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.

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