may not be doing it properly.

So hopefully that should prove a point that you will need to keep your scaps back and down in order to effectively bench press.

Now, in order to create a juxtaposition in terms of how your scapulae move, there have been many suggestions in the past for improving mobility in between sets of upper body movements.

1. You can perform a rowing motion of some sort.

2. You can perform a thoracic rotation movement of some sort.

3. You can perform a scapular dissociation movement of some sort (like a serratus wall slide for example).

At the end of the day, I’m looking for a big bang exercise to improve all of these items at once, and to reinforce variable movement qualities. Essentially, I’m looking for appropriate scapular movement, abdominal recruitment, and even reinforce all of the above with hip mobility and stability.

Crawling and creeping are two awesome ways to improve scapular motion, rib motion, oblique recruitment, and overall make yourself seem like a ninja.

What Occurs When You Creep

Creeping is an exercise that alternates the scapulae as you creep from arm to arm. Not only do you creep, you also move ribs, recruit obliques, and utilize hip external rotators and aim to incorporate holistic movement, as opposed to a singular movement.

So what better way to get strong and get mobile than to combine the two!

Now, per our other combinations, let’s improve what mobility we currently have, and then reinforce and reload that with a weighted exercise, such as the bench press.

You can do it in any manner you want, but this is what I find to be the most effective manner with which to progress for movement variability, a quality that is necessary for up and coming athletes.

A1. Forward Creeping – 3×10 Yards

A2. 1-Arm DB Floor Press – 3×5/side

Perform a creeping motion in order to restore and/or improve range of motion, and then perform the bench press in order to get strong and jacked.

Something to keep in mind for your next workout!

As always,

Keep it funky.



The knee is a fickle joint. On one end it is the cause for many major injuries, ranging from anterior knee pain, to ACL reconstruction. And on the other end, there has been a push for “ACL Injury Prevention” programs, largely aimed at the female demographic, but the way the Eagles have started their 2013 pre-season year, it seems someone needs to take notice of this as well.