Ground to Overhead Exercise Guide – Muscles Worked, Variations and Benefits

ground to overhead exercise

You might see the phrase “G2OH”, or “GTOH” in CrossFit and other functional workout classes.

These abbreviations stand for “Ground to Overhead”, which is basically an umbrella term that allows athletes to decide how they want to lift a weight from the ground to an overhead position (as opposed to specifically mentioning an exercise, such as a snatch, or a clean and jerk).

Things like weight, reps, workout requirements, and personal choice may impact how you want to lift the weight to an overhead position.

A Plate Ground to Overhead is also a popular exercise in its own right, often used in warm-up drills to get the body moving before heavier compound lifts or workouts.

In this exercise guide, we provide some tips on making the most out of any Ground to Overhead workout routine.

Quick Summary

  • Ground to Overhead is often abbreviated to G2OH or GTOH.
  • The term describes any sort of clean/snatch movement to lift a weight from the ground to an overhead position.
  • To begin with, start with a light weight, especially if you’re doing a snatch (continuous) motion.
  • Joint range of motion and stability (especially at the shoulders) is important and may be a limiting factor for some.

What is a Ground to Overhead Exercise?

The Ground to Overhead exercise is a compound weightlifting movement that involves lifting a weight from the ground and extending it overhead.

This exercise is often incorporated into CrossFit workouts, Olympic weightlifting routines, and general strength training programs due to its ability to engage multiple muscle groups.

The movement begins with the weight on the ground, typically a barbell, dumbbell, weight plate or kettlebell. The athlete then lifts the weight, transitioning through a clean or snatch motion, and extends it overhead.

The exercise concludes when the athlete reaches a full standing position with the weight stabilized overhead, elbows locked out, and hips and knees fully extended.

This exercise is suitable for a wide range of individuals, from beginners to advanced athletes, as it can be modified to accommodate different fitness levels and goals… based on weight used and how it is programmed.

Beginners will want to start with lighter weights or even just a PVC pipe to master the technique, while more advanced athletes can use heavier weights to build strength and power.

Strength, Coordination, Agility and Balance

The Ground to Overhead exercise is not only a test of strength but also of coordination, agility, and balance. It requires the simultaneous engagement of the upper and lower body, making it a comprehensive full-body workout.

How to Perform Ground to Overhead Properly

To do a Ground to Overhead movement:

  • Select your weight and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend at your hips and knees to reach down and hold the weight. Your back should be straight, chest up and core engaged.
  • Begin the lift by driving through your heels, straightening your legs, and pulling the weight upward. The weight should travel close to your body.
  • As the weight reaches chest level, transition into the overhead phase. This will typically involve a clean or snatch motion, it’s up to you.
  • Push the weight overhead by extending your arms fully. Your elbows should be locked out at the top of the movement.
  • Once the weight is overhead, stabilize your position and hold for a moment to demonstrate you have control.
  • Lower the weight back down to the floor in a controlled manner.
  • Reset your position and prepare for the next repetition.

Coach’s Tip – Remember, the key to performing the Ground to Overhead exercise safely and effectively is to maintain proper form throughout the movement. It’s better to use a lighter weight and perform the exercise correctly than to use a heavier weight and risk injury.

Ground to Overhead Muscles Worked

The Ground to Overhead exercise engages your legs, glutes, core, back, shoulders and arms.

Legs – The initial lifting phase requires a powerful push from your legs, engaging the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Glutes – Your glutes are activated as you drive the weight upward from a deep squat position, contributing to lower body power.

Core – Your abdominals, obliques and lower back muscles are used for stabilizing your body throughout the movement, especially when the weight is overhead.

Shoulders and Arms – Lifting and extending the weight overhead heavily engages the deltoids, triceps, and biceps.

Back – The upper and lower back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae, are worked as you pull the weight off the ground and maintain stability.

Shoulder Mobility and Stability

Any sort of Ground to Overhead movement will require and test your shoulder mobility and stability too. Poor shoulder mobility would likely impact your ability to hold the weight directly overhead. Powell raises and scarecrows are worth trying if you are struggling in this department.


Versatile Exercise

One of the main benefits of the Ground to Overhead exercise is its versatility. It can be performed with various types of equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even sandbags, and it allows you to decide how you lift the weight, making it adaptable to different training environments and goals.

Functional Movement Path

The Ground to Overhead exercise follows a functional movement path, mimicking everyday actions like lifting an object from the ground and placing it overhead.

This functional training can enhance your ability to perform daily tasks and reduce the risk of injury.

Upper Body Strength

By lifting and stabilizing the weight overhead, you’re engaging multiple upper body muscles, including your shoulders, arms, and back. This can lead to improved upper body strength and muscular endurance.

Lower Body Strength

The initial phase of lifting the weight from the ground requires significant power from your lower body. This engagement of your legs and glutes can contribute to increased lower body strength and power.

Overhead Squats

Once you feel comfortable with GTOH movements, you could also add exercises like the dumbbell overhead squat to your workout plan.

Variations and Modifications

Single Arm vs. Both Arms

The exercise can be performed using one arm or both arms.

Single-arm variations, often performed with a dumbbell or kettlebell, can help improve unilateral strength and balance. This variation might be more suitable for beginners or those looking to iron out muscular imbalances.

The two-arm variation, typically performed with a barbell, is more challenging and requires greater coordination and strength… and is often used with more weight.

Clean Jerk vs. Snatch

These are two different techniques for getting the weight from the ground to overhead.

The clean and jerk involves two distinct movements: a clean to bring the weight to the shoulders, followed by a jerk to push the weight overhead.

The snatch, on the other hand, is a single, continuous movement that takes the weight from the ground to overhead.

The clean and jerk is generally easier to learn and may be better for beginners, while the snatch is more complex and better suited to advanced athletes.

Equipment Choices

The type of equipment used can also vary.

A barbell allows for heavier loads and is often used in traditional weightlifting and CrossFit workouts. Dumbbells or kettlebells can be used for single-arm variations or to add an extra challenge to balance and stability.

Other equipment like sandbags, plates, or medicine balls can provide a unique challenge and are great for home workouts or when gym equipment is not available.

Each variation has its benefits and challenges, and the best choice depends on your individual fitness level, goals, and available equipment.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Poor Starting Position

The exercise should start with a solid foundation. Ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart, your back is straight, and you’re gripping the weight properly.

A poor starting position can lead to ineffective lifts and potential injury.

If you’ve never done a clean/snatch exercise before, then practice them so you understand how the variations are performed.

Lifting with the Back

The power for the lift should come primarily from your legs and hips, not your back. Avoid rounding your back and ensure you’re driving the weight up with your lower body.

Incomplete Movements

Each rep should be a full movement from the ground to an overhead position.

Cutting the movement short, such as not fully extending your arms overhead, would not be counted as a “complete” rep in competitive environments.

Losing Control of the Weight

Always maintain control of the weight, both when lifting it overhead and lowering it back to the ground.

Dropping the weight suddenly or letting it pull you off balance can lead to injury and suggests you’d be better off selecting a lighter weight.

Overhead Exercises

Holding a weight overhead isn’t easy if you’ve never done it before. Try doing Waiter Carries and Overhead Marches to get used to it first.

Bottom Line

By engaging multiple muscle groups, the Ground to Overhead exercise provides a full-body workout that enhances both upper and lower body strength.

Its functional movement path makes it a practical exercise that can improve everyday tasks and reduce the risk of injury.

There are several variations of the exercise, including single-arm or both-arms, clean and jerk or snatch, and using different types of equipment.

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