Thoracic, Shoulder, Elbow, and Wrist Mobility Checklist for the Overhead Squat

In part one of this two part mobility checklist series, we discussed the limitations that poor ankle, knee, and hip mobility can have on the overhead squat. In addition to lower body mobility, the mobility of the thoracic cavity, shoulders, elbows, and wrists can make or break a strong, stable, overhead positioning. Poor joint/movement integrity at any one of these regions will often result in increased stress at surrounding joints and connective tissues; which can lead to injury and impeded performance.

Let’s pick up where we left off from part one, the upper body.

Thoracic Cavity/Scapulae

Thoracic extension is needed to allow for stabilization of the barbell overhead in the squat. Often, poor thoracic mobility leads to poor scapular stabilization will place increased stress upon the joint above and below this region. Addressing any limitation with poor thoracic mobility and/or scapular control will allow for improved overhead positioning without sacrificing joint integrity throughout the other joints.

Reach and Lift Drills

Scapular Circles

Side Lying Thoracic + Rotations


In order to properly place a barbell overhead (without lumbar extension and shrugging of the shoulder girdle), one must demonstrate shoulder mobility and stabilization. Often, I see people doing the same “shoulder stretches” without increasing their ability to stabilize overhead, which suggests lack of movement control, poor stabilization, and/or they need to try another exercise; assuming the issue is due to poor shoulder range of motion and not another joint (often the case as well). Here are some of my top shoulder mobility exercises for overhead positioning.

Shoulder CARs

Sleeper Stretch

Elbows and Wrists

Although not as common as many of the others, poor elbow and/or wrist mobility (elbow/wrist extension and stabilization at lockout) can hinder one’s lockout strength in the squat. Poor extension and stabilization will result in collapsing of the barbell overhead, and/or increased shoulder stress, both of which will limit your ability to overhead squat effectively. Often, I find poor extension can be a resultant of stiff forearms and biceps. To restore full range of motion and stabilization of the elbows while in extension, these exercises may help:

Banded Distractions (Elbow Extension)

Complete Wrists Routines

Final Thoughts

The diagnosis of poor movement mechanics in a squat is a complicated process that requires a detailed joint by joint approach. Coaches and athletes alike should take their time assessing mobility limitations, and determine if the faults are due to poor movement patterning of a new skill, mobility/joint range of motion issues, or injury. If injury is suspected, it is advised to seek out your sports medicine professional and seek further guidance.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

Leave a Comment


Latest News

Featured Video


Follow Us