by Johan Simu
The NarkSide, July 2010
I spent many years training as the stereotypical meathead, spending loads of time on the “show muscles”. Bench pressing, dumbbell pressing, curling. For legs I doubt anyone has leg pressed or hack squatted more than me. I certainly also did my fair share of deadlifting, rowing and hitting the triceps as well, with a sprinkle of quarter squats throw in, especially during the periods when I focused on powerlifting. In short having no fucking clue what the hell I am doing.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing particularly wrong with those exercises, what was wrong was the way I was doing them and what I didn’t do. I didn’t do any overhead pressing because I was gripped by the fear of overtraining after hearing the mantra time and again that one shouldn’t go heavy in both bench and shoulder press. I never gave a rats ass about flexibility, I never pushed the depth of my squats and fooling myself into believing that my squats where actually deep and nice. I never had any coach that told me “you are doing this wrong” and since I trained in commercial gyms most of the time I was usually one of the strongest guys around and people never corrected me.
Whenever I got stronger in the legs my knees threw in the towel, whenever I got my bench over 350 ibs my shoulders revolted. If I was pulling 450+ in the deadlift my back started aching. That didn’t stop me though, I would just wrap my knees like a mummy and go through the pain and stop all shoulder movements and just blast on with benching, thinking my shoulders where “overtrained”.
Pain, frustration and going stale in lifts was the inevitable result. I was damn lucky to never injure myself seriously, even though my shoulder problems at its worst prevented me from benching for half a year. Turns out spending a bunch of years doing the compound lifts with bad form, while spending 90% of the day hunched in front of a computer, has a tendency to make you stiff as Rocco Siffredi while on the set.
So what does all of this got to do with the one exercise everyone should be able to do? Well it turns out there is one exercise that pretty much challenges flexibility and stability in every damn part of the body. The overhead squat! It is the undisputed king of full body movements. If your hip flexors are tight, if your hamstrings are tight, if your thoracic spine makes you look like Quasimodo, if your shoulders are inflexible or if you lack shoulder stability, then you will simply not be able to do an ass to grass overhead squat! There is no other exercise that singlehandedly challenges each and every one of the common problems most gymrats suffer from. If you can ass to grass overhead squat, chances are you never have shoulder, knee or back pain. If you can’t its very likely you are suffering from it.
So next time you go to the gym you better try overhead squatting. Nothing is easier in theory, walk out with the bar as when squatting normally, but with a grip that is outside of the rings. Push the bar up behind your head and squat. Now like I said chances are you wont be able to do this. If you are like me, the first time you try it what will be going through your head “How the fuck am I ever going to do this fucking exercise” while you are almost toppling over after sinking down perhaps 1 inch into the squat.
The second thing going through your head will be “Fuck this and fuck that shitty article, I don’t need and fucking overhead squat pussy shit. Stick it up your ass! I’ll just wrap my knees, tighten my belt and struggle through the pain when benching. OH squats are for girls”.
For girls indeed, I know few things that are more humbling than the knowledge that there are tiny Chinese women and kids, weighting perhaps 120 if soaking wet, overhead squatting over 350 lbs while you can’t even do it with the bar. In short, they make you look like a god damn bleeding vagina. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to run and buy tampons every time I watch the Olympics. I’l rather go to town and master that mofo! The day you can overhead squat your bodyweight is the day you will have less pain, and can switch from tampons to a pad.
I am a firm believer in SAID(Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands ), its a fancy way of saying if you do shit, the body will get better at it. So how does one get better at overhead squatting, well you can probably guess it! You fucking overhead squat and squat and squat. You need to get that hunched back straight, you need to get that hip flexor lose and those hamstrings longer. Every workout, every single workout, you should start by overhead squatting. Pushing yourself as deep as possible each and every time. Over time you will be able to hit parallel and then ass to grass.
To accelerate it a bit you should also do some accessory stretches and squats.
Hitting deep squats while holding on to a power rack and really focusing on keeping back arched and knees pushed out stretches shit better than nothing else. Like in this video at 3:15
Progress to wall squats as shown in 6:24 in the above video.
Do the wall squats with arms hanging between the legs, with a broomstick overhead and with a broomstick on your shoulders. This will teach you to keep chest up. Do them DEEP, it will stretch the shit out of the hip flexors.
Start every workout with shoulder dislocates. You can do it with bands like this guy:
You can also do it with a broomstick (my favorite), with a towel or whatever you got handy. DO NOT get the idea to do it with a barbell though.
Doing extra stretches for hip flexors and groin wont hurt. Hit these two stretches a few times a week.
If you really feel like it, throw in a bunch of hamstring stretches as well. But from my personal experience hamstring stretches are very inefficient, while just squatting deep will fix it by itself.
Doing all of this wont cure AIDS or fix cancer, but it sure as hell will make your shoulders, knees and back feel like a million bucks again. Give it 10 weeks at least!
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