Conditioning Corner: Overhead Squat Assessment
By Mike Mejia, M.S., C.S.C.
In the ever-evolving field of human performance training, coaches and trainers alike are always seeking out the best ways to assess an athlete's physical ability. Having an accurate gauge of how much he, or she can lift, how fast they are, or how long they can endure before succumbing to fatigue, can be extremely helpful in programming effective fitness strategies. Yet, as valuable as this type of information is, it's not the be all end all many make it out to be. In fact, it can be argued that the most important physical assessment of all is one that yields little in terms of performance related measures of fitness; but can tell you a whole lot about an athlete's current physical state.
I'm talking about the overhead squat; one of the simplest and most effective physical assessments in existence. By using nothing more than your own body weight, you can test your dynamic flexibility, balance, core strength and coordination. Whats more, you'll be able to quickly and easily identify potential weak links along the kinetic chain that if left unaddressed, could at best impede your performance and at worst, cause you to become injured. Not bad for a test that can be administered in just a couple of minutes with the help of training partner, or coach!
Proper Execution: Begin by standing with your feet shoulders width apart and toes pointed straight ahead (it's recommended the test be performed without shoes to get a better view of what's going on in the feet and ankles). Next, raise your arms up overhead with your elbows held straight.
Once in position, begin by squatting down to the height of a chair (usually just short of the thighs being parallel to the ground) and then pause for a second before returning the start position. Repeat the drill until you've completed 5 full repetitions and note any changes in form from a couple of different angles (you can either have your coach, or partner do this for you, or have them film you doing the drill and make the notations yourself upon playing it back).
When viewing the test from the front, you ideally want your feet to remain pointing straight ahead, with your knees lined up directly above them. From a profile view, you want to maintain a normal arch in your lower back and avoid allowing your arms to fall forward, or lean the torso forward excessively. You're basically looking for your torso and shins to be parallel to each other at the bottom of the movement.
Form Deviations: There are several things that can go wrong from a bio-mechanical standpoint when performing this test- each of which can serve as a predictor of future injury- especially if nothing is done in terms of stretching and strengthening to correct the problem(s). The following chart will show where you imbalances lie.
If you find that you're unable to do the test with proper form, it's important that you devote the necessary time and effort to fixing what's wrong. If you don't and continue to train hard on top of a faulty foundation both in and out of the pool, you could be in for trouble down the road. So be sure to check out the accompanying video which will address these corrective strategies in more detail.
DID YOU KNOW?
Poor posture not only looks terrible and increases your chances for a whole host of injuries, but it can actually mess with your stroke technique. For instance, decreased shoulder range of motion resulting from tight chest and shoulder muscles decreases stroke length and strength.
Plus, holding the shoulders forward prevents efficient arm recovery and forces you to roll excessively to breathe. For a quick way to assess your posture, along with some great exercises and stretches to help improve it, check out the "Ask the Dryland Coach" archives on usaswimming.org.