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Overhead Squat Assessment: Excessive Forward Lean (Whatever the heck THAT means)

Welcome back to our overhead squat assessment breakdown. If you haven’t read the first post about corrective exercise find it here:

Our first breakdown was all about your knees. If you haven’t read that post you can find it here:

We’re going to move on and the next few posts are going to be all about your back (mostly) starting today with a little thing called Excessive Forward Lean!

First let’s figure out what it is. Take a look at the side view of your squat. As you go down your upper body (chest and back) should be staying pretty much upright. You might lean forward a little bit and that’s ok, but too much is a problem. How much is too much? Your spine should be parallel with your shins. PERFECTLY parallel. If you draw a line coming from your shins and another coming from your back they should never cross each other. If you’re leaning too far forward, they will at some point. I’ve attached pictures to show examples because let’s be real, words are hard, pictures are easy.

The reason this can be such a problem is because in a normal squat if you lean too far forward you will load your back more than your legs. If you’re someone who doesn’t like leg day because your back ends up hurting, this could easily be part of the problem. Leaning forward also creates the illusion of depth, so you might think you’re going really low in your squats, but in reality you’re just bending forward and standing back up, and your legs aren’t getting a good workout at all.

So let’s fix it!

As with any muscle imbalance I’ll reference my rubber band analogy. Picture your muscles in your body as rubber bands and they all pull on your bones in certain ways. If those rubber bands all pull equally then your body is free to move as it’s supposed to. But if one set of rubber bands pull more than the opposing set then your body is going to be pulled in that direction. In the case of excessive forward lean, there’s a set of muscles that are pulling your chest to the ground and not letting your back stay upright.

You will need to STRETCH: Your hip flexors (front of hips), abdominal complex (your abs and obliques), and your calf. Check out the video for good examples of these stretches. Missy also does a great job demonstrating foam rolling or “Self Myofascial Release,” which can really open up those muscles before you stretch them and increase the benefit you get from your stretches. Note here that you can’t foam roll your abs (try it, I dare you), but a good abdominal stretch is just holding the common yoga pose “Upward Facing Dog.” Just remember while stretching the more is better. The longer and more often you stretch the more benefit you will get from those stretches. I recommend holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds and doing them at least 3 times a day.

You will need to STRENGTHEN: Your glutes, Erector Spinae (your back posture muscles), and Anterior Tibialis (front outside of your shin). Check out the video for good examples of strengthening exercises for these muscles. For your Anterior Tib toe raises (bringing your toes towards your shin) are a good exercise, and working against a resistance band can offer great resistance. When strengthening remember resistance is more important than frequency. It doesn’t matter if you do 100 reps a day if you’re lifting nothing but air. I recommend 3 sets of 10-15 reps every day at a resistance where the last few reps are CHALLENGING. If everyday ends up being too much at the beginning, work your way up to it. Start with every other day.

One take home note before you get started, you might be curious as to why muscle groups in your lower leg are listed here when we’re talking about your chest staying up in a squat. Turns out a common cause to this problem stems from lack of ankle mobility and not a muscle imbalance directly in your hips. Basically, as you go down in a squat your foot actually moves against your ankle, and if your calf is too tight (or your Anterior Tibialis isn’t strong enough) you won’t be able to do this correctly and you’ll end up compensating WAY up high at your hips. If you’re more curious about this crazy thing with the KINETIC CHAIN check out the video. Missy does a really good job explaining this and then giving you a way to figure out if this is you or not.

Check out the video, look at your squat, and incorporate any stretches and exercises you might need to into your daily routine!

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