Overhead Marches – Muscles Worked, Benefits and Common Mistakes to Avoid

overhead march

Overhead carries (i.e., walking with a weight held overhead) often get praised for their effectiveness at building functional strength.

But, what happens if you’re limited on space?

Enter, overhead marches.

This simple variation involves marching on the spot, instead of walking forwards, which many gym-goers will find more practical.

Requiring less space isn’t the only benefit this exercise offers though… it also fires up the hip flexors better than most loaded carries too.

This exercise guide outlines how to do overhead marches properly, including muscles worked, benefits and common mistakes to avoid.

Quick Summary

  • To do overhead marches, hold a weight overhead and march on the spot.
  • Try and bring your knees up to waist height to engage the hip flexors.
  • Keep the weight stacked over your shoulders and stable throughout.
  • Actively squeeze your core to create stability.

What are Overhead Marches?

Overhead marches involve holding a weight overhead, such as a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell… and marching on the spot.

Although it looks like quite a simple movement, it activates multiple muscle groups at once, making it a really effective exercise to include in all sorts of training plans.

The overhead march exercise is not just about strength though, it also helps improve balance, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness.

There are 3 ways you could do overhead marches:

  • Hold a Single Weight with Both Hands – This is the easiest variation.
  • Hold a Weight in Both Hands – Holding a weight in both hands means you need better shoulder stability.
  • Hold a Weight in One Hand – The uneven weight distribution means your core has to work harder to maintain stability, making this the hardest variation.

We’d recommend trying all 3 variations and seeing which one feels most comfortable/effective for you.

Sets or Timed

Overhead marches work for workouts that follow a reps/sets structure as well as for workouts that follow a timed/rounds structure. For example, you could do 15 reps repeated 3 times, or do 3 rounds of 30 seconds… ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.

Equipment Needed

Overhead marches are very versatile and you could use any weighted object. Barbell, weight plates, kettlebells or dumbbells are the most common choices.

How to Perform Overhead Marches

To do overhead marches:

  • Choose your weight and lift it overhead, fully extending your arms.
  • Make sure your hands are directly stacked above your shoulders.
  • Actively push the weight up to further engage your shoulders and back.
  • Squeeze your core and begin marching.
  • Try and lift your knees waist height, but stop where feels comfortable.
  • Make sure the weight remains stable overhead.

Coach’s Tip – Focus on quality repetitions, instead of speed. This isn’t about running on the spot as fast as you can, instead, it’s about shoulder strength and stability, building functional strength and leveraging core stability to improve total body balance.

Loaded Carry Alternative

The waister’s carry (either single arm or double arm) is basically an overhead march that involves walking instead of marching on the spot. You may want to try this and see which one you prefer.

Overhead Marches Muscles Worked

Overhead marches primarily work the core, shoulders, and hip flexors.

Core Muscles

Holding a weight overhead while marching requires a high degree of core stability. This engages your rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis.

Holding a weight in just one hand (unilateral load) challenges your core to resist rotation, enhancing oblique strength and core stability too.

Shoulder Muscles

The act of holding a weight overhead activates all the muscles around the shoulders, including the smaller stabilizing muscles in the rotator cuff.

These muscles work together to maintain shoulder stability, making the overhead march exercise an effective movement that complements traditional exercises like lateral raises and shoulder presses.

This exercise not only strengthens these muscles but also enhances shoulder mobility too.

Hip Flexors

Overhead marches stands out from other loaded carries due to the marching component.

Lifting your knees to waist height with each step actively engages your hip flexors, the muscles that run from your lower spine to your upper thighs.

These muscles are vital for hip flexion, which involves raising your knees or moving your thighs towards your stomach.

Strong hip flexors contribute to improved posture by helping maintain proper alignment of your lower spine. They also play a key role in athletic performance, and help support movements like running, jumping, and kicking.

Overhead March Benefits

Bang for Your Buck

Overhead marches engage multiple muscle groups at once, from your core and shoulders to your lower body.

This makes it an efficient exercise that maximizes your workout time by providing a full-body workout in a single movement.

Strength Core

The exercise significantly engages the core muscles, enhancing their strength and stability. A strong core is fundamental for maintaining good posture, supporting the spine, reducing the risk of back pain, and improving overall body strength.

If you’re tired of crunches, sit ups and planks, this approach to core strengthening might help refresh an ab workout routine that’s going nowhere.

Improve Shoulder Health

Holding a weight overhead works the deltoids, improving both their strength and mobility. This can enhance your ability to perform overhead activities and can contribute to better performance in sports and workouts that require shoulder strength.

Powell raises are another exercise we’d recommend when it comes to improving shoulder stability and health.

Hip Flexion

Marching on the spot may seem quite simple… but it’s a really effective way to instantly kick the hip flexors into gear.

Stronger hip flexors help to promote better stability around the hips, which can promote better posture and athletic performance.

Sedentary lifestyles often mean hip flexors don’t get activated as much as they should, so any movement that “wakes” them up is certainly useful to know.

Stretching the Hip Flexors

Exercises like the couch stretch, groiners and world’s greatest stretch are worth considering to help keep your hip flexors flexible too.

Lower Body Activation

The marching movement strengthens the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. This can improve your performance in activities that require lower body strength, such as running, jumping, and climbing the stairs.

Balance and Coordination

Overhead marches require you to maintain balance while coordinating the overhead hold and the marching movement. This helps improve both balance and coordination, skills that are important for daily activities and athletic performance.

Burn Calories

The continuous marching movement gets your heart rate up, providing a cardiovascular workout alongside muscle strengthening. This can improve heart health, burn more calories, and enhance endurance.


The exercise can be performed with various types of weights and can be modified to suit different fitness levels. This makes it a versatile exercise that can be adapted to meet individual fitness goals and abilities.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Not Stacking Weight Over Shoulders

The weight should be held directly overhead, with your wrists above your shoulders. Holding the weight too far forward or backward can strain your shoulders and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

It’s really important to get this part of the exercise right, especially if you want to progress to other overhead strength training moves like overhead squats.

Not Engaging the Core

Your core should be engaged throughout the exercise to maintain balance and stability. A relaxed core can lead to poor form and reduced effectiveness.

Not Lifting Knees High Enough

Aim to lift your knees to hip height with each march.

Not lifting your knees high enough can reduce the exercise’s effectiveness at engaging the hip flexors… but, if this causes discomfort, or you lose your balance, do just want feels right for you.

Select the right weight

Most of these mistakes can stem from selecting weight that is too heavy. If you’ve never done this sort of movement before, start with a really light weight and slowly increase this over time.


Single Arm

The single arm overhead march involves holding weight in just one hand.

This creates an uneven weight distribution which further activates the core, especially the obliques, during the movement.

Banded Overhead Marches

As well as holding a weight overhead, you could also place a resistance band around your feet.

This would mean your hip flexors have to work harder to lift your knee up to waist height.

This would almost be seen as a psoas march variation too.

Overhead Marches with Ankle Weights

This achieves the same outcome as banded overhead marches, in terms of increasing hip flexor engagement, but it’s easier to set up.

Just attach ankle weights around your ankles to increase hip flexor activation.

Suitcase March

Suitcase carries (single arm farmer’s carries) are a popular loaded carry. You could adapt this movement to include a march instead of a walk.

This involves holding the weight by your side, instead of overhead… which is better if your shoulder mobility is the limiting factor.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, any sort of overhead exercise needs some degree of caution otherwise you risk injury to the shoulders… but, as long as you follow proper technique and don’t select weight that is too heavy, these sorts of exercises are really effective at improving shoulder health.

You can also do them for reps/sets or timed, making them a great exercise whatever your workout preference is.

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